Homeland - Courtesy Showtime

Formerly (and more awesomely) known as “The Motherfucker with the Turban.”

Perhaps it’s fitting that this episode changed its name from something shocking (at potentially offensive?) to something a little more standard. The first half picked up right where last week left off, to the point where I was internally writing a eulogy for the Homeland that once was. And then, Abu Nazir died, and things started clicking into place again. It’s just that it’s getting increasingly difficult to put aside the ridiculous stuff and appreciate the acting and the emotional scenes on their own merits.

The beginning of the episode was another 24-ish romp as Carrie withheld significant information from Quinn (that Brody/Nazir are the ones who caused Walden’s pacemaker to malfunction), lied unconvincingly about how, exactly, she managed to escape from Abu Nazir (she got lucky, I guess?), and quickly jumped to the conclusion that Galvez must be the mole who helped Nazir escape since he, you know, just got out of the hospital and everything. This particular leap would be fine for just Carrie and her sleep-deprived brain to make, but they lost me a bit when Quinn leapt off the proverbial cliff with her, concluding that it “made sense” and leading an FBI chase of Galvez who, it turns out, was just going back to the hospital because he’d popped his stitches (or is that just what he wants us to think?!?!).

The one bright spot of the first half was Carrie’s botched interrogation with Roya. Nevermind how absurd it is that Carrie got into the room with her in the first place (she’d gone to wash her face while Estes explicitly told Quinn not to let her in the room, and then, when Quinn got back, Carrie was already in the room). That’s some ninja interrogation shit right there. Anyway, what I liked about it was that, while it seemed at first that we were in for another demonstration of Carrie’s expert interrogation skills, Roya quickly turns the tables on her. She tells Carrie what she wants to hear, feeding her some bullshit about what it’s like to be around someone who you know is bad for you, and who makes you do bad things, but you just can’t help yourself. A single tear falls down Carrie’s battered face, and Roya pounces. She grabs Carrie’s bruised wrists, and spits insults at her in Arabic. It was a powerful moment and would have been made all the more powerful if only there hadn’t been so many leaps necessary to get Carrie in the room in the first place.

Anyway, after Carrie’s failure, Quinn insists that she go home and rest, but for some reason sees it fit for her to drive herself home (in what was presumably a CIA-issued vehicle). However, the drive leads Carrie to realize that when Roya told her that Nazir wouldn’t run, she meant it literally – he had to still be at the abandoned mill (sidenote: I’m pretty sure Nancy Drew and the Abandoned Mill was a book I read in elementary school. Just something to think about for next season, Homeland writers. Maybe move away from the young adult mystery genre). She naturally heads back there against Quinn’s advice, and finds everybody packing up to go. There’s only one tactical team left and, probably just to shut her up already, they agree to go back in for one more sweep. Naturally, again, Carrie is left alone with only one guy (after an explicit conversation earlier in the episode where it was discussed that they always go in pairs), quickly finds a hidden room, and waits in the hallway while the lone operative goes in, finds where Nazir was hiding, and promptly gets his throat cut. The show then shifts from 24 to pure horror movie, as Carrie runs away screaming “HE’S HERE.” She manages to fight Nazir off not once, but twice, before the tactical team can swoop in and shoot him as he kneels on the floor in front of them and reaches into his pocket to pull out what I’m sure will end up being a cell phone.

The parallels between Nazir and bin Laden are fairly obviously drawn, but I especially liked the distinction between the popular reaction to bin Laden’s death (jubilant cheering, U-S-A chants) and Carrie’s quiet realization that she’d succeeded in taking down the person she’d devoted the last 10 years of her life to catching. There was no trace of jubilation on her face, but rather a mixture of satisfaction, relief, exhaustion, and a strange sense of sadness and pity. Abu Nazir was probably the person she knew the best in the world, and now he was lying bloodied on a gurney in front of her, looking like just any other person, not an evil terrorist mastermind.

As I mentioned above, after Nazir’s death, things changed. When Brody is told, his reaction is just as compelling as Carrie’s was. He breaks down weeping before attempting to pass it off as tears of relief to his family. It’s clear though, that Nazir’s death hits him hard. Before, he was lost because he was trying to follow the rules of too many people. Now, he’s killed Walden and Nazir is dead – the only person he has left to answer to is Carrie. Since the terrorist threat is apparently neutralized, the unhappy Brody family is allowed to go home (much to Chris’ chagrin).

What they don’t know, however, is that Brody’s life is in fact in more imminent danger after Nazir’s death. Saul’s detainment last week was for a lie detector test that Estes will use to blackmail him later, if necessary. I loved the return of the lie detector operator from last season, and equally loved that the actual administrator of the test was a stone-faced Estes henchman. I loved that the questions were framed in such a way as to trap Saul with partial truths (did he technically give Aileen the weapon she used to kill herself? Well yes, but there’s far more to that story, obviously). Saul correctly identifies the motivations behind this line of questioning, telling the operator that the only reason he’s being investigated is because he knows about the plot for the CIA to assassinate a U.S. congressman. This is, of course, left out of the official report. While I will eternally love Mandy Patinkin, this plot seems a little heavy-handed in terms of Estes’ rapid shift from authority figure harshing the main characters’ collective spy buzzes, to actual evil guy involved in blackmail, murder, and all sorts of shady dealings. Last season, Estes controlled Saul by revealing truths to him about the nature of intelligence and the war on terror, this time, he controls him by blackmail? It just seemed like a bit of a leap.

