If the mark of a great TV show is that it sparks tremendous criticism, this week’s Homeland was an absolute classic. Before I round up the various critic’s most trenchant points, it’s my duty to send you to read the entirety of Willa Paskin’s take in Salon—her deconstruction of Claire Danes’ acting choices is particularly fabulous—and Andy Greenwald’s recap in Grantland. And don’t miss Alyssa Rosenberg’s epic reading of how Episode 206, “A Gettysburg Address,” used Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “The Wreck of the Hesperus,” over at ThinkProgress.
Not that the professionals have a monopoly on smart insights. Slate commenter BriefWit makes a string of good points, including a note on the episode’s excellent use of misdirection:
A lot of the things I thought might happen to propel the plot forward in this episode did not happen. When Carrie ambushed Brody in the car and then again in his office, I thought Jessica might show up to surprise him. When Mike rummaged in the garage, I thought he would find a Koran instead. When Roya hinted at what was in Gettysburg, I thought it was a bomb. (The tailor did build them after all.) But in each case, what actually happened complicated and/or pushed events forward at a faster rate then I expected.
Of course, the object Abu Nazir’s men removed after the raid might well be a bomb, but we can say that the tailor’s shop apparently wasn’t booby-trapped, an eventuality the feds seemed surprisingly unprepared for. Andy Greenwald was far more anxious about the place: “I was on safety pins and needles the whole time, assuming the tailor’s place was rigged to blow. I mean, the guy made bombs. Why was the CIA lazily browsing the racks like it was a sample sale at Today’s Man?”
Alyssa Rosenberg had an excellent rejoinder to the folks—including me and my Slate colleague Miriam Krule—who complain that Homeland sometimes acts as though mental illness is a gateway to special insights unavailable to people with more chemically balanced brains. She says:
[T]his episode actually suggests something rather different: that running counter to the powers that be in Washington will get you treated as if you’re mad. If the first season of this show was about how Brody successfully gaslit Carrie, in part by enlisting the powerful people around her, this one is about how Washington institutions and the people who occupy them can, and will, gaslight anybody if it’s their interest to do so. That’s a damning thing to suggest about our political culture.
A couple of critics focused on the show’s great sense of timing. Writing in the TV Club Todd VanDerWerff observed that Homeland is:
generally giving us an episode every few weeks to let us get used to the new status quo. Think, for instance, of how the show dropped that bombshell about Saul finding the Brody tape, then gave us a whole episode of letting that information hang over the old status quo before blowing things up all over again. It’s a nifty way to build a season, but it also makes those status quo episodes pale in comparison to the big, story-shifting episodes surrounding them. This means that “A Gettysburg Address” feels like it’s merely marking time, even though several huge, huge plot-advancing events happen in it, including the deaths of at least one and potentially two fairly major characters.
Or as James Poniewozik put in Time, “It’s a measure of just how breathtaking the beginning of this season was that an episode that featured a military-style assault on Federal investigators felt like a ‘breather.’ ”