Everyone knows the story of Homeland‘s ups (its fantastic first season) and downs (the last two seasons), but its fourth season remained a big question mark. “The Drone Queen,” the first of a two-episode premiere, should have assuaged any concerns. The Brodys are gone — completelygone — and the show has found a way to totally revamp itself moving forward. It may not capture the brilliant struggle of its inaugural season, but it may have just made a turn to being another kind of very compelling drama. Hit the jump for more on Homeland 2.0.
Disillusioned Homeland fans have been saying for two seasons now that maybe Brody should have detonated that bomb. Well, the writers basically did in this season, and that was a perfect way to start. The slate has been wipe clean in a believable way. Nicholas Brody is dead, Carrie has had their baby, and now she’s back in her role as the Carrie we met in Season One: a super-focused, though always personally slightly-off kilter, force of nature. Homeland is never going to be Season One again completely, but what it can be is a good political, CIA thriller.
Within the first two episode of this new season, Homeland has also set up a new conflict that plays somewhat on the old. One of the things that made its first season so compelling were its ideas about identity, alliance, duty, and changeability, and the central question of whether you can ever really go home again (the answer to that then and now seems to be “no”). “The Drone Queen” set this up in a new way, though. Carrie has earned that nickname by giving the thumbs up to bomb high-profile kill-list targets out of Kabul, thanks to information being given to her from Sandy (Corey Stoll) in Islamabad. The war games, as has been chronicled and commented on quite a bit in the last few years, have a kind of video game feel to them. But “The Drone Queen” also didn’t shy away from showing the very real consequences of those kinds of attacks.
Instead of Nicholas Brody, we have Aayan Ibrahim (Life of Pi‘s Suraj Sharma), a low-key and thoughtful young Pakistani medical student, who also happens to be the nephew of one of the United States’ top-listed enemies. After Carrie gave the go ahead to bomb the farm, where Sandy’s intelligence had told her the uncle was hiding out, the reality came forth that it was actually wedding. Forty civilians, including children, were slaughtered. While Carrie coldly justifies and rationalizes the hit (as does Sandy), others, like Quinn, are troubled by it. The face of this grieving, though, is the lone survivor Aayan.
Homeland has never been subtle about its politics, and “The Drone Queen” had a number of stark juxtapositions to strengthen its point of view. A portrait of Carrie putting on her sleep mask, earplugs and mouth guard to have a restful sleep then cut over sharply to locals looking for survivors in the rubble of the farm. Earlier, the explosions from the airstrikes on the screen in the command center were punctuated with a birthday celebration for Carrie. Happy days, we just slaughtered a bunch of people.
“The Drone Queen” also inverted that slaughter in a harrowing sequence where Sandy, whose cover was blown while he was supposed to meet with his secret asset, was stomped to death by angry protestors. Though Quinn shot at and killed several of them, the mob did not let up until Sandy was in their grasp. After a narrow escape, Carrie thought they could have done more. That statement, which stung Quinn, was also a way of her expressing her grief, which looked completely different to Quinn’s breakdown.
The politics got an even finer tip to them when Saul met with Dar Adal. Dar tries to tempt him back into government service, but Saul claims he’s happy in the private sector. He’s not. Homeland, which was very pro-Obama’s policies in the real world when it began its run, has changed its stance. Saul laments the withdrawal of troops as a war half-done, or, “the same war fought 14 times.” He longs to be involved not in sending security overseas, but in finishing what started in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan after 9/11 (at least, as best that can be). As an ambassador says to Quinn, “after 9/11, there were 7 names on the government’s hit list, including Osama Bin Laden. Now there are over 2,000.” Homeland is making no bones about what it thinks about how things have been handled.
As for how Homeland is handling itself, “The Drone Queen” was an excellent start to a season that felt fresh from its opening credits (or rather, the lack of them). The messy nature of the U.S.’s involvement in the border region is plain, and the groundwork Carrie’s involvement in it (both personal and professional) has been very well laid.
Episode Rating: A. Welcome back.
Click here to read my recap of part 2.
— I was excited about Corey Stoll being on this season … but R.I.P., Sandy.
— Homeland has always done an excellent job at humanizing international conflicts, and the start of this season is no exception.
— I like that the show is also incorporating the reality of viral videos into its narrative, not only in the case of Aayan, but also when Lockhart mentions that the stomping video is online as well. The operations are now as much about PR as strategy, and to hear Carrie look at it only in those terms initially was chilling.
— Series co-creator Alex Gansa wrote this episode.
— The scenes with Sandy, Carrie and Quinn at the end were harrowing. The search for Quinn’s asset is a great tease for this season, though.
— “Fuck you, Carrie, fuck you. What the hell is wrong with you??” – Quinn.
— Lieutenant: “You’re all monsters.” Carrie: “Get the fuck out of my face, Lieutenant.”