In any case, Estes tells Quinn that the plan is still very much on, and that he needs to kill Brody sooner than later so that they can just blame it on blowback from Nazir’s death (it’s best not to think too hard about exactly how this would work – would they really pretend that there’s another congressman-terrorist on the loose in DC? Exactly how incompetent is the CIA anyway?) Anyway, the spectre of Quinn’s gunshot hung over the final scenes, adding heart-pounding tension especially to Jessica and Brody’s breakup conversation in the car. While their decision to finally divorce was a long time coming, the way it got wrapped up into a neat little bow felt a bit forced. I mean, one day they’re yelling at each other, jealous of each other’s affairs, and the next day, they’re having a quiet conversation about how it can never work between them? I suppose it was set up by Jessica’s assertion at the beginning of the episode that “everything has changed” after Walden’s death. In any case, I thought the fact that Brody went right up to the point of telling Jessica everything before she stopped him by saying she doesn’t want to know was true to character. No matter how much Jessica proclaimed herself to want the truth, she couldn’t handle even the glimpses of the true Brody that she saw. Her realization that the only person he’s ever told the truth to was Carrie and that “you must really love her” was both cheesy and effective.

When a bullet didn’t explode through Brody’s head the minute Jessica exited the vehicle, it was clear that Brody would be going to Carrie’s. I hoped beyond hope that when the doorbell rang it would be Saul or Quinn telling her that Brody had died (because this would have been unexpected) but instead it was Brody, feeding Carrie lines worthy of my guilty pleasure, Days of our Lives. He did what he did to Walden because, if the choice was Walden’s life or Carrie’s, it wasn’t even close? Carrie naturally swallows it up, which I can hopefully attribute to her not having slept for 2 days. Was she really just able to ignore the fact that the whole reason Brody was a terrorist in the first place was because he wanted to kill Walden? Anyway, she tenderly kisses his hand and brings him inside while Quinn watches through the scope.

There’s only one episode left and a hell of a lot to get through. I’m hoping that, in the end, Carrie will realize that Brody is a terrorist and her happily-ever-after fantasies are both unrealistic and pathetic. I hope she’ll be the one to kill him, but no matter who does it, I want him dead. I don’t see how Brody can live and have this series continue to exist under any semblance of plausibility. As it is, I don’t really know how they can continue. Saul is out, Carrie is out (even though she single-handedly took down the world’s number 1 terrorist, I can’t picture control-freak Estes keeping loose-cannon Carrie around and not Saul), the whole Brody clan is out, Nazir is dead, Walden is dead – the whole series is begging for a reboot. Personally, I hope that Carrie, Saul, Virgil, and Max get together and form an elite private investigators’ unit and, through their surveillance of cheating spouses and insurance fraudsters, stumble upon a terrorist plot that’s even bigger than Nazir’s ever was. I just can’t imagine how they’re going to wrap it up next episode though.

In the end, that’s really the difference between this season and last season. Last season, the unpredictability was this show’s greatest asset, and even when it seemed like they’d painted themselves into a corner, they always managed to find their way out, even if it meant jumping through the window. I always trusted that the twists they would take us on would feel earned and would contribute to taking this show to greater heights. This season, when the show has its back against the wall, it fights its way out with explosions when exposition would do, and it takes us on wild goose chases rather than the simple path from A to B. After last week, I don’t trust it to do itself justice anymore, and that’s a real shame. I hope they can redeem themselves next year and the only way they can do that is by killing Brody and starting fresh in season 3.


Survivor - Courtesy CBS

Let me just go on record as saying that I hate family visit episodes. The hysterical crying, the waxing poetic about how much their family members mean to them, all the talk about how it puts it all into perspective . . . ugh. I want to yell at them all to shut up. Maybe I have a heart made of ice, but I can’t help thinking how ridiculous these people are. It’s been a month since you saw each other and you’re going to be home in a week (not to mention, with the exception of Denise and her husband, I highly doubt that any of these people live with their loved ones still and, if that’s the case, I’d imagine they regularly go a month or more without seeing each other.) So just everybody calm down. Blah blah blah the stress of the game but seriously, you all look crazy. The family visit this time was made exponentially more annoying by the presence of Lisa and her angel of a younger brother, Justice. He didn’t even seem creeped out by her sobbing snotty tears into his t-shirt, so I’m left with the horrible realization that Lisa’s over-dramatic behaviour in the game isn’t quite as far removed from reality as I was hoping.

