TV Club

Homeland 209 recap: “Two Hats.”

Has Homeland turned into a game of Mad Libs?

Damian Lewis as Nicholas Brody in Homeland
Damian Lewis as Nicholas Brody in Homeland

Photograph by Kent Smith/Showtime.

The critics are getting worried. In Esquire, friend of the Slate TV Club Alex Berenson is down on this season. How down? He likens the plotting to twists from a Mad Libs book:

Newish character (Peter Quinn) is secretly a badass job (assassin) who works for agency name (the CIA, I think). While tracking Quinn, longstanding character (Saul Berenson) travels to nearby city (Philadelphia) to talk to throwaway character (Quinn’s ex-girlfriend) while pretending to be an adjective noun (IRS agent)…

Salon’s Willa Paskin was also unimpressed by “Two Hats”: “Even though it had the most action-movie-like plot of the season, it was the season’s dullest episode, with the story and the characters feinting one way to go another, yet leaving us—for now—with just the feint.” Or to use another dance analogy: “This episode was like a stutter step, a flashy motion to stay in the same place.”

Even Grantland’s Andy Greenwald seems concerned about the direction the show’s taking. He said, “Despite its adrenaline spike, ‘Two Hats’ reminded me that Homeland is as much a procedural as Chris Brody is a compelling character. For all the talk last night of the differences between analysts and field agents (one screws the suspects, the other sniper-rifles them, apparently), it’s clear Homeland’s fictional CIA has relocated its headquarters from Langley to Peyton Place.” Greenwald compares Peter Quinn to a man who strode through Season 1 and then was forgotten by all but a few of his corps-mates: “They’re on different sides, but [Quinn] reminds me of Tom Walker: the perfect soldier because he was willing to follow orders and pull the trigger. On Homeland, the biggest betrayer isn’t Brody, it’s the human heart. And I wonder if Peter Quinn might wind up on top for the sole reason that he no longer seems to be burdened with one.”

The TV Club’s Todd VanDerWerff admitted, “I’m starting to worry about the prospect of a ‘big twist’ in this season of Homeland, a story element that will turn everything on its ear and pull the rug out from under the audience.” He points out that the show has placed the most wanted terrorist in the world on U.S. soil without explaining how he got there: “The general response of characters who are confronted with this question in ‘Two Hats’ is, ‘I know! That’s pretty crazy, right? But we don’t have an answer just yet.’ That, to me, makes me think that there is an answer, but the show isn’t ready to reveal it yet.” But can a character-based show like Homeland pull of a really big reveal?” I agree with another VanDerWerff assertion: “Homeland is almost always at its best when it asks us to just watch the characters interacting with each other and then consider just what they might be thinking or what they might be about to do. When it falls apart is when it tries to do too much, when it tries to provide shocking reveal after shocking reveal.”

James Poniewozik of Time still has faith in Homeland’s creative team, but only just: “I’m glad that more than one character had the same reaction I did to Nazir making it to the U.S.: ‘How the fuck did that happen?’ Still, just having characters acknowledge that a plot development is unbelievable does not make it more believable—but I’m willing to be convinced by some later explanation.”

Commenter MHB corrects my suggestion that we haven’t seen Carrie working her magic on female targets: “You’re forgetting the season opener when her former asset Fatima said she would only talk to Carrie. Remember her speech on the roof to Saul about maybe not trusting her current Carrie instincts but the Carrie who turned Fatima years ago, that Carrie she trusted?”

Finally, a couple of people dinged the CIA for premature celebration in the Roya Haddad job. Commenter (and recent TV Club IMer) BriefWit asked: “Why did Nazir say goodbye to Brody? Was this homecoming not the big attack of the season, now foiled?” Or as Matt Zoller Seitz of Vulture put it:

The spectacular end of “Two Hats” felt like a false climax to me—a chaotic distraction from some other, nastier plot that’s still gestating offscreen. … But based on what we saw last season, one-and-done attacks aren’t Nazir’s style. He seems to prefer a fake-out followed by a sucker punch, and I’m surprised the CIA didn’t make more of this.