A lot of setup and not much payoff in this week’s Homeland, “About A Boy.” Based on a scientific study of serialized dramas that I just made up, I’m going to say that’s par for the course for a fifth episode. We’ve learned who all the players are at this point, and we mostly understand their motivations (except for the ones who will inevitably do something completely out of character in order to move the plot along).

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The only game-changing moment was Saul’s kidnapping, which stretched credulity for me in a couple of ways, though I’m nevertheless glad it happened—gotta keep Saul in the area so he can continue to be awesome. At first it seemed like too great a coincidence that the ISI agent/orchestrator of Sandy Bachman’s death would happen to arrive at the airport at the same time as Saul, and also be so visible. And then it seemed unbelievable that Saul wouldn’t immediately recognize that he couldn’t have just gotten lucky, and that something must be up. He’s a cautious man, except when the plot needs to get him into a trunk.

And there he was, bound and gagged in the cleric’s Peugeot, with Quinn and Fara just a few cars back. The Quinn-Fara dynamic was interesting this week, at least, and it tried to not-so-subtly shed some light on Quinn’s mixed feelings about Carrie. Fara assumes that because of the way Quinn and Carrie interact they must have known each other forever, which seems to make Quinn a little wistful. (Please don’t be in love with her and let it get you killed, Quinn.) Then he spits, “You’re learning from the best. Manipulating people, exploiting their weakness.” So clearly Quinn feels less like a partner to Carrie, and more like an asset. What are the odds on a Quinn speech at some point this season in which he says, “You treat everybody like an asset, Carrie!”

Speaking of Carrie’s assets (see what I did there?), she had sex with Aayan last week, leading to the inevitable: He felt guilty (“It’s against my faith”), then Quinn got indignant (“To me it looks like you’re fucking a child”), then Aayan came back for more, eventually playing right into Carrie’s hands and admitting that his terrorist uncle is alive, but apparently very sick. (That’s what the secret medicine was all about. Couldn’t a terrorist chief get himself medicine?)

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This certainly wasn’t all bad. Lesser shows wouldn’t have given Carrie the emotional shading that she got in her conversations with Aayad, leaving us to wonder how much she’s acting and how much actual regret about Brody (and her invisible kid) she’s actually feeling. There’s a crazy human down in there somewhere who maybe, possibly cares about other people. Presumably she’ll emerge and do something righteous before the season is up.

Over at the embassy, there’s an entirely different show happening; let’s call it Islamabad Nights or something. The ambassador and her drunk, shady husband—though both excellent actors, Laila Robbins and Mark Moses—are in a much cheesier show than Homeland. He’s being blackmailed by the woman that we now know is an ISI agent, and she’s just trying to figure out how to fully unravel their marriage. When Agent Redmond (a.k.a. “The Caddyshack Kid”) helps Dennis Boyd home, the ambassador conveniently says scathing things about her husband, giving him the balls to break into Carrie’s apartment and photograph her prescription medications. (Is all this medication some kind of product placement by Pfizer?)

So… another fine episode, but one in which the game wasn’t really changed in too many ways: Saul was kidnapped, which will presumably lead to a kick-ass spy operation and rescue, and Duck Phillips from Mad Men will soon reveal to the Pakistanis that Carrie takes Zoloft (or whatever it is she takes, maybe it’s just for asthma). Aayan has now fully submitted to Carrie’s charms—sexual and otherwise—and so hopefully the real spy-game fireworks can begin.

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Stray observations:

  • I do like how carefully considered Carrie’s emotions are. Having her break down while they were having sex at least offered her the shred of humanity that we know she has.
  • Carrie’s defensive “What’s it to you, anyway?” to Quinn may be the first indicator that she knows what’s up with his feelings. (Or maybe is completely blind to them, which could be even worse.)
  • How many times did Carrie say she didn’t want to lie to Aayan immediately before or after lying to him?
  • Why wasn’t Carrie answering the damn phone, anyway?
  • “Believe it or not, I don’t have a death wish either.” Are you sure about that, Peter?
  • “I took, I didn’t give. How do I give?” (Creepy shivers.)
  • Best line delivery of the season, non-Saul division: “I’m a spy. I know shit.”

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