Anyway, the reward challenge starts up right away, and Malcolm and his goofy younger brother win a day together at camp. As was to be expected, Malcolm gets to choose other people to get to share in this joy and he chooses Lisa and Skupin (whose behaviour towards his namesake son – the “best human being I’ve ever known” – was second only to Lisa for its over-the-topness). I thought he made a mistake by not choosing Denise, but she didn’t seem to upset about it. And Lisa is a wildcard, so Malcolm rightly assumed that having her brother there would help her to avoid a complete meltdown.

What Malcolm didn’t necessarily count on is that Lisa’s brother would try and convince her to revive her earlier idea about blindsiding Malcolm. They bring the two Michael Skupins over to further discuss this idea, and then they form a surreal prayer circle to ask God to bless their blindside. Even though Lisa later said in a talking head that she doesn’t really think that God has the time to care about the outcome of a reality TV show, it’s pretty clear from their prayers and subsequent discussions that they think there’s a pretty good chance that he’s at least tuning in. They then have a surreal discussion about what Jesus would be like if he played Survivor, concluding he’d look like Malcolm and play like Carter, which is pretty weird if you ask me. Jesus could be a pretty harsh dude when he wanted to be.

Anywho, all these machinations turn out to be for naught when Malcolm wins immunity (Lisa/Skupin decide that God obviously has bigger plans with them in the final four). It was made especially sweeter by the fact that Malcolm didn’t even know he was in danger, and with his subsequent glee at realizing that he still has the hidden idol (which he’ll play next week) and is therefore guaranteed a spot in the final four. With Malcolm’s win, Lisa and Skupin abandon all thought of breaking up the decided-upon final four and discussion turns to whether they should get rid of Abi (who is still playing her fake “hidden immunity idol” for all its worth) or Carter. Although Carter makes a semi-coherent argument that if they get rid of him, they’d be going against their stated belief in keeping people around who actually deserve to be there, the four ultimately decide that Carter’s too much of a threat and vote him out. It probably wasn’t a bad move, really, since Carter almost won this immunity challenge and, as I’ve said before, had the potential to sneak in the back door of the final four by winning out. Still (I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before) I HATE ABI and I WANT HER GONE, so I can’t totally get behind this move. At this rate, I’m worried that something really weird is going to happen and Abi’s going to be sitting at that final tribal council. While I know that she would have no chance at winning, I don’t think I could stomach the sight of Abi trying to explain why she’s deserving of the million.

Boardwalk Empire - Courtesy HBO

Well, they might not have lived up to last week’s heights, but it certainly ensured that season 3 went out with a bang. Many bangs, in fact. From the beginning montage where Al and Chalky terrorized Atlantic City over the mayor’s futile assertions that he runs Atlantic City, it was clear that it was just a matter of time before things went very badly for old Gyp Rosetti. Indeed, his men quickly realize their days are numbered, and so opt to spend their final moments of life getting drunk at the now-abandoned Artemis Club. Masseria comes to visit Rosetti to inquire as to what exactly has been gained as a result of this bloodshed, but Gyp doesn’t have any satisfactory answers and Masseria leaves in a bad mood, ripe for flipping.

When they’re not fixing cars and reminiscing about the old days, Nucky and Eli hatch a plan. Well, Nucky is the one who hatches the plan, but Eli gives him the push he needs. When Nucky begins to lose hope that anything can ever go back to the way it was, Eli reminds him to search for all the angles. And there Nucky hits upon a plan – he gets Mickey Doyle to call up Arnold Rothstein and let him know that Nucky’s running Mellon’s distillery. Meanwhile, it turns out that the cops that arrested Luciano and beat him into turning over 50 lbs of heroin were on the payroll of Rothstein, who now has said 50 lbs of heroin and is using it as a bargaining chip to get Masseria to pull out of Atlantic City in exchange for 99% of Nucky’s distillery. I think that’s about the gist of it anyway – things got pretty complicated pretty quickly. In the end, of course, Nucky ultimately beats even the normally cautious Rothstein by calling up Gaston Means who whispers to Mellon to tell Esther Randolph to arrest none other than Arnold Rothstein for his illegal takeover of his distillery.

So there’s the whole federal law thing sorted out, mostly thanks to his own ingenuity and the ability to call in favours at the most opportune moments. In terms of the actual violence, Nucky also relies on the help of his friends, both known and unknown. Capone and Chalky’s men might scuffle in the lumberyard, but they’re willing to do battle when it counts and they do the heavy lifting in the war for Atlantic City. However, Nucky also receives some help from a couple of unlikely sources – Gillian and Richard Harrow.

Treated exceptionally cruelly by Gyp’s men and rejected by Tommy (when she even brought him Oreos!) Gillian comes to the much belated realization that perhaps the Artemis Club isn’t the best place for Tommy after all. The problem is, Gyp won’t let her walk out, and Gillian uses her only skill set (her ability to zero in on men’s sexual desires) to figure out that Gyp would very much like to be choked with a belt. Why she doesn’t just choke him until he passes out is beyond me, but she reaches for a syringe full of heroin just a moment too soon and is caught by Gyp, who injects her with it instead. This gives Gyp just enough time to hear Masseria’s men abandoning him and he rushes downstairs to find out what’s going on when — BANG.

