Sebastian Koch, Claire Danes

Homeland’s season four finale is an overlong, off-putting slog, but as season five begins to solidify, the more obvious is the significance of “Long Time Coming” to the show’s broader picture. Carrie Mathison was ambivalent about motherhood for many reasons, the most prominent of which is the fact than Frannie is her parting gift from Brody, the man who demolished her life again and again as if it was his hobby. The not-yet-born Frannie was an ominous cloud over season three because it seemed impossible to incorporate a child into Carrie’s life between her dangerous career and her mental instability, so when Frannie appeared in season four, the audience was as slow to warm to the idea of her presence as Carrie was. Actually, Carrie was a little too uncomfortable with Frannie’s presence, prompting her to briefly consider drowning her own child before thinking better of it. Whether or not you think that story choice made sense for the character, it’s what happened, and best way to bring Carrie full circle was to force her to directly confront her issues with her own absentee mother.

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“Long Time Coming” is a burdensome episode of television, but it’s a fair enough route to take if the destination is Carrie with a new outlook on motherhood, Carrie and Saul’s relationship in shambles, a more prominent, less shady role for Dar Adal, and an even more isolated, depersonalized Quinn. “The Tradition Of Hospitality” is incredibly impressive in terms of how gracefully it braids those threads together while deepening the story of the Berlin data breach in only the second hour of a drastically rebooted season. Carrie so quickly finds herself back in the midst of Middle Eastern unrest, she might as well have been dropped off in Lebanon by a tornado, but the briskness is easy to overlook because “Hospitality” feels like Homeland to a degree I didn’t think the show would be capable of until maybe midway through the season. Season four worked its way up to a thrilling pace, but it took its time getting there, and this season appeared to be starting from an even cleaner slate. As it turns out, the Brody-centric “The Star” required more clean-up, while “Long Time Coming” laid so much of the groundwork for this season, we’re into the good stuff much more quickly.

Most importantly, last season’s finale got Carrie invested in being a mother to Frannie, and established that Carrie consciously chose motherhood. Society judges absentee mothers and those who are less than enthusiastic about parenting more harshly than deadbeat dads, and that judgmental tone frequently finds its way into fiction. Homeland seemed like it was taking that path at the beginning of season four, like the writers were judging Carrie for using her work and her psychological condition as excuses to shirk her biological obligation. But now it seems like Carrie just chose to have a close relationship with her daughter. She’s always had a strong sense of duty to whatever cause she’s involved with, which we’ve seen several times this season, when Carrie refuses to compromise The During Foundation in her interactions with CIA personnel and vice-versa. So when Carrie decides it’s her duty to be better to Frannie than Ellen was to her, she’s not doing it because she feels biologically obligated to the child. She’s doing it because it’s who she is, and actively raising Frannie is a natural extension of her lifelong devotion to protecting innocents.

Carrie has figured out how to embrace motherhood, and she’s also found a man just as enthusiastic about having Frannie around as she is. So now, when Carrie says she’s out of the CIA, she’s genuinely out. There’s no part of her that views her trip with Otto During to a refugee camp at the Syria-Lebanon border as “one last score” or as a welcome, one-time opportunity to dabble in the work she once found so fulfilling. She’s terrified and wants nothing to do with it. When she arrives at the General Alladia camp, she negotiates a one-hour window for During to do everything he came to do and get out before the situation gets dicey, and she’s committed to keeping that schedule. After Carrie explains the terms to During at a party, he tells her she looks comfortable in Beirut. She explains that the energy he’s picking up on is more about familiarity, the kind that breeds contempt not comfort. Naturally, when it comes time to wrap up, During isn’t finished glad-handing and keeps asking for more time as a suicide bomber creeps up for an attack. Carrie and During’s security team take down the bomber then rush During into a truck to speed away after chaos has broken out in the streets, as so often happens in Homeland. Carrie’s intuition tells her they’re driving into a trap, and she narrowly avoids death when she stops the caravan just as it’s driving into a bomb.

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The only real misstep in Carrie’s plot is how far Patrick Harbinson’s script goes in making clear that Carrie, not During, was the target of the attack outside the refugee camp. Carrie’s conversation with During at the airport is initially fascinating. She insists that she has to stay behind to figure out who’s responsible for the attack, and whether that person might try to follow them back to Berlin. That explanation is valid in theory, but it suggests she’s doing the same thing she was doing in season four, finding an excuse to stay in a war zone because it’s where she’s used to being and where she feels most functional. It’s reminiscent of that great moment in “The Smile” when Carrie’s in the doldrums, doubting her instincts after being convinced she was wrong about Brody, only to get her swagger back when she acts quickly to lose a tail. Carrie has an intense love-hate relationship with counter-terrorism work, but it’s hard to let go of something you’re really good at, even if it’s taking a huge toll on your life. Being in the position to stop two consecutive bombing attempts puts Carrie in the environment in which she’s most effective, and it would be understandable if she had complex feelings about that. I was intrigued by the ambiguity of Carrie’s motivations for staying behind, and it would have been cooler if the writing allowed more room to interpret Carrie’s true motives.

There’s no room for interpretation though, as Behrooz says straight out “Someone wants you dead.” Meanwhile, after executing his latest target, Quinn uses a newspaper to decipher Carrie’s name as his next target. Make no mistake about it, everybody’s trying to kill Carrie. The story is a little more sanitary than I’d like, though Quinn’s unfazed reaction to the assignment certainly complicates things, as does Saul’s potential involvement. The biggest question now is exactly how involved is Saul in giving Quinn the kill order on Carrie. I certainly wouldn’t take for granted that Saul ordered the hit himself, though he was none too pleased when he saw the photos of Carrie talking to Laura on the day of the data breach. But the relationships between the show’s core trio of characters has never been more fractured, and “Hospitality” has me invested in seeing how they go about mending fences.

Stray observations:

  • The new Berlin-centric opening credits are as weird and disorienting as Homeland’s credits always have been. But this sequence seems super-spoilery for some reason. I feel like it’s showing me way more than I need to be seeing this early on.
  • This episode also feels like classic Homeland because it features sharp-elbowed political maneuvering within the agency. After Allison is chosen as the sacrificial lamb post-breach, she goes straight to Dar Adal and argues Saul should be the one to get the ax instead.
  • It’s interesting how much Homeland has become a show about parenthood, but the idea of parental duty is evoked when Allison is ripping into Saul for not fighting to save her post. She’s right when she says Saul would be taking a very different course of action were Carrie the one in her compromised position.
  • I kind of like Astrid, and I’m glad I found out her name is Astrid so I can stop calling her “German Tasneem.”

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