Homeland Review: “Shalwar Kameez” (Season 4, Episode 3)

Episode 403

Showtime’s Emmy-winning series Homeland has faced a long line of criticisms, from some of the more outlandish decisions made by its characters – the thoughts of infanticide last week sprung out of nowhere – and some of the more simplistic representations of Muslims. However, one thing that is also up for debate amongst the show’s fans is the jumbled, disorienting main title sequence. Originally, this opening credits segment was meant to resemble a dream of the show’s protagonist, Carrie Mathison, blending in flashes of non-sequitur dialogue with an array of jump cuts, superimpositions and off-rhythm Louis Armstrong trumpeting.

The fever dream worked well in Homeland’s first season, as Carrie was a loose cannon lost in a labyrinth of her own delusions. Now that we have reached a point where Carrie is in control, last week’s baby business notwithstanding, the titles are jumbled for the sake of being disorienting. Now, an updated opening offers a confusing mix of the events and dialogue from the show’s recent seasons with dispatches from two real-life Secretaries of State. The blend of the show’s fiction with real people does not quite work, since Homeland takes place in an alternate political universe, and is perhaps shouting for relevance by placing Clinton and Kerry in the opening titles. For a series that is pretty tame and mundane stylistically this season, the mayhem of the first sequence doesn’t quite work for Homeland any more.

Now, onto “Shalwar Kameez,” which gets its title from a loose, baggy traditional dress worn in Pakistan. This week, the two main characters are easing into their new wardrobe with much different results. Carrie is back on the ground in Islamabad, hoping to get up and running as the local intelligence services station chief. However, it is all under lockdown, and every American agent is staying put, knowing that any public sighting could spawn a violent massacre, in the wake of Sandy’s death by rioters. Carrie is trying her best to prove that she has power and control.

Claire Danes, who has one of television’s most versatile, expressive faces, continues to show her range of talents. One of Homeland’s biggest pleasures is watching the character think, and as she gauges new information and figures out how the power relations work, Danes’s face works overtime to give us insight into Carrie’s thought process.

As Carrie stays two steps ahead of the game in Islamabad, Quinn tosses with guilt in his hotel room, abandoning his agency job and code of ethics. Drawn to the demon of the drink and losing all recognizable facets of decision-making, Quinn mopes around his room and tortures himself further by watching the clips of Sandy’s brutal death that has gone viral. (One imagines that there would be privacy concerns that would have forced such a graphic video off of the Internet, but the series does not go that route.)