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Homeland: Season 8, Episode 3 (False Friends) - Review

Homeland, Season 8

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

THE third episode of the final season of Homeland was a quiet stage-setter by all accounts. But it did, nevertheless, manage to wrestle with some weighty themes.

Primary among those was the issue of trust. Hence, the name of the episode took its inspiration from the often fragile and sometimes duplicitous relationships that form the basis of a life lived covertly.

Carrie (Claire Danes) had to try and determine whether the emergence of Yevgeny (Costa Ronin), her handler in Russia, is part of a continuing Russian plan to discredit her, or whether he is ripe for turning as a US asset.

The odds, at this stage, are firmly placed on the former being true, particularly as this final season of Homeland would appear to be circling back on itself by placing a question mark over Carrie’s loyalties – just as season one had the allegiances of Damian Lewis’ Brody take centre-stage.

The scenes in question enabled Danes to roll out her trademark jitters as she sought to try and remember exactly what happened to her in Russia and whether she could really risk her fragile reputation on trying to ‘turn’ a potential foe.

Danes played it well but there was a continually nagging feeling that viewers were one step ahead of the writing, as opposed to the other way around – which is not a position Homeland ought to find itself in. At its best, the series has always had the ability to surprise. Thus far, the plot beats appear to be familiar and not that unexpected. We hope it won’t become overly predictable.

Similarly, the other major plot thread of this episode and the attempts by Taliban leader Haissam Haqqani (Numan Acar) to uncover whether the attempt on his life was by American manufacture or a traitor from within his own ranks.

Audiences knew it wasn’t the US, as Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin) had risked his own life trying to prevent it. But it was little surprise to find Haqqani’s son, Jamal (Elham Ehsas), was the architect, or that the Pakistani government was pulling the strings.

The question then became about whether Haissam would risk reputation by forgiving his son, or do what he deemed necessary and execute him. The end result was a middle ground. He both forgave and abandoned him, throwing him into the street to meet whatever punishment fate dealt.

As it turned out, fate looked kindly upon Jamal as the final moments of the episode saw him being rescued by his Pakistani backers.

What the scenes did afford, however, was an insight into the ‘other side’ – namely, the Taliban’s battle-weary Haissam, as he sought to look for a way to end the interminable conflict that had already robbed him of the lives of several sons.

As he eloquently told Jamal at one point: “We are just strong enough not to lose, and just weak enough not to win.” From his perspective, a position from which there was no satisfying resolution; just more bloodshed and hardship.

Given real world events and the signing of a treaty between the Taliban and Afghanistan, Homeland is at least operating on highly relevant subject matter. It lends the show the immediacy it has often thrived upon delivering, meaning that it is keeping up with the times.

But Haissam’s decision to let his son go surely spells tragedy further down the line. And, once more, the show feels weaker for perhaps showing a little too much in the way of humanity.

Acar’s portrayal of Haissam is both sensitive and measured; but it also feels – and perhaps I am wrong in this – a little too soft and televised. There is no real complexity. The show’s writers want us to side with him, rather than presenting a really nuanced character who could – even at this point – be serving his own agenda.

The sense of unease and distrust surrounding key characters has often been a Homeland strength. To not have it here feels like a weakness. But perhaps this is designed to heighten any tragedy that follows… we’ll see.

Elsewhere, there was a welcome return for Beau Bridges’ President Warner (an unlikely good guy at a time when real-world American politics are in the shitter), as well as his adviser David Wellington (Linus Roache). But trouble is already brewing in the form of Vice President Ben Hayes (series newcomer Sam Trammell), who could well be positioning himself for a run at the presidency himself (given that he represents the opposing party).

Could the real villains of this season (aside from those in Pakistan) yet become internal, echoing the kind of self-serving political agendas pushed by so many 24-style baddies?

False Friends may not have set the world on fire but it did tease some intriguing possibilities, even when treading familiar territory. It marked something of an improvement on the broader, dumber plays that informed the previous episode.

But there is also the real sense that this final run of episodes has yet to really hit its stride. Its still very much putting its pieces into place, while testing our patience and loyalty at the same time.

Read our verdict on the previous episode, Catch & Release