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‘Homeland’ Season 3 Episode 4 Recap: “Game On”

The bad news, after last week’s welcome bounce-back episode, is that this week’s Homeland is, once again, Brody-free (and Dana-riffic). The good news is that after three weeks of flailing around in crazy-town, Carrie Mathison is back in play, courtesy of a beautifully executed fake-out that I’ll confess to falling for hook, line, and sinker. There’ve been long stretches of the still-young season where it seemed the show’s creative personnel didn’t know what the hell they’re doing; it’s a relief to see that at least some of that seemingly aimless storytelling had a purpose after all.

I don’t feel that bad for falling for “Game On”’s twist; after all, they put a mighty long tail on it, and spend plenty of time distracting us with the shiny objects of Carrie’s on-again-off-again-on-again release, the DOJ-aided monkeying of Dar (for the record, not quite enough F. Murray Abraham this week), and the tantalizing notion of “security risk” Carrie on the run. To be sure, the agency did a number on her: her bank account was frozen, her credit cards and passport were cancelled, and the TSA put her on their no-fly list. Carrie living off her wits for a few episodes could be interesting, I thought, before the other shoe dropped.

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Of course, the primary (and most intriguing) red herring is the idea that Carrie was, indeed, going to flip—to act as a kind of counterpart to Brody’s switch to inside man in season two. Though a bit hard to swallow, they certainly brought in the right actor to sell it: the great Martin Donovan (The Opposite of Sex, Insomnia, Weeds) as oily lobbyist Leland Bennett, smugly playing devil’s advocate and pointing out, “You’ll be back in county lock-up by the end of the day, put there by the very institutions you’re trying to protect.” Her conditions for allowing the mysterious Iranian client to “pick [her] brain from time to time” (she won’t name names, she’ll only talk to him, only face to face) are exactly the kind of sensible notions we’d expect from someone who’s looking to sleep better at night; they turn out to be exactly what the double-double agent will need to catch him. (I can’t praise Donovan’s work here enough; between his playing and the stellar writing, particularly his description of how she’s been “controversialized,” this was probably the season’s single best scene thus far.)

So that’s what’s great about the turn of the final scene: they’ve played (mostly) fair, they’ve explained (some) of Saul’s peculiar behavior, and he and Carrie’s tender moment at the end, as Saul embraces her and comforts her with his “It’s almost over” promise, is at least somewhat restorative of what seemed an irreparably damaged relationship that was once the show’s moral center. It doesn’t forgive all of the season’s stumbles thus far, but it helps.

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And speaking of stumbles, we’re back to Dana, helping her boyfriend Leo escape and going on the run with him, as their parents wring their hands and viewers across the country start thinking about their grocery lists. Look, I’m well aware that my Dana-hate is becoming a broken record in these recaps, so I’ll spare you the bulk of it; maybe it’d be best to just pretend like she’s not there at all. But mention must be made of the way she rolls her eyes and smiles after Leo tosses her cell phone out the window (oh, this wacky juvenile delinquent!) and the cringe-inducing earnestness of her confession to him at the episode’s end: “I just want to stay like this forever. You know, usually I wake up and I feel so strange. But today, this is just perfect. I never wanna go back.” I know what you mean, Dana; last week there was an episode that you were entirely absent from, and I never wanted to go back either. But here we are.

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