“One Last Time” is narratively unsatisfying, a retread of past episodes, more a matter of what Homeland needs to move forward than what viewers might actually want, but it’s a necessary evil. This season’s endgame has hinged on Saul’s (Mandy Patinkin) plan to flip Shaun Toub’s Majid Javadi—accomplished several episodes ago—and for him to then assassinate Javadi’s boss, the director of Iranian intelligence, in the hopes not only of creating the C.I.A.’s most highly placed operative, but of actually effecting change in the Middle East. This is the episode that bridges the two parts of Saul’s plan, then—and while a hinge is useful to a door, what’s interesting is what’s on the other side of the door. We’ll see Brody (Damian Lewis) pretend to be the 12/12 bomber as he infiltrates Tehran in next week’s episode; this episode has to show his rehabilitation from heroin addict to combat-ready veteran.
Sadly, the writers approach Brody’s return to the series as if he’s a brand new character: His pants-shitting frailty and heroin withdrawal humanize him, even as his insouciant refusals to work for the C.I.A. betray his arrogance, and his hallucinations remind us that he once conspired with a fellow prisoner of war, Tom (Chris Chalk), and their captor, Abu Nazir (Navid Negahban), to terrorize the United States. (The marines watching Brody even joke about his “special” relationship with Carrie.) This isn’t television for long-term viewers, it’s an indulgent, hour-long “Previously on…” The man’s own daughter, Dana (Morgan Saylor), puts it best when she sees him at the end of the episode: “Did you ever, for one second, think about if I wanted to see you?” she bawls, thrusting a pen and paper at him so he can write down what he wants to hear her say. “I will say it to you, as long as you promise that I will never have to see you again.”
Brody’s suffering isn’t the only thing that viewers never need to see again: Carrie (Claire Danes) is once again lectured at by a doctor who thinks that, as a pregnant woman, she should be less devil-may-care, and Saul is once again used more as a figurehead for the C.I.A.’s callous use of assets (for the greater good) than he is as a three-dimensional character. Even Saul’s humanizing plotline—his wife, Mira (Sarita Choudhury) was having an affair—is turned into another example of the sacrifices that are made for the greater good, for the other man isn’t only an Israeli spy, but someone feeding Senator Lockhart (Tracy Letts) information. The audience already knows that Lockhart is unschooled in basic spycraft, but as the series needed to buy Saul a few more weeks as director of the C.I.A., blackmailing his soon-to-be-successor (while protecting his wife) is at least an efficient, if lazy, resolution.
Condensing Brody’s 16 days of rehabilitation into a single episode didn’t have to feel so artless; “Tower of David” relied more on symbolism (the unfinished skyscraper), parallels (between Brody’s imprisonment and exile), and action (the mosque shooting), whereas “One Last Time” is filled with bland and literally shot sequences, a training montage, and two graphic but unaffecting suicide attempts. There are a few notable exceptions in which scenes are elevated by the chemistry between Danes and Lewis: Their first meeting is particularly strong (and largely unspoken), with Brody able to meet her eyes only long enough to dismiss and abandon her, and Carrie, who took a literal bullet for Brody last week, forcing herself through barely suppressed tears to put her love for him on hold. For all that Brody’s been through, Carrie showing him Dana’s current situation is the harshest of torture, and Lewis nails the scene, the way paternal feelings painfully rushes back into his once-deadened eyes, a man with something to live for once more. But these moments are undermined by the shallow scripting of the surrounding scenes, and the final exchange is tone deaf to any nuance in their relationship: “I will come back from Tehran,” he says; “I know you will,” she says, to which he explains, needlessly, “Not just for [Dana].” For all those fans teetering on the edge of dismissing Homeland, “One Last Time” had better be the last time the plot gets so tiresome.
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