“You’re the hardest person in the world to say no to,” poor, traumatized Peter Quinn (Rupert Friend) tells Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) when she talks him into returning to the field to help her figure out who coordinated the attack that killed Sandy, her predecessor as station chief in Islamabad (Corey Stoll). But the biggest problem “Homeland” has in its fourth season is that increasingly, the show’s claims to Carrie Mathison’s charisma and hyper-competence fall flat.
No, I am not even talking about the now-infamous near-baby-drowning scene from the previous episode, which, like Libby Hill, I mostly found a testament to Carrie’s emotional extremis and her utter lack of logistical and emotional preparation for parenthood. Instead, Carrie mostly seems like a jerk. She cannot be a symbol of sexism in the Central Intelligence Agency when most of the ire at her style seems justified, and she cannot seem like a genius when the reason she succeeds where others fail mostly comes across as “because ‘Homeland’ needs her to!”
Shall we start by examining Carrie’s first day at the embassy? First, she is perplexed when John, the man who thought he would be the new station chief, is prickly with her. “Homeland” has told us for three seasons that Carrie is supposed to be some sort of emotional savant who recruits sources where no one else can, and yet, Ambassador Martha Boyd’s (Laila Robins) logical suggestion–“I think he’s feeling a little blindsided.”–does not seem to have occurred to her at all.
The expression of John’s ire towards her is absolutely sexist and obnoxious. Calling the person who got a job you want “young lady,” and demanding a chat when you do not like how a meeting she is running is going is never a good look.
But if the form of his irritation is not delightful, the fact that John is frustrated with Carrie does not seem unwarranted. She did, after all, show up and start by suggesting in an open meeting that Sandy bore some responsibility for his death. Rather than trying to take advantage of John’s knowledge, Carrie tells him: “You were given a directive to make yourself useful to me in any way I request or require…Either you comply or I’ll have the Marines remove you from the embassy and put you on the next plane home.”
Bossy or not, this is bad management strategy no matter the gender of the person employing it. And it is hard to square this with the show’s requirement that we have a deep faith in Carrie’s hyper-competence.
“Homeland” is also squarely based in the idea that Carrie is some sort of savant for connection. With Brody, her own trauma in the field gave them a plausible initial spark. But that she seems to have such a powerful draw on Quinn is more like a testament to Quinn’s own damage, his hunger for that flimsy “I love you,” than to Carrie’s supposed super-powered empathy.
And that Carrie seems to reach Aayan (Suraj Sharma), the survivor of the attack she herself ordered, when Fara (Nazanin Boniadi), Carrie’s own recruit could not, seems like a product of the show’s need to continue to demonstrate Carrie’s efficacy than anything else. “Homeland” would be a more interesting show if it were willing to let Fara step a bit more to the fore, perhaps to succeed where Carrie is incapable of doing so, and to give us a new perspective on the CIA, I would feel more excited by the rest of this season.
“Homeland” is the Carrie Mathison show, though. And I am increasingly reluctant to spend time with her. I like plenty of difficult, non-compliant women. But they tend to have a little spark and humor to them. More and more, Carrie is just a drag.