With only a few episodes left to go in the season, Homeland has found itself in the same position as a guitarist retuning his top E string at a critical part of a performance: the slackness needs to be tightened to increase the tension, but going too far will lead to an irretrievable snap that’ll ruin everything and leave the audience disappointed.
‘I’ll Fly Away’ goes some way towards patching up the seemingly irreparable damage done by last week’s near-debacle of an episode, with no flabby, hole-filling irrelevance and the instances of meaningless, faux-deep ‘reflection’ kept to an absolute minimum. This week, things actually happen and (mostly) for a reason. However, there are still scenes where one can’t help but wonder at the almost admirable levels of crassness on display.
The most obvious example is the scene where Brody and Carrie – temporarily on the run after the former abruptly severs his connection with al-Qaeda and the latter tries to stop him being arrested by the CIA – stop off at a motel for some heartfelt chitchat and a vigorous shag. Quite apart from the fact that this is one of the least engaging love stories in the history of television (it’s hard to say which is more annoying: the lack of clarity regarding Carrie’s true motives for cracking on with the detrousered terrorist or how dislikeable this on-off affair makes Brody, a man who clearly thinks monogamy is a type of wood) and the sexual tension between these two characters has long since dissipated like partygoers when it comes to cleaning up the morning after, it’s actually uncomfortable watching them go at it.
Then, just at the moment that their grunting and moaning becomes completely unbearable, the shot cuts to a bloke in a car outside with a microphone … and then back to the CIA ops room, where a fuming Quinn and a despairing Saul are listening in. It’s so awkward it’s funny, and you really do have to respect a show that drops in some black comedy when it’s simultaneously trying to ramp up the tenseness. All it needs is for Estes to come storming in, overhear the audiobonk and roar through some improbable microphone, ‘Carrie, stop fucking that traitor RIGHT NOW.’
In the end, they settle for Carrie turning up at work the next day to learn of the aural amusement of the night before. ‘Was everyone listening in?’ she asks. ‘To most of it, yeah,’ Saul replies gravely. It’s utterly inane but surprisingly amusing.
What’s even more of a shock, though, is that in spite of the comedy sex and some more OTT Brody ranting – ‘I can’t, I can’t, I can’t!’ – this episode does manage to reconstruct the tension that drained away down the plughole of Rex Henning’s outdoor swimming pool last week. From the moment Brody slams on the brakes as Roya steps in front of his SUV in the gloomy car park, it’s clear that something unpleasant is imminent. Sure enough, one lonely roadside meeting with the bloke who massacred the CIA agents in Gettysburg and he’s being unwillingly helicoptered to a meeting with a very Westernised Abu Nazir. ‘Nicholas,’ the master bastard says just before the credits roll. It’s a cliffhanger of the highest calibre, even if it’s flagged up beforehand like a Morris Dancing festival advertised by semaphore.
Whether this series will end with a bang or a whimper – or Brody and Carrie on the job again, which usually means both – remains uncertain, but Homeland’s demonstrable ability to regain its footing as quickly as it stumbled means that things could yet go either way. Triumph or disaster? This one’s impossible to call.
This week’s big Homeland question: Whisper it in the company of the Damian Lewis fan club, but can Brody survive beyond this season? The show has been renewed for a third run, yet it seems more and more likely that its original premise won’t stretch that far. Is there still room for Brody, either as a baddie or a goodie, in Homeland’s future?
This week’s not-so-big Homeland question: Did Peter Quinn take home the recording of Carrie and Brody having sex to aid him in an angry wank?
Aired at 9pm on Sunday 25 November 2012 on Channel 4.
What did you think of the episode? Let us know below…