Five episodes into Homeland’s fourth season, also known as its comeback year after the chilly reactions the third season got, and the show is still behaving like a less frenetic version of 24. It doesn’t seem to need to be on cable, as its lack of profanity, violence and graphic nudity this season – not to mention the shorter episode running times – indicate that it could be pulling in big audiences on CBS. Remember a few years ago when that network aired trimmed down, less bloody episodes of Dexter’s first season? It seems that this Showtime series could be a valuable asset outside of cable, too.
Even though it would be simple to edit these season’s episodes for network TV, Homeland is still better than most of the dramas currently trying to retain their audience in primetime. It hasn’t returned to the heights of the first season-and-a-half, but even without needing a full 60-minute runtime, the show has a lot of moving pieces. Perhaps the connections between the storylines feel a bit silly, in a way that recall how 24 tried to ensure that all of the subplots eventually tied together in some way. Regardless, Showtime’s drama used this fifth episode, “About a Boy,” to make a clear point about how everything is connected: in this world of secrets and lies, everyone’s a spy.
In the most obvious iteration of the episode’s theme, Fara and Quinn discuss what it is like to be a spy. She was not prepared to help out Carrie’s operation with such depth, after coming aboard to help out as a journalist to gain Aayan’s trust a few episodes ago. However, since she discovered that Haqqani is still alive in the previous hour and managed to keep her cool and evade capture out on the Pakistani streets, Fara is now helping out in a bigger way. She is working with Quinn to capture the cleric of the mosque where the wanted man was last seen (with his nephew, Aayan, by his side). Fara says she is not happy behaving like a professional liar, thinking that it means that the good guys are just as unethical as the people they are trying to capture. Quinn remarks that the intelligence agents are just using the enemy’s own way to help bring their opponents down.
As for our inflammatory spy protagonist, Carrie’s scandalous move to seduce Aayan, attempting to gain his trust and get him to admit his uncle is alive, is more understandable this week. She only has a couple of days to get him on her side before he begins to get suspicious about why he is not on the way to a safe haven in London. (The scene where she explains her motive to Saul was unnecessary and somewhat rote, although the show has not had many meaningful opportunities to bring the former CIA director with his former top agent this season.) Carrie even gets Aayan to sit with her for an interview, although he becomes defensive when she brings up the “rumor” that Haqqani is still alive. His fuming response is convincing; however, his reveal to Carrie that he is actually alive in the episode’s final minutes felt like stiff plotting mechanics, unnaturally spurring the story further.