Career Counseling With Saul Berenson

Is he really cut out to be CIA director if he doesn’t even know that some other guy is gonna be made CIA director?

HOMELAND (Season 3)
Sarita Choudhury as Mira and Mandy Patinkin as Saul Berenson in Homeland.

Photo courtesy Kent Smith/Showtime

Well, that is one way to capitalize on finally bringing some narrative tension back into your television show—completely deflating it. After four weeks of crying in place, last week’s Homeland ended on a promising twist: Turns out Carrie and Saul are working together to hook the Iranians. But instead of diving into that story, this week’s episode featured yet more of the wheel-spinning, mood-establishing, waiting game. In one stretch, we were privy to the scintillating sight of five people in three different cars looking at stuff. At this rate, next week’s episode, will be a 50-minute staring contest between Carrie and Majid Javadi.

As for what did happen in “The Yoga Play”: The show clarified that, yes, every single thing we have seen this season— Saul betraying Carrie at the Senate hearing, Carrie’s hospitalization—was part of a scheme. (And so is everything we’re still seeing: Was Carrie really terrified that those men were going to rape her? Or was she just playing up the fact that she’s fragile and isolated?) As Quinn says when Saul breaks the news, “Fuck me.” The critical conversation around TV these days is so devoted to the auteur theory—the idea that great TV shows are the product of a singular visionary and his band of brilliant writers—that we don’t really ask questions about whether or not the author’s intent is actually worth a damn. In high-school English, you might have been prodded by your teacher to wonder, does what the author meant to do here matter more than what he or she actually did here? Does how the author wanted you to feel trump how his or her work actually made you feel? When talking about TV these days, the answer is definitively yes. (See: If only David Chase would tell us what really happened at the end of The Sopranos we could all know for sure!)  But when Homeland’s Alex Gansa says Carrie and Saul were working together all along, it makes me want to plug my ears and go “nah-nah-nah, I can’t hear you,” and go back to believing Saul and Carrie’s plan was concocted much more recently, by far a more sensible interpretation of everything we’ve seen thus far.

In this episode, Quinn continues to be a really good guy (who accidentally murdered a small child). He tells Carrie, “What you put yourself through, it was fucking incredible,” and generally does everything he can to protect her, whether asking for directions or ignoring Saul’s orders not to get a closer look at her house. Saul, on the other hand, continues to evince his new streak of callousness toward Carrie. He may be frustrated with her for potentially blowing the operation by trying to help Dana, but he is really short with her on the phone, shorter than he should be with a woman he just abandoned in a mental hospital. “She was always on her own,” he tells Quinn at the end of the episode, which sounds like a compliment (and the cue to the Carrie Mathison theme song), but is in reality pretty twisted: Carrie, anyway, thought she was at least a little bit with Saul.

This episode also, perhaps inadvertently, impugns Saul’s spy skills: How is he fit to be the director of the CIA if he doesn’t even know some other guy is about to be made director of the CIA? Being head of the CIA is about politics, maintaining and stoking personal and social relationships, things which Saul has never made much of an effort at. Saul wanted the job so badly, he couldn’t see how unlikely it was that he would get it: Does Saul have the president’s ear? Does Saul give the CIA a fresh start? Do lots of CIA directors have huge beards? The answer to all these questions is no, but Saul still gets blindsided by the news that Sen. Lockhart is going to be his new boss. (Imagine how Carrie is going to feel when she learns that the person most convinced she is a crazy liability to the CIA is now in charge of the agency.)

Homeland goes out of its way to set up a contrast between Lockhart and Saul: One is a man who is really comfortable with guns, one is not; one believes in drones, one believes in “human beings”; one is inexperienced, one is beyond experienced; one is expedient, one is righteous. Saul’s nasty toast to Lockhart, questioning his suitability given his long history of criticizing the CIA, plays like a mic-drop—Saul will not be tamed by threats from Lockhart; he would rather be out of a job than run an intelligence operation the wrong way.  But it’s also sour grapes. The CIA catastrophically failed. A man who has been critical of its efforts seems like a great choice to head it up, even if Lockhart has been given a Cheney-V.P. Walden sheen.* Saul’s argument that only someone who knows how the CIA has done things can command respect is also an argument for bureaucratic sclerosis. 

And while sitting in the blind with Lockhart, Saul basically pooh-poohs the fact that Brody played the CIA. Given Saul and Carrie’s alliance, I am no longer sure what Saul thinks about Brody: Does he know Carrie helped him escape? Does he share Carrie’s belief in his innocence? (If everything Carrie did was part of the scheme, are we sure Carrie still totally believes in Brody’s innocence? Or did she say so just to make herself seem crazy?) The disdain with which Saul spits out “Brody’s daughter” to Carrie on the phone suggests he still thinks Brody is bad news. But if so, he shouldn’t be treating Brody’s betrayal so lightly when talking to Lockhart.

As for Brody’s daughter: I liked the scene when Jessica came to Carrie’s house looking for help. The more the Brodys can be integrated into the pulsing heart of Homeland—Carrie—the better. And the dynamic between Carrie and Jessica is so messed up, I’d be happy if both actresses got future opportunities to try to navigate it. But here’s hoping that next time, whatever plot they kick off won’t be totally unnecessary: Most of Carrie’s storyline this week, trying to find Dana, didn’t matter at all. Carrie didn’t help find Dana. Dana got herself found after learning that Leo had lied to her about his brother’s death. Upon arriving back home, Dana wandered alone into her bedroom and started to sob.

Look, I know Dana wants her space and is a surly, laconic teen, but guess what time it is, Jessica Brody? Time to get all up in your daughter’s face with questions and concern and maybe even—I know this sounds radical!—some hugs. Since when is Jessica Brody a reserved, bloodless WASP? Hug your daughter when she arrives home, obviously emotionally wrecked, from a scary and ill-advised trip with her dangerous boyfriend. You can even give her one from me, as thanks that this particular storyline is over.

Correction, Oct. 28, 2013: This article originally misidentified the vice president in Homeland. He is Vice President Walden, not Walker. (Return to the corrected sentence.)