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'Homeland' 'Gerontion' review and 5 reasons why series is better

F. Murray Abraham's character Dar Adal is one

F. Murray Abraham's character Dar Adal is one of the show's most intriguing roles -- a survivor with a killer instinct who parses his advantage in every word and gesture. (Credit: Joan Marcus)

I like reasons on this blog, I like lists of reasons, and — despite the general carping that seems to have soured the once-loved now-loathed "Homeland" in various corners of the TV-watching cognoscenti world — I still very much like "Homeland."

In fact, I like it better this season than all of the inferior second season, and here, to combine all my "likes," are five reasons why Sunday's "Gerontion" -- written by Chip Johannessen and directed by Carl Franklin — indicates that "Homeland" knows where it's going and why I'd like to go there with it.

1.) Saul is back, and by back, I mean emotionally, intellectually, and if you can imagine or care to beyond the chaste closing scene, even sexually, after a season of rootless wandering following the bombing. "Homeland" is now Saul. Without the distraction of Brody, or Carrie/Brody, he's come into focus, in a way that lends the show deeper meaning in almost the same way that Walter White lent "Breaking Bad" deeper meaning.

I'm beginning to think that these intelligent dramas are actually just proxies for the emotional wranglings that their middle-aged writers are going through — relevance in a brutal industry run by young whelps who could give a crap about them. Time is passing, their lives are passing.

Yeah, it's all a trip down Narcissist Lane but you are supposed to write what you know, right? Point here is, Saul is interesting. More so this season than ever before.

2.) Quinn, the reluctant assassin. I know everyone has or should have some ambivalence about Rupert Friendly's Quinn, the ruthless killer now thrown into the bowls of doubt and remorse after accidentally gunning down a 10-year-old. But I'm buying the whole act — essential if you are to buy this season. My feeling is that "Homeland" -- at least in part — is all about the futility of action: All the effort that goes into the protection of home and hearth by the CIA has yielded exactly nothing — just a pile of bodies. Nobody knows anything. Nobody can do anything. (The always excellent Clark Johnson got to convey that message memorably.)

This may be an overstatement in the scheme of the show certainly but not in the mindset of Quinn, who in that one vital scene has to confess to two brutal murders he did not do. Right guy, wrong crime, he later tells Carrie.

He's probably right about that. Quinn, as this season's stand in for Brody and who can foretell his fate, has been a terrific character.

3.) F. Murray Abraham's Dar Adal. On several levels, he supplied the best stuff from Sunday. From that expletive-laced "I Own You" declaration to Quinn, or that moment when he takes Lockhart — played so well this season by Tracy Letts — into his confidence, while the dim-bulbed Lockhart thinks he's taking Adal into his.  Dar Adal's one of the show's most intriguing characters — a survivor with a killer instinct who parses his advantage in every word and gesture. That scene when Lockhart is barricaded in the conference room and the gray consiglieres wander away to have a bourbon and share memories. Wonderful!

Of course, that scene also revealed a long-standing "Homeland" weakness. A failure to attend to the smallest details that in their own way can become the biggest details: What? Lockhart had no cellphone? Is he the only guy on Capitol Hill without one of those?

4.) Shaun Toub's Majid Javadi: Another highly successful invention. This year we know, intimately, the Bad Guy. But we also know he is the bookend to Saul — a pair of aging fought-out heavyweights who took radically different turns at the beginning of their careers, except that we also know they were intimately LINKED at the beginning of those careers.

So in one important sense, they share a gene. Javadi is evil; Saul is good. That would seem to be the only compass we have to go by, but Sunday scrambled that ever so slightly. Especially that scene where Saul tells him — in effect — we are the same.

He doesn't mean it — only a gambit to con him — but he does mean it. That's why the con worked. He understands Javadi as no one else does. It's called "self-awareness."

5.) Literary pretensions. I love literary pretensions in TV dramas. They force us to do several things — foremost go to Wikipedia to revive our long dormant interest in some obscure T.S. Eliot poem, then force us to read said poem, make us think why this poem was used and make us wonder how it fits into the overall theme of the episode and perhaps season.

"Breaking Bad" deployed Yeats! Fine! "Homeland" will one-up-ya with Eliot!

. . . I an old man, A dull head among windy spaces. Signs are taken for wonders. “We would see a sign”: The word within a word, unable to speak a word, Swaddled with darkness. In the juvenescence of the year Came Christ the tiger . . .

Whatever! Christian imagery in "Homeland?" Maybe not — but the idea of old men looking back, past the wreckage of their lives, to find meaning and understanding. Does Saul discover a sort of wisdom in his advanced years — or is he only playing with the same set of cards he's always played with? Namely: Planting agents, pitting one colleague against the other, indulging in subterfuge that could have unintended consequences and often does?

What is the answer? I don't know and maybe "Homeland" doesn't yet know. That's what is making this season so much better, and after Sunday, I find that for the first time, I actually think I want to know.

Tags: Homeland , Homeland , Showtime , Newsday , F. Murray Abraham , Dar Adal , Saul Berenson , Claire Danes , Claire Danes , Carrie Mathison , Damian Lewis , Damian Lewis , Nicholas Brody , Rupert Friend , Rupert Friend , Peter Quinn , Morena Baccarin , Morena Baccarin , Jessica Brody , Jackson Pace , Jackson Pace , , Morgan Saylor , . . . Dana Brody , Sarita Choudhury , Sarita Choudhury , Mira Berenson , Tracy Letts , Tracy Letts , Andrew Lockhart , F. Murray Abraham , F. Murray Abraham , Dar Adal , Mandy Patinkin , Mandy Patinkin , Saul Berenson , Clark Johnson , Clark Johnson , Detective Calvin Johnson , Nazanin Boniadi , Nazanin Boniadi , Fara Sherazi , Shaun Toub , Shaun Toub , Majid Javadi

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