For a show called Homeland, Homeland sure has gone wandering this season. I wonder if it's still President Obama's favourite show?
For two entire seasons, this tale of a patriotic war-hero/secret-terrorist (maybe), and the bipolar FBI agent no one would believe, generated tightly-focused suspense within so few main settings you could count them on one hand.
The most compelling scenes took place in the D.C.-area picket-fenced home of Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis), the charismatic, secretly-traumatized Marine who was being groomed as the next Republican hope. His sex life had taken a weird turn, he was uncommunicative with his wife and family, and - contentiously - he was shown secretly unrolling a prayer blanket and praying to Allah.
Add in FBI agent Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes), on and off her meds, compiling intel at her home with the convolution of John Nash in A Beautiful Mind (and with the forbearance of her mentor Saul, played by Mandy Patinkin), and you had a show that put global terrorism in a claustrophobic, tension-filled box.
And then, BLAM!
The second season ended with the bombing of the CIA HQ in Langley, Va., the deaths of hundreds, and an incriminating jihad video recorded by Brody. Narratively, the explosion seemed to send the plot in as many directions as it sent debris.
For one thing, season three seems to have spent more time in hospitals than Gray's Anatomy.
There was Carrie's stint in the mental hospital, of course, defiant and later desperate, as the blame for Brody's supposed act of terrorism hovered over her and their sexual dalliance.
There was Dana Brody (Morgan Saylor), Nicholas's troubled daughter, whose suicide attempt put her in a psychiatric hospital as well. There, her Romeo and Juliet affair with fellow patient Leo (Sam Underwood) has sucked much far too much of the attention without furthering the narrative (in fact, it impeded Carrie's story in episode 5). Not sure how they decided what the Homeland needed was teenaged star-crossed lovers, but the tale of Dana and Leo has probably been the biggest misstep in the series thus far.
And then there was Brody himself, who somehow ended up in Caracas, Venezuela (!) being treated for bullet wounds at an ad hoc clinic run by a mysterious mercenary figure called El Nino (Manny Perez).
El Nino's ruthless cred was established in a transparently-ingratiating murder scene, in which an Imam and his family were killed for trying to turn in the fugitive Brody. Yes, this series has not done peaceful Muslim citizens any favours, but the make-good of randomly turning some into anti-terrorist martyrs seemed just a tad forced.
So after all that hospitalization, comes the cherry on a Homeland season for which we waited nine whole months. Seems Carrie's whole ordeal was part of the kind of crazily-elaborate CIA conspiracy (this one involving Iranian-linked bankers) that guys with tinfoil hats always imagine the Agency perpetrating.
A plot gone adrift is only part of the problem with Homeland this season. At times, the show seems to forget Brody - whose charisma has always been half Homeland's appeal.
I'm not in favour of jettisoning Homeland after all the hours of entertainment it's provided. But it really needs to find its focus again.
Simple solution: announce that there will be an ending, and make the writers stick to it. As Breaking Bad proved, there's nothing like a finish line to bring a story home.
And Homeland really needs to come home.