The Craziest Part of That Crazy Homeland Episode

The mayhem shocked, but not as much as the show's own self-sabotage did. 
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The crazy things about that crazy Homeland episode, “Still Positive,” in order of increasing craziness:

5. Dana Brody changes her name. A pretty sensible development, actually, and it was nice to see Jessica back her up on it. Hopefully, every moment of harmony between daughter and mother brings us closer to the two of them not being in the show at all. But it's not clear what we were supposed to get from the clerk recognizing them—yes, it underlined idea that the Brodys will remain tainted even if they change their names, but what’s gained by having that news delivered by a condescending Christian stereotype?

4. Dar Adal joins Team Lockhart. We don’t really know who Dar Adal is, so there’s no real twist to the fact that he’d play yes-man for the incoming boss at the expense of the old one. But also: Anyone else feel like they’d also be on Senator Lockhart’s side were it not for his pompousness? He says the CIA seems to be poorly run, which, given the other events of this episode, remains incontrovertible. Adal gives the sensible response one would give to the new guy who’s hoping for no surprises on Day One—"God forbid"—and then slightly mischaracterizes the conversation to Saul. Viewers root for Saul, so it’s no fun to see Adal turn away from him. But the fact that Saul trusted him in the first place just adds to the growing perception that our sad master spy is a surprisingly poor judge of character.

3. Carrie is pregnant. First, yikes. Wasn’t she guzzling tequila just last episode? Second, unexpected pregnancies have been a TV-drama trope for time eternal; we should have known Carrie would end up with one as the writer try to raise the stakes in this season of inconsequential-yet-excruciating conflicts. Third, the dad has to be that random redhead she stole from, right? Or does the timeline work that this could be—shudder—Nicholas Brody’s kid?

2. Majid Javadi goes on a killing spree. So much for any hope that Homeland might offer up a non-cartoonish bad guy. It wasn’t enough to have Saul relate the backstory about his former friend slaughtering CIA assets. We had to witness the disturbing spectacle of the deputy head of Iranian intelligence entering a suburban American home, shooting his daughter-in-law in the face, and stabbing his ex-wife to death with, as Quinn terms it, "a fucking bottle." 

That’s some Game of Thrones savagery. But that show's bloodbaths resonate emotionally because the violence is usually perpetrated by or against a character viewers have come to know, and because of what that says about the show's universe. Javadi killing his old family out of spite says a lot about Javadi being a sicko, and little about the world at large. (Though it must be intentional that all the innocent people we’ve seen offed this season have been Muslim or Muslim-affiliated—a reminder for Americans of who gets else harmed in the War on Terror.)

The more shocking thing about this storyline: The question it raises about our supposed heroes. It makes some (some) sense that Saul would want to keep the Javadi operation confined to a small team for now, but to not have another agent on the ground tailing this high-value target was idiotic. The show wants us to lay this miscalculation on Saul’s singleminded thirst for revenge—Carrie, rightfully, asks whether the guy he knew all those decades at all might have changed at all. But for the head of the CIA, whom we’ve come to respect as wise and coolheaded, to be so careless commits the worst sin of television implausibility: making the characters seem fake.

The dumbness of the operation felt even dumber in contrast to the pretty-intriguing portrayal of the resources and know-how the CIA has (or that Homeland imagines it has) at its disposal. People uttered the word “drone” over and over to drive home the current-events relevance of the episode, but at least the show has offered a plausible surveillance replacement for the far-fetched, spy-movie cliche of hyper-detailed, real-time satellite imagery. And Fara's racial-profiling comment was interesting; initially, it seemed as though she was objecting, but it more turned out that she was impressed at the ability to call up residential demographic info in an instant.

To be fair, this season did need some action, and the turns of the Javadi plotline did have me gasping at the screen. But they weren't the craziest thing about the episode. That honor goes to…

1. Dana moves out. OK, the mere fact of Dana moving out: not crazy. Her planning to move out without alerting her mother first and then acting surprised about Jessica objecting: sort of crazy, but teens can be dumb. The show making a big deal about Jessica darting away to give Dana some item before she left, only to have it be a debit card with $300 on it: less crazy than deflating. 

Legitimately, 100 percent bonkers: Homeland, at the supposed dramatic highpoint of the season thus far—Javadi’s rampage—cutting away for more Brody family drama. It’s all painful to rewatch: Javadi goes nutso, Carrie and Quinn apprehend him, debate what to do about the baby, and then leave to bring Javadi to his confrontation with Saul—what’s going to happen?! Jump to: shot of Chris and Jessica Brody fixing a dinner that’s probably as bland as their dialogue. Guh. No one thinks this storyline is entertaining or all that interesting. We’d already gotten one dose of it this episode. By juxtaposing it with the homeland-security capers that, y'know, Homeland exists to document, it only heightens the generic dreariness of the Brody-family stuff. Self-sabotage: It's not just for the show's characters, it seems, but for the show itself.

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Spencer Kornhaber is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic, where he edits the Entertainment channel. More

Before coming to The Atlantic, he worked as an editor for AOL's Patch.com and as a staff writer at Village Voice Media's OC Weekly. He has also written for Spin, The AV Club, RollingStone.com, Field & Stream, and The Orange County Register.

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