Richard Harrow enters. In one of the most fist pump-worthy scenes of the entire series, Richard enters the Artemis Club with about a dozen guns strapped to his person. He takes out the remainder of Gyp’s men, with only Gyp and his lieutenant surviving. When he finds Tommy being held hostage by a nameless Rosetti goon, Richard even thoughtfully tells Tommy to close his eyes before shooting the man in the head. Following the massacre, a bloodstained Richard takes Tommy to Julia’s house. Julia is understandably shaken at the sight of Richard’s bloodied face (perhaps she’s wondering how one cleans a face-mask such as his), and her for-once sober dad tells her to take Tommy upstairs to his dead son’s room. He doesn’t ask questions, but seems to understand that Richard’s been through a war. He tells him that a real soldier wouldn’t come home without cleaning up first, but Richard replies that as long as Tommy’s safe, that’s all  that matters. We don’t yet find out Richard’s fate, although I’d imagine it’s about 50-50 that he’s heading off to the woods to finish what he started so long ago. I hope that he reconsiders and at least ends up working for the new, improved Nucky Thompson. Anything to make sure Richard stays in our lives.

When Nucky and Eli observe the carnage at the Artemis Club, it’s with a mixture of horror at the sight and disbelief at their dumb luck. They stumble across a high Gillian, who’s made it out in to the hallway and tragically seems to be reliving her past, when Nucky sent a 13-year-old Gillian up to the Commodore’s room. To add to the pathos of it all, she seemed to think that Nucky had actually come to check up on her and make sure she was alright. Last week, I wanted Gillian dead almost as much as I wanted Gyp to die, but after that scene, I think I’m okay with her living for awhile longer. As long as she leaves Tommy with Julia.

Nucky and Eli find Gyp’s lieutenant hiding in the closet and send him to dispatch his not-so-beloved leader, who is ranting on the beach with two other fortunate-to-be-breathing followers. Gyp brushes off his crushing defeat, saying “you can’t lose what you never had” and insisting they’ll just go to another town and start again. Can’t be that hard right? And then, as he takes a piss while singing “Barney Google,” his lieutenant stabs him, at the orders of Nucky and as payback for his dearly departed cousin whose head had been bashed in by Gyp’s shovel not so long ago. Nucky and Eli send the lieutenant back to Masseria with the message that this can be the end of their troubles or the beginning – Nucky’s read to oblige him either way.

And just like that, most everything that happened since Gyp Rosetti rolled into town is voided. Sure, there have been some casualties along the way, but order is finally restored. Things aren’t the way they were but there is, as Oprah would say, a new normal emerging. Chalky will get his club on the boardwalk. Eli is back into the fold as Nucky drastically scales down both his ambitions and his operations. He only wants people they can trust around them, he says. Margaret is living in a hovel in Brooklyn and goes to see an abortion doctor to have her love child with Owen “taken care of.” When Nucky goes to see her, she stares at him as if he’s a stranger, and when he offers her money, she scoffs. Nucky doesn’t understand why she’d choose the life that she’s living once she’s experienced the luxury, but he doesn’t realize that it was the luxury that was the outlier for Margaret. Poverty, she knows. She lived it for most of her life. The last couple years of riches have brought nothing but pain. Perhaps she’s just finding comfort reverting to the status quo. Or perhaps, when some time has passed, she’ll return to Atlantic City and try to find Nucky again. She might have more difficulty than she had in the past, as he won’t be wearing his signature flower. No longer wanting to be the toast of the town, Nucky seeks anonymity. I can’t wait to find out how the new Nucky survives in the new city he’s going to build for himself.

Homeland - Courtesy Showtime

Well, fuck you, Homeland. You suckered me in last season with a daring and innovative take on the spy/surveillance drama by mixing in a forbidden love affair and a realistic take on the consequences of mental illness. You gave me twists that I both didn’t see coming and yet fit entirely within the realm of plausibility. You gave me an anti-hero in Nicholas Brody, the maybe-terrorist who didn’t reveal exactly what he was thinking until the very end and even still remained clearly at war with himself over his own decisions. You gave me all that, you made me look forward to Homeland more than any other show since Breaking Bad, and then, you basically undermine it all with an episode like this one. 

This whole season, Homeland has been toeing the line between plausibility and implausibility and I’ve been forgiving it. I didn’t really mind when Brody texted Nazir from inside the Pentagon, or when he chased after the tailor and killed him in the woods and then rinsed the blood off of himself in a carwash, or when there was a terrorist attack on the CIA agents in Gettysburg in broad daylight. I also could buy that Nazir would get Brody to break into Estes’ office (Even though he apparently has a mole in the CIA that tells him everything) and even that Nazir would be able to sneak into the States by shaving his beard. I sure as hell wouldn’t have recognized Osama Bin Laden without the beard. I could even accept Brody being whisked away by Roya into a helicopter that the CIA were watching but still couldn’t figure out where it went. All of that, I was willing to put aside because everything else was so strong. But this episode, they finally went a step too far for me. To borrow a phrase from Joey Tribbiani, they went so far past the line, the line is a dot to them.

