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‘Homeland’ recap: Season 4, Episode 1 ‘The Drone Queen’

By opening with Carrie Mathison riding in the backseat to a jazz soundtrack, we're told that amidst season 3's changes, some things in “Homeland” remain.

Carrie "The Drone Queen" Mathison blows out birthday candles on the Season 4 premiere of "Homeland." Credit: Joe Alblas/Showtime Carrie "The Drone Queen" Mathison blows out birthday candles on the Season 4 premiere of "Homeland."
Credit: Joe Alblas/Showtime

When we open up on Carrie Mathison being driven around Kabul with a jazz soundtrack, it immediately becomes clear that no matter what drastic changes swept through “Homeland” last season, some things will always remain constant.

Carrie asks her drivers to pull over so she can walk a few blocks, as she hasn’t been outside the embassy in days.

The phone rings and Carrie tells the anonymous person on the other end that she’s on her way.

Back at base, an operation is in progress. Carrie’s team has received intel on the whereabouts of the No. 4 terrorist on the hitlist. The intel comes from an anonymous source via a new character on her team we simply know as Sandy. He is the chief of station, his real name is Sandy Bachman and he's played by an actor named Corey Stoll, who we recently spoke to for his role in the film, "This is Where I Leave You."

Anyway, Sandy says the deal with the source is that he remains anonymous. It sounds a lot like Sandy is calling the target Haissam Haqqani. (Note: When I watched this episode in real-time, I initially made a note that the guy’s name was Ason McKonney.)

Carrie is apprehensive about green-lighting an airstrike on Haqqani because the place where he’s reported to be is a farm house. There could be other people on there with him. Carrie wants to ditch out before the hit so she can Skype with her sister and baby, but she is encouraged to stick around. After the airstrike, the group then brings out a cake for Carrie’s birthday.

The juxtaposition of a birthday celebration for the person who just signed off on the killing of what could be hundreds of innocents is a little heavy-handed, but the fact that Carrie is referred to as “The Drone Queen” on the cake, is a little over-the-top. It’s not that I doubt people in the CIA don’t have fun with the way they express themselves in frosting, it’s just such a playful behind-the-back nickname for something that involves the low-risk killing of so many people.

Carrie goes home, pours herself a glass of wine of the “free refills” variety, takes a sleeping pill and contacts her sister Maggie on Skype. She just missed her father and daughter. And with the mention of the father is the realization that we won’t be seeing him much this season, if at all, as actor James Rebhorn died in May.

Then comes the realization that yes, we probably won’t see much of Damian Lewis, unless it’s in flashbacks, as his Nicholas Brody character died last season. But here’s the real concern: Does his death mean that we don’t get any Dana Brody or Jessica Brody either? They were such solid characters, played so intensely by Morgan Saylor and Morena Baccarin.

Anyway, with a little bit of expository dialogue, Maggie chides Carrie for not going to Istanbul, where she could have at least taken her daughter.

Carrie asks her sister, “How is she anyway?”

The response, “A week older than the last time we talked.”

Yowch.

So Carrie gets ready for sleep: Brushes her teeth, gives an arbitrary glance at the photo of her and her daughter and puts on her Bucky Shades®. (I don’t know for sure that they are Bucky brand, but I like to take any opportunity possible to promote my favorite brand of sleep shade. They’re so comfortable! And affordable! Buy them here!). Meanwhile, only a few miles away from where Carrie is peacefully sleeping (thanks to the soothing comfort of Bucky Shades®), people are trying to clear rubble off the dead bodies and injured mangled masses of human flesh that resulted from the airstrike that Carrie OKed.

Then we see Saul in a meeting in the Pentagon. Wait, why isn’t he suffering from the same fate as the surviving Brody family? Didn’t he join the private sector? Are we going to have to watch him take meetings that don’t pertain at all to all the cool top-secret activity of the CIA?

The takeaway from the meeting we see is that Saul doesn’t want to play by the rules. He mouths off about how Afghanistan “hasn’t been a 14-year we’re waging, but a one-year war, waged 14 times.”

His supervisor takes him outside of the meeting and reminds him that his good behavior at the meeting could “represent a significant marketing opportunity for this firm,” language which clearly shakes the integrity of Saul Berenson to the bone.

Then we’re back with Carrie in the bunker. She learns that the airstrike she OKed did in fact kill Haissam Haqqani, but it also killed 40 civilians. There was a wedding reception going on in that farm house. Oops. So while Carrie was blowing out her “Drone Queen” candles, she was also extinguishing the lives of 40 of Haqqani’s family members.

Then we’re in Pakistan, where we see Quinn sitting at the embassy with the ambassador. She is talking about how the kill-list right after 9/11 was only seven names long. Now it’s more than 2,000 names long. They’re waiting for Sandy to arrive.

