Homeland 4.04: Iron in the Fire

 Posted by on October 19, 2014 at 10:45 pm  Homeland
Oct 192014

Episode 404

Okay. Ew. That was just. Ew.

Not the whole episode, mind you, just that last scene. Homeland has been pretty bold in making Carrie Mathison an anti-hero, and Iron in the Fire is no exception. Culturally, we accept our Don Drapers, Walter Whites, and Cullen Bohannons much more readily than we accept bad behavior—especially bad sexual behavior—from women. By seducing Ayaan, Carrie has crossed a somewhat grotesque line. It’s not just the age difference, and the fact that she’s playing on his fear and confusion, or the fact that he’s a virgin and easily manipulated, it’s the utter indifference Carrie has to him. He’s a bad guy in her mind, an “iron in the fire” (title check) and he’s consorting with the enemy. She went from “working a resource” to out and out lying to him because he’s helping his terrorist uncle. And seduction as a part of that is just plain icky.

As we watched, Professor Spouse said she thought the theme of Iron in the Fire was “Who can you trust?” It was a series of betrayals, crosses and double-crosses, twists and reversals. I had already remarked, at that point, that it’s a wonder they have time to spy on the enemy, given how much they spy on one another.

John Redmond (Michael O’Keefe) is developing into an interesting character. Carrie’s rival, her enemy, a drunk—all that was apparent in their first crackly meeting. Now he’s running spies against her and playing her by feeding her helpful information (the name of the killer, the tunnel). Or is he? Maybe he’s really helping? Twists within twists.

But the darkest twists are the intimate ones. Carrie’s isn’t the only intimate betrayal, of course. That’s reserved for the ambassador’s husband. Duck, you always were no good! Mark Moses plays dissolute so well; the desperate professor who can’t get a teaching position because of his own wrongdoing has made matters worse, betraying his country because he’s angry at his wife, or wants to feel important, or some other unworthy reason.

So who do you trust? Ayaan can’t really trust Carrie, and it turns out Carrie can’t trust Ayaan either. Carrie knows she can’t trust Redmond, but she’d like to. Saul trusts his old friend, who turns out to be an anti-American conspiracy nut of the worst order.

Still, I think the episode, and indeed, this season of Homeland, is very much about the price you pay for doing this work. While Quinn is broken down, Carrie is ice-cold, and both of those are high prices to pay. Isn’t Carrie’s cold-hearted seduction evidence of that? Fara has a fairly innocent reaction to Ayaan, at first, and Carrie knocks those innocent edges right off her; Fara’s price is her own empathy. The price you pay, an intimate price, is a deeper theme, to me, and maybe “who can I trust?” is best answered with “not myself.”

Your laundry is ready for pick-up.

This was a difficult episode, but I was pleased to see real spycraft. We lose that, sometimes, in a show with so many irons in the fire (see what I did there?). Breaking into the bad guy’s apartment to clone the phone was a wonderful scene, and blackmailing Mark Moses was exactly right, and exactly how the CIA was shown to play it in previous seasons of Homeland.

And while we’re on the subject, yes, seduction has always been a weapon of spycraft, but does its application here mean that this show has gone off the rails? Or was it one dark moment on a frequently-dark show? Is it leading into a larger story about Carrie losing touch with herself, something the entire season has been hinting at?

Sound off, Basketcases, what do you think?


  5 Responses to “Homeland 4.04: Iron in the Fire”

  1. Duck Phillips!

  2. Redmond seems like a veteran spy – if so, he figured out, like Saul, that Carrie has set up her own trusted outside-Embassy group (which, he figures, is why she leaves regularly leaves the Embassy). He is also figuring out that Carrie is a veteran spy herself who can shake a tail with ease. He’s hedging by doling out “help” even as he expresses resistance. I wonder if a spy can usually get away with that sort of passive insubordination? He knows that Carrie can not afford to roughly discipline him (right away, anyway).

    Should we suppose that Fara has gotten some formal training in spycraft? She managed to change the game in short order, by steeling herself to overcome her jitters and inexperience in following Carrie’s (now) prey.

    Something didn’t seem right with that bed-making exercise. Normally you’d hand off the linens and go to your own room. Young Aayan is a well-placed pawn, firmly on the “other side” – an enemy. His seduction was unambiguous in a way that Brody’s never was. This suggests that Carrie is fully under control of herself.

    FWIW, the deep-cover KGB protagonists in The Americans are in control in much the same way when they sleep with their own pawns.

    I missed how Homeland’s own professor spouse was able to extract secrets to which the ambassador spouse had access. As Saul’s almost-wife she’s clearly an old pro too. She wouldn’t be sloppy about guarding her secrets and basic protocols would seem to prevent leaks. This seems like a gaff (a writer’s gaff) somewhat worse than Dar Adal’s gaff with Quinn blabbing wihtout earshot of Quinn’s “friend”. So it goes – these kind of gaffs have been common all along in service to the plot.

    I suppose Saul and Carrie knew all along that they’d only “stir the pot” by calling in that chit. Does Fara’s game-changer make that a mistake – now that they’ve found that the high-value-asset is alive?

    • I wonder what the Redmond gang is up to. Was Sandy theirs, or are they complicit in having him killed? Redmond was in line to become Chief of Station, remember. He was NOT pleased to see Carrie. Does he know that Quinn is back? Was Quinn aware of intramural reindeer games during his first period in Islamabad? What exactly was he doing in Islamabad, anyhow? What is the relationship between the Ambassador and Redmond? The Ambassador talks a good stern leader game, but she seems very social — flinty flirty and boozy — in her interactions with staff and besieged/insecure in her move of locking down the embassy staff after Sandy is murdered in the street. Now that we have seen her with her husband, she seems even more playable.

      As for the believability of the Ambassador and her husband, remember that an Israeli spy mobbed up with Lockhart got into Saul and Mira’s home (and Mira’s bed) last season while Saul was Director!

      If The Americans has taught us anything, it is that espionage is all about ruthlessly exploiting human vulnerability and fallibility! Homeland has been more surveillance-based until now. The Carrie-Brody thing got started with Carrie watching Brody, remember. The “Quinn-Carrie thing” got started with Quinn watching Carrie and Brody, and twice having Brody in sights and choosing not to pull the trigger. It escalated with Saul pulling Quinn into the Javadi op to be Carrie’s watcher, a role in which he both lost sight of her “from a safe distance” and was eventually forced to shoot her.

      The drone thing/Drone Queen thing is an escalation of the “remove of surveillance” effect. The people on the ground are having to deal with blowback from the drone strike on the wedding by using oldschool spycraft. Quinn was the only human actor in the series of drone strikes that opened S2, and remains haunted by the kid he accidentally killed. He is the only one for whom that whole thing was not a flash on a screen, and he is the only one freaking out now.

      Carrie’s application of seduction spycraft to the “iron in the fire” who survived the drone strike she called based on Sandy’s intel seems so disconcerting because it crosses those wires and makes her seem utterly inhuman, driven only by her take on the game. The obsessive tunnel-vision that has been her strength during the past 3 seasons may not serve her well as station chief running an op against her own ostensible people. The season may end with a “who survived the Benghazi-style bloodbath at the Embassy” cliffhanger.

  3. I, too, thought the theme this season was the growing moral corruption of Carrie, et al., from the first episode. This is probably intrinsic to war. How does the drone campaign, which inevitiblly, predictably, and often, accidentally kills civilians (accidental in that no one is deliberately targeting them) compare with the deliberate saturation bombing by all sides in World War II? This is not to imply moral equivalence between the Allies and the Axis.

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