Let’s try to puzzle it out, shall we? Okay – Abu Nazir was apparently the one driving the SUV that t-boned Carrie. Why would he put himself in harm’s way like that? The only explanation could be that he is now completely on his own, since Roya and the TV crew were captured last episode. But for a terrorist mastermind as careful as Nazir is supposed to be, would he really let all of his crew on American soil be in the same place at the same time, ready for capture? But whatever, let’s say that he does. Would he then really show up at a gas station when he has to know that the entire CIA is still out looking for him? And alright, fine, maybe he felt it was a risk worth taking in part of his plot to . . . capture Carrie? And then once he captures Carrie, he calls her on his GOVERNMENT ISSUED BLACKBERRY and without first checking to see if he’s alone or, you know, with the entire CIA, Nazir pops his face up on the screen, points a gun at Carrie, and tells Brody that he needs him to do something for him. Forget the inherent implausibility of Skype working that smoothly on a Blackberry (I’m apparently willing to overlook all manner of cell phone-related sins), are we really to believe that the CIA would just quit monitoring Brody’s phone? At the end of last episode, they were desperately seeking Nazir, and now they’re gloating over the arrest of his minions and Carrie is talking to Brody about resigning from Congress as if he’s actually going to be able to just walk away? But, okay, FINE. No one thinks that it’s possible that Nazir might try to reach out to the one person he still has a connection with in America. Fine. The CIA has done stupid things before. But then Brody goes into another empty CIA apartment, shouts Nazir’s name about a billion times, then rushes out and says he needs to go to the VP’s house immediately, and no one bats an eye. And then he gets there, is more jittery than Carrie ever was in the midst of her mental breakdown, and is allowed to just wander around the house. The whole idea that a pacemaker’s serial number can somehow be used by a random terrorist hacker to induce a heart attack is pretty Bond villian-ish, but again, I’m willing to overlook that (see how generous I am?). I don’t even really take issue with the idea that Brody was able to find it (and a magnifying glass) and read it in the nick of time. No, what I have an issue with is that killing Walden to make it look like an accident would ever be Nazir’s Plan B. We’ve been told over and over and over again that Nazir strikes for maximum emotional impact. This has zero emotional impact on a wider scale. The general public will not be shaken to its core when it finds out that Walden is dead, because they will never know that it was anything other than natural causes (save, of course, the requisite conspiracy theorists who will be promptly ignored). Still, this was almost saved by the scene where Walden comes in to talk to Brody and Brody stares him down, waiting for him to have a heart attack. The moment where Walden reaches for the phone to call a doctor and Brody pushes him away could’ve been very powerful. Indeed, Brody lets down his guard in Walden’s final moments, telling him that he is, in fact, actually killing him. What should have been a moment of emotional punch was undercut for me by two things: 1) Why weren’t there any Secret Service agents standing outside the door? and 2) I spent most of the scene flashing back to a much better death-by-inaction scene in Breaking Bad, where Walter White stood by and watched as Jesse’s girlfriend choked to death on her own vomit while in a drug induced haze. Think, for a moment, how much more powerful it would’ve been if Brody had just happened to be around Walden when he has a heart attack and then seizes that moment to finally get revenge for Issa’s death. If that had happened, instead of it being the result of some behind-the-scenes string pulling by Nazir and a nameless hacker, it would have been the result of Brody’s own emotional truth. As it stands now, we don’t know if Brody let Walden die because he truly wants to help Nazir, or because he just wants to save Carrie’s life.

Oh, that’s the other thing – this whole plot by Nazir hinged on the fact that Nazir thinks that he’ll be able to manipulate Carrie and Brody’s “love” for each other. The worst part is, he seems to have been right. Brody risks everything to ensure that Carrie was able to run away, and, when Carrie finally gets a cell phone and calls the CIA to tell him where Nazir is, she conveniently leaves out the detail that the Vice President is likely being murdered by pacemaker hacking at this very moment. The only reason I can think of to omit this information is to protect Brody. And if Carrie’s love for Brody is going to go to the extent that she forget all about stopping terrorist attacks that has been her life’s calling then . . . I really don’t know what to think anymore. Is Carrie really deluded enough to believe that she and Brody will just be able to run off into the sunset together? Why does she even want to run off into the sunset with a terrorist? What happened to the Carrie of earlier this season, who fairly spat at Brody when he was captured in the hotel room after she tried to seduce him? Who venomously told him that he was both a traitor and a terrorist, and now he was going to have to pay for that? Now she’s just willing to overlook everything to live some kind of domestic fantasy? Last season, Carrie’s erratic behaviour could be partially explained by the fact that she was quickly spiralling downward into a state of mania. This season – what? Carrie’s lovesick? Is that her mental illness? I hope I’m wrong and there’s some other explanation given for her behaviour.

