Homeland series 4, episode 1, Channel 4, review: Drone Queen Carrie has little to celebrate

A great show becomes a CIA soap opera

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The Independent Culture

Homeland without Damian Lewis. It’s an intriguing premise and one we’ll have the chance to explore in the fourth series of this once-great, long-since diminished drama series. The fact that Lewis’s character Sergeant Nicholas Brody – the show’s male lead, no less – was killed off in series three demonstrates the writers’ willingness to make big changes. But is it already too late to save this show?

With Brody gone, our main focus was Carrie (Claire Danes) – a woman whose continued employment in the CIA, once merely implausible, is now downright insulting. In her new role as Kabul’s station chief, Carrie did at least seem a willing cog in the US military machine. In the opening scene she launched a drone strike on a farmhouse, accidentally bombing a wedding party in the process. Hey ho! It’s all in a day’s work, and there was even time for a birthday celebration moments after. The cake read “Happy Birthday, Carrie The Drone Queen”. How fun!

Meanwhile, back on US soil, Saul (Mandy Patinkin) has a cushy job in the private sector, but, old peacenik that he is, he insisted on using a sales meeting to mouth off about Afghanistan. “Save it for your op-ed,” cautioned his remarkably tolerant boss. “Did you hear me, Saul? It’s not your job anymore.” It was exactly the sort of ticking off Saul used to give Carrie, once upon a time, back when Homeland was good.

Watching this series can feel like being stuck in a rocky marriage (Saul and Mira’s rocky marriage, to be exact). The same arguments get rehashed endlessly and you have to put up with your partner’s taste in terrible free jazz. But every now and then there’s an exciting moment that almost makes it worth hanging on. The scene in which Carrie and Quinn’s vehicle was attacked by a vengeful mob was one such moment. It’s only a shame Sandy (Corey Stoll) had to get ripped limb from limb so early in the series.

Stoll, who also made a too-soon exit from House of Cards, can convey a mix of cowardice and duplicity that might have complemented Carrie’s new-found moral certainty nicely.

It’s possible that new character Aayan Ibrahim (Life of Pi’s Suraj Sharma), a medical student whose whole family were wiped out by Carrie’s drone strike, might develop into something interesting, but it’s doubtful whether that’s enough to stop the show’s steady descent into a CIA-themed soap opera. Hugo Blick, the writer of BBC2’s The Honourable Woman was smart enough to end his story about Middle Eastern espionage after a single series. Homeland also had a great single-series premise, but it just goes on and on and on...

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