“The Yoga Play,” both the episode and the spy tactic that Carrie (Claire Danes) uses within it, is little more than a distraction. After all, nothing really happens until the end of the episode, and everything that sets up the climax happens off-camera, which has been a recurring theme this season, problematic for viewers who are stuck wading through 40 minutes for the good stuff): Carrie’s secret mission with ex-spy Virgil (David Marciano) and his brother, Max (Maury Sterling), doesn’t accomplish anything, and Dana’s romantic road trip simply fizzles out.
Then again, maybe these distractions are sort of the point, an example both of Saul Berenson’s (Mandy Patinkin) concerns about faulty intelligence and the various identity crises experienced by the rest of the characters. After all, the episode opens with Carrie looking in a mirror and consciously flushing her medication, fleeing from the things that describe and limn her. On the other end of that spectrum, Dana Brody (Morgan Saylor) has been living “free” and on the road for the last three days, under the illusion that “We don’t have to be who we are,” even when her boyfriend, Leo (Sam Underwood), replies, “You think people would let us?” The truth is, they’re running low on funds, and while they can run away from the responsibilities that bind and define them, there’s no escaping what people say they are: the daughter of a terrorist and the survivor of a suicide pact.
This point is swiftly borne out when, at a gas station, Dana overhears a newscast about the so-called suicide pact Leo had with his brother, and she turns on him: How he defines himself to her doesn’t matter nearly as much as what others are saying about him. Even the realization that what she’s doing to Leo—turning on him on the basis of what others say—is exactly what she’s begged others not to do to her isn’t enough to keep their relationship together. (It certainly doesn’t help that the last person she truly loved—her father—turned out to be a terrorist.) Just like that, the honeymoon is over: Dana returns home, walks into the darkness of her old, horrifically familiar bedroom, and weeps. This is her prison (the shot is similar to those used to depict Carrie in the psych ward and Damian Lewis’s Brody in the Venezuelan basement), and she now knows that she can’t escape her reputation. Then again, this is an odd realization for Dana to make, given that she’s already attempted suicide; it doesn’t give us any new information about her character.
The Dana plot also manages to weigh down Carrie’s scenes; last week made it appear as if Carrie was ready to infiltrate the Iranian intelligence network she’d just been recruited into, and “The Yoga Play” opens with shots of mastermind Majid Javadi (Shaun Toub) casually driving over the U.S./Canadian border. But this week, Carrie risks compromising that mission to help Jessica (Morena Baccarin), who frantically shows up at Carrie’s door, hoping to track Dana down. The one key part of their exchange comes when Carrie assures her that “Dana’s a bright girl, she’ll see right through [Leo],” and Jessica cuttingly responds that “She’s in love, who knows what she’ll see.” After all, Carrie and Jessica have both loved and been deceived by Brody. This point, however, has been made before, and so what’s left is an episode in which Carrie needlessly rocks the boat. (Ultimately, it’s the seemingly lazy F.B.I. agent tasked with watching the Brody family who’s correct: Dana returns home of her own accord.)
What works about this episode, and significantly advances the plot, revolves around Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin). As he gears up to go on a hunting trip thrown together by the president’s chief of staff, he figures that this is to be his unofficial nomination into the directorship of the C.I.A., but it’s apparent from his clothes and his less-than-warm reception that he’s never been more of a fish out of water. He’s been the placeholder and blame-taker, and that’s only because the 12/12 Langley bombing decimated much of the former leadership. Instead, it’s Senator Lockhart (Tracy Letts) who’s getting the nomination. This is problematic for a lifelong spy like Saul, since Lockhart is a firm believer in overt military action, like the “successful” drone program, and disregards Saul’s warnings that “You can’t run an intelligence agency from 17,000 feet.” He gives Saul a clear ultimatum: Either he comes around to Lockhart’s views, or he’ll be ousted from the C.I.A. when Lockhart takes over in two weeks.
This know-nothing bureaucratic approach is terrifying in the way it resembles actual American politicking, and the choice to set these revelations in the middle of a literal wild goose chase seems pointed at lead-from-the-gut Republicans. Lockhart might be an excellent shot (as he guns down a goose, it’s impossible not to think of Dick Cheney), but as Saul states, dressing down Lockhart in front of all his peers, “Being a spy isn’t the same as sitting in a hide waiting for the enemy to come out under your guns.” All too often, you’re operating in the dark, with faulty intelligence, and against targets far wilier than geese, which is the position Carrie now finds herself in.
Because Saul’s been politically maneuvered into a corner, he plays fast and loose with Carrie’s life, placing Agent Quinn (Rupert Friend) at an ineffective surveillance distance. When Carrie’s abducted in the middle of the night by Javadi’s men, stripped naked and searched for bugs and her phone smashed, the C.I.A. isn’t following. “She’s on her own,” Quinn informs Saul, and what can his boss do but respond with little more than a prayer for the operation’s success: “She’s always been on her own.”
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