Meanwhile, Saul’s continued inquiries into the real identity of Peter Quinn lead him to have a delightfully understated conversation with Dar Adal in a waffle shop, followed by an overt confrontation with Estes in the hallway of the CIA, and finally by being prevented from leaving CIA headquarters to capture Abu Nazir. Instead, he’s dragged downstairs to some kind of interrogation. Oh also, Galvez is back. Remember Galvez? Last seen shot up in the tailor shop in Gettysburg and apparently not expected to make it? Well, now he has his arm in a sling but he’s back and ready to take out Nazir! Or, perhaps, live up to his mole-y ways. In any case, it seems more and more clear (and the previews all but confirm) that the series is moving closer towards revealing who the “leak” in the CIA is and I’d like to just go on record as saying that if Saul turns out to be the mole, not only will I never watch again, but you will see the kind of impotent rage not aimed towards a TV show since the season one finale of The Killing threw in a twist that both undermined a character they’d spent a season establishing and didn’t even answer the fucking question of who killed Rosie Larsen. If Galvez turns out to be the mole, I’ll be annoyed at his clumsy re-introduction but at least they won’t have destroyed one of the remaining sympathetic characters on the show. My only question is – if Nazir still has a mole in the CIA, why didn’t this mole just, oh I don’t know, call Carrie and tell him to meet him somewhere so that Nazir could abduct her from there. Or talk to Brody and tell him about the pacemaker plot, or any other number of things that could’ve been accomplished much easier if Nazir actually had someone in the CIA.

Anyway. I think the reason this has gotten me so riled up is because I thought this show was something else. I thought it was an intelligent, subtle, character-driven drama that just happened to have bouts of heart-pounding action and suspense. Now, it’s morphed into an action movie that is more focused on shock value than character development and that makes me sad. Maybe the final two episodes of the season can find a way to redeem themselves. I really hope so, because I really don’t like feeling duped.

P.S. Memo to Jessica and Brody: Neither of you gets to play the jealous spouse card. Jessica, you banged Brody’s best friend the first chance you got, and with your children in the next room no less. If that wasn’t enough, the next morning, you had a little post-coital gloat-and-makeout session in the middle of your echo-y safehouse again with your children in the next room. And Brody, you banged Carrie in a motel room with the entire CIA listening in and tell her every chance you get that you love talking to her and just want to be together. The fact that either of you has the audacity to act pissy towards the other about Mike/Carrie is ridiculous. Your marriage is a complete sham, quit wasting your energy.

So, when I was watching it all unfold last night, I was pretty annoyed with the producers for essentially handing Abi immunity. Of course it’s possible that they’d planned ahead of time for the Survivor Auction to take place at this point in the game, and it’s not really under the producers’ control that the other survivors were too stupid to save their money for the inevitable “advantage in the immunity challenge” prize, but I do think it was awfully convenient that the advantage was skipping to the last round and that the last round was the only challenge so far that required absolutely zero skill. It made no sense that after two rounds of doing the rope maze thing, the final round was just untying knots. That reeked of last-minute producer interference and I hated it. In the end, it probably won’t affect the outcome of the game overall, but the thought of having to stare at Abi’s delusional face for another week is deeply unsettling.

Anyway, with Abi’s win came the inevitable focus on voting out Penner. Overcome with guilt, Lisa went to Penner and blabbed the whole plan, telling Penner that he is her heart connection in the game, but she just can’t not be a follower, so she’s voting him out. The more she cries and talks about how much bigger the game is than herself, the more I can’t help but see Lisa as the type of person who would easily get sucked into a cult. She might desperately not want to vote Penner out, but the mighty Malcolm and Denise have spoken, so she’ll do what they say. If their stay on the island was any longer, I have no doubt that she’d end up drinking some kool-aid.

Anyway, with Penner flabbergasted that his decision not to make empty promises basically sealed his fate, he scrambles and tries to convince Skupin to flip and vote with him, Carter, and Abi to take out Denise. He keeps scrambling at Tribal Council where this season’s trend of utter honesty continues as Penner tells everyone that there’s no way they’ll win if they’re sitting beside Denise or Malcolm, so the only move is to vote out Denise right now. The editors did what the could with Skupin’s hilarious facial expressions, but it was clear pretty quickly that neither Skupin nor Lisa would be able to think independently of Denise and Malcolm. Malcolm was even confident enough to not have to play his idol on Denise, even though Penner yelled out his vote as he was writing it down.

Here’s the thing with all of Penner’s scrambling – he’s absolutely right. I don’t think there’s any way that Denise or Malcolm doesn’t win and really, Malcolm probably has this in the bag. The final four might change – I still think Carter has a good chance of winning immunity to sneak into the final 3, but that’s about it. Abi might think she’s being super clever by telling people she has a hidden idol (in fact, I’m positive that she thinks she’s pretty much the best player to have ever played the game), but I don’t think anyone else is stupid enough to buy it. So, it should be Abi next week, then Carter/Lisa/Skupin. After Penner’s torch was snuffed, they cut to a shot of Malcolm and you could almost see the realization hit him – he’d gone from being on the worst tribe to winning the million dollars. He just has to ride it out for a few more days.