This is Corey Stoll, who plays Sandy Bachman on "Homeland." Get a good look now, because you might not see him for much longer. Credit: Joe Alblas/Showtime This is Corey Stoll, who plays Sandy Bachman on "Homeland." Get a good look now, because you might not see him for much longer.
Credit: Joe Alblas/Showtime

He walks into the office late, acting a little bit smug about the whole “40 people at a wedding died” thing. He wants to focus on the fact that Haqqani is dead. Quinn gives him that, “dude you are morally flawed and I don’t know why I still surround myself with people like you” look that he has perfected over his seasons on “Homeland.”

Then we see a 20-something boy coming to his awareness. We learn that he was at the wedding where the airstrike happened. When he learns that his mother and sister have died, he limps out of the makeshift hospital to see the rubble and get the hell out of there.

Carrie watches the boy on camera, looking at the dead. Then the boy sees whatever camera is supplying the feed. He gives the camera some serious stink eye. (Bucky Shades® help cure stink eye, by the way, because if your eyes stink, they’ll help!)

Quinn calls Carrie and this is the first real instance of “This is a CHANGED Carrie we’re seeing this season” on the premiere. We think she’s going to say something about how she feels horrible about the loss of life that she caused, and Quinn is probably looking for this humanity too, but instead she indicates that she sees the surviving victims as putting a spin on this to make America look bad.

“They pull this shit all the time,” she says. “If it wasn’t a wedding, they’d say it was a mosque we hit. Or an orphanage, or a mosque for orphans.”

The writers on this show still have a knack for dark humor.

Quinn tells her that this one feels different.

Carrie says, “We’re bullet-proof on this,” and Quinn is taken aback by her attitude. Doesn’t she care about people anymore? Does she really just care about her reputation?

Later she’s hanging in a smoky bar, pounding four Miller Genuine Drafts. A lieutenant comes over to her and asks if he can talk to her. She flirts with him lightly, but it’s clear that isn’t his agenda. He flew the mission the other night and he wants to know if it was a wedding party he dropped a bomb on.

He then calls her a monster, and then she tells him to get the f— out of her face. She goes back to her beer.

We see Saul arriving home late. He missed an important dinner with Mira’s boss. Guess not much has changed with Saul. It’s good to see Sarita Choudhury again. Hopefully she doesn’t fall for another dude who just wants to spy on Saul this season.

Then we’re back with the kid who survived the blast who was giving Carrie the stink eye. He is going back to school in Pakistan. He is on a bus, clearly bummed out about the loss of life, and he keeps watching a cellphone video that he shot of the wedding party right before the explosion went off. The camera pans around at people having a joyous time and is cut short by a quick blast and a millisecond of mass confusion ensues before the video cuts out.

When he arrives back in his dorm room, his roommate is happy that he’s alive, but wants to rally him to do something about this grave injustice committed against his people. But the kid doesn’t want to talk about it. He’d rather study. His roommate is encouraging him to upload the video on his phone, but the kid is resistant.

Carrie is sleeping peacefully with her Bucky Shades® again. Senator Lockhart interrupts and lets her know that the kid’s wedding video has gone viral.

He tells her that Sandy and Carrie are going to have to put their heads together to put a spin on it. He orders her to go down to Islamabad.

Saul watches the video, and Mira watches him watching, with a silent look of “you can take my husband out of the CIA, but you can’t take the CIA out of my husband.”

Saul calls Carrie, who we see has totally upgraded her iPhone to the new operating system.

The kid who took the cellphone video marches into his room and chides his roommate for posting the video of the wedding. He’s absolutely livid.

We then see Sandy putting on his gun and looking a little bit secretive. He visits with Quinn and tells him that he’s going to lie down, but in reality he is going to meet his main asset and source for intel. The name in his phone is simply “x.” Sandy sneaks out and goes through a lot of trouble to shake anybody who might be following him.

Meanwhile Quinn picks Carrie up at the airport. They address the whole nature of how their job is to check people’s names off kill lists. There seems to be a little bit of sexual tension between the two. As they’re chatting they see Sandy’s picture on the television.

Then we begin a kickass action sequence where Sandy slowly realizes that people are recognizing him as the person behind the bombings. He goes to meet his asset, but his asset is nowhere to be found. Carrie and Quinn rush to pick him up. People in the street recognize him and storm the car. They break the windows and drag him out of the car and begin beating him mercilessly. Quinn tries to get him back and winds up shooting several of the rioters. There’s really no way to do justice to the intensity of this sequence, so do try to seek out this episode instead of just relying on this recap.

As Carrie and Quinn get back to the embassy, she tells him that they need to get their story straight. They exchange some "F— you"s and we get another over-the-head bonk that Carrie is a different person than she was last season.

All in all, this episode is a B+. The action is great, but we’re being hit over the head with the whole, “Damn, Carrie is so callus” theme.

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