For some reason, I’m having a hard time writing a regular review for this episode. Perhaps I’m spent with all the excitement of Boardwalk Empire or perhaps it’s because so much has happened this episode (and this season) that I’m running out of steam. Whatever the reason, I think I’m just going to stick to bullet points for today. Hopefully next week, I’ll be feeling more energetic!

  • So, we don’t really know what exactly happened between Brody and Abu Nazir during the 12 hours he was off the grid. The story that he tells Carrie, Saul, Quinn, et al. seems plausible enough, but Brody didn’t tell them that he prayed with Nazir, so who knows what else he’s hiding. I think it is significant that his discussions with Nazir about Allah revolved around personal motivation and force of will. I really liked the way the show kept us guessing by just showing us snippets of the flashbacks.
  • Still, Brody’s panic to ensure the safety of his family after he watched Nazir drive away seemed authentic.
  • The plot to blow up the vice president at a ceremony for 300 returning soldiers is at once symbolically typical of Nazir and also too simplistic. The plot from last season was layered, and I have  a strong feeling that this plot has more to it than meets the eye.
  • Mike, Jessica, and the kids are essentially playing house, and Mike occupies the role of father better than Brody ever has. I especially liked how he shut down Dana’s whining.
  • Mike and Jessica’s middle of the night guest room tryst echoes Carrie and Brody’s cabin tryst of last season. Both Brody and Jessica look more comfortable with their secret lovers than they do with their spouses.
  • I also thought it was significant that Brody wasn’t mad when Carrie told him that Mike was with his family. He is either ready to give up on his marriage and family because a) he genuinely recognizes that they’re better off without him and his baggage; b) he knows he’ll be dead soon thanks to his role in Nazir’s bomb plot; c) he knows that he’ll be in jail soon thanks to his role in Nazir’s bomb plot; d) he has deluded himself into thinking he can somehow run away with Carrie and everything will be fine; or e) he’s got too many other things on his plate to worry about that
  • Meanwhile, Saul has had Virgil and Max keeping tabs on Quinn, and they discovered that he has a different name, lives in extremely spartan living conditions, and a secret baby and baby mama who happens to be a police officer in Philadelphia who is immune to the charms of Saul’s beard.
  • Quinn is apparently adept at the city bus system and has a secret meeting with someone who Saul and Estes know, but who for now remains mysterious. So, he’s not a mole but just working for another agency? Or another part of the CIA? I’m interested to see where this goes.
  • One place that it apparently goes is that Quinn has standing orders from Estes to kill Brody the minute that Abu Nazir is captured. Brody’s saved at the last minute this time, but perhaps he won’t be so lucky next time. I can’t imagine Carrie will be too happy once she finds out this little detail.
  • Is Carrie just playing Brody or does she really have feelings for him that are compromising her integrity? I’m starting to lean more towards the latter.
  • Ambushing Roya and Nazir’s guys at the diner seemed slightly premature. I thought they were going to wait until they got to the location of the reunion?
  • I can’t wait for a Carrie-Roya interrogation scene next week.
  • Do you think they’re using Carrie so sparingly this season because of Claire Danes’ pregnancy? I can’t help but wonder how differently this season might have shaped up had she been able to participate more fully.
  • I can’t imagine what this show is going to do for the next 3 episodes. A normal show would have the interrogations and the frantic search for Nazir occupy the end of the season, but this show will probably cram those into the first half of next week. I can’t wait to see where they take us next.
  • Brody is going to die this season, right? I mean, now he’s got Abu Nazir’s henchmen AND the CIA pointing guns at him and he can only escape so many times. The only question is how it’s going to go down – will Quinn, Nazir, Saul, Estes, Walden, or Brody himself pull the trigger? Or, will Carrie finally be forced to prove once and for all whether she’s able to put her feelings for Brody aside when homeland security is at stake?

“Everything’s connected, Charlie. You just need to stop and think it through” – Meyer Lansky

In what may be the best episode of the entire series (definitely of this season), Meyer Lansky’s words proved prophetic as all the story lines that were carefully laid out along the way finally started coming together in some of most exciting ways possible.

First, we get Nucky and Eddie as a bad-ass duo, fighting off Gyp’s men in the early morning hours at the Ritz, Margaret and the children already having been safely dispatched on a train to somewhere. Nucky’s shotgun blasts through the door were a thrill to watch and for a moment I thought we were going to get an exciting and lighthearted buddy caper starring Nucky and Eddie, the only man he can trust. Alas, Eddie was shot in the stomach, and Nucky soon had to take over the driving. With Gyp’s men all over town, including the hospital where he has a fucking wing named after him, Nucky’s forced to go to “the other side of town” and call on Chalky White. Now, any episode where we get this much Chalky White is going to automatically improve a notch in my book, and this episode shows Chalky at his very best. He doesn’t make it easy on Nucky, but he ultimately promises to help him and even calls his daughter’s med student boyfriend over to help with the ailing Eddie. What does Chalky want in return for this generosity? Only the promise that he be allowed to open a club on the boardwalk where Babette’s used to be. Nucky promises that, if he gets his town back, Chalky can have his club, but points out he might lose, in which case Chalky might need to make new friends. “Too old for that,” Chalky says, and with that Nucky has at least one ally he can trust.

Of course, Gyp Rosetti is doing his very best to undermine that trust by placing a $25 000 bounty on Nucky’s head. When Nucky asks Chalky if he trusts his men not to be tempted, Chalky replies that he doesn’t trust anybody. But, the men are loyal enough to Chalky to not do anything right away. When Gyp comes to Chalky’s beach shack, we finally get a showdown between two of the show’s most dynamic characters. They approached each other cautiously – Gyp tells Chalky his full name, then says people just call him Gyp, and “How do I address you?” Chalky’s reply was gold: “You’re doin’ it.” Then, Gyp makes awkward small talk about both of them having been left out in the sun for too long, with Chalky a little longer than himself. Chalky replies, “You just ain’t done cookin yet, friend.” I could listen to Chalky White talk all day long.

But, as much as this episode was a powerhouse one for Chalky, it was also an introspective one for Nucky. When he was under attack at the Ritz, the only person he could rely on was Eddie. Throughout the day, it became clear that Eddie was both his best friend and a complete stranger. He can’t understand his German babbling, and he didn’t even know he had a wife and two sons. He’s been utterly reliant upon Eddie for years (he didn’t even know Chalky’s phone number), and yet the man is a mystery to him. Nucky’s concern for Eddie and his insistence that he receive proper care and protection was touching and perhaps more sensitive than we’ve ever seen him.

Nucky also had plenty of time to think while riding alone in the back of Chalky’s van as they tried to move him away from those who might be tempted to turn him in for the reward. Steve Buscemi’s performance here was powerful, going through the range of emotions and showing just how far the mighty Nucky had fallen. When the truck gets stopped by Gyps men demanding to look inside, it’s unclear for a moment whether Chalky and his men will turn him in. I mean, I didn’t really expect Nucky to die, but the tension of the show had built up to such an extent that it felt like anything could happen. Luckily, Chalky proved his loyalty by killing the men, and when they open the truck to find Nucky crouched behind the crates, gun drawn, it’s clear Nucky has reached a conclusion. He’s not going to run after all. This is his city, and he’s going to take it back or die trying.

Nucky and Chalky go instead to the lumber yard where Eli’s oldest son works (remember how he showed initiative and an interest in the business way back when?). He serves them day-old doughnuts and coffee and Chalky and Nucky have a conversation about needs and wants before they’re interrupted by the unexpected sound of vehicles riding up. Stepping out to face what he clearly expected to be his certain death, Nucky is instead greeted by Eli, back from Chicago, and, in the most applause-worthy, fist-pumping final moment, Al Capone. He’s been on the road for 18 hours, so he wants a bath and some food, but come morning “You and me sit down and we talk about who dies.” Fucking Al Capone. Finally. The only thing that would’ve been better is if Van Alden had been with him but there’s still time for that. I can’t freaking wait.

As if the Nucky-Chalky-Gyp-Al story wasn’t enough, the two side plots were equally as riveting. Lucky Luciano and the aforementioned Meyer Lansky discussed whether they could trust a mute mobster from Buffalo who offered to buy 5 lbs of heroin for $15000. Lansky preached caution, nothing that everything’s connected and, with the situation between Nucky and Masseria up in the air, it would be more prudent to wait and see which side was victorious so as to not end up on the losing side of the proposition. Naturally, Lucky didn’t listen and, equally naturally, the Buffalo mobster and his sidekick both turn out to be cops. It’s unclear exactly how this storyline will tie in to the goings-on in Atlantic City, but I’m sure they will.

More clearly related is Richard Harrow’s unceremonious ejection from Gillian’s employ. Gillian crossed a line early in the episode, going through Richard’s scrapbook and finding the picture of him with Tommy and Julia on the boardwalk. She coldly reminds Richard that he’s just half a man, and that Julia doesn’t look blind, so there’s no way she’d ever want him. When Gyp comes to the Artemis Room and announces that he’s going to set up shop there, Gillian realizes that she might have sided with the wrong gangster, but by then it’s too late. Gyp’s men take over and turn the Artemis Room into, well, a common whorehouse, with men having sex with women in the lounge and talking back to her when she tries to regain some semblance of order. She storms upstairs to check on Tommy and instead finds Richard getting him ready to go outside. After Richard lied and said they were just going for a walk around the grounds, Tommy admits they were going to Julia’s and Gillian has Richard forcibly removed by Gyp’s henchmen. In the final montage, we see Richard in Julia’s brother’s bedroom, carefully laying out an impressive collection of firearms. Gillian finally went a step too far. I only hope that after Richard kills her, he stops to help Nucky/Chalky/Al defeat Gyp before riding off into the sunset with Julia and Tommy.

Next week is the season finale.  I can’t imagine how they’ll be able to top this one.