It’s long been established that you can’t trust anybody in the universe of Homeland. The characters can’t trust each other, and the viewers can’t trust the characters. We have to, at least to some extent: otherwise, the experience of watching the show would be unsustainable. We choose to put our faith in Saul and Carrie because they are the most reliable of the major characters: although they, too, are emotionally compromised, we understand their weak spots well enough that we can feel fairly safe in labeling them well-intentioned, if nothing else. By comparison, Brody, Estes, and Quinn are ciphers. Whom do these men report to, and whose interests are they really forwarding?
We don’t know, and neither do Carrie and Saul. As this episode aptly proves, their paranoia is not unwarranted. Like the viewers, they must choose to trust people, but because that trust is not earned over time but forced by immediate circumstance, it is flimsy at best, and liable to fail at any moment. Earlier in the season, Carrie, Saul, Estes, and Quinn made the tentative decision to trust Brody, at least enough to employ him as a triple agent.
Out of the four of them, only Carrie truly trusts Brody, and her trust has a quality of mania that renders it unreliable. She actually does want to trust him, so much that she’s working overtime to convince herself that she does; the rest of them don’t have any other choice. Brody, meanwhile, must trust them to keep him and his family safe – if he is, in fact, being honest with them. Thought the show has cleverly left both options open, it does seem that Brody is telling the truth in this episode when he recounts Abu Nazir’s plot to bomb the vice president’s special forces event. But this reading may simply derive from my own inclination, as a viewer, to trust Brody. Like Carrie, I want to trust him because I want to like him.
But as we learned in the final moments of this episode, trust is too abstract and ephemeral a concept for Estes and Quinn, who are men of action. The moral ambivalences of Brody’s situation, which make up so much of the emotional ballast of the show, do not concern them. Brody is not always a sympathetic character, particularly when it comes to his family, but he is not the “bad guy” of the show: he is one of its protagonists. Though his psychological state may not be as clear to us as Carrie’s is, we nevertheless understand him deeply. This is the power of fiction: it allows us to get inside the heads of men and women whose actions would repulse us in reality, and then to root for them. Though Carrie’s infatuation with Brody has colored her judgment, her intuition into his psyche and her sympathy for him mirror the audience’s. We do not want him to be a bad guy, we do not want his life to crumble around him, and most of all, and we do not want him executed for treason.
To Estes and Quinn, however, Brody is not a complex, emotional, and deeply traumatized human being; he is a terrorist who must be eliminated once his use value has expired. In this way, Homeland serves as a political critique for the Bush-era conception of the terrorist as a monstrous, inhuman villain. Homeland security thus becomes not about ensuring the safety and security of the public but an institutionalized vigilante justice system. Drone strikes are the policy of the Obama administration, but their philosophical underpinning goes back to the post-9/11 demonization of jihadist terrorists. I do not mean to defend these people’s actions but rather to point out that they remain people in spite of them. Last season, Homeland used a drone strike gone wrong to humanize a terrorist; this season, they are using Estes and Quinn’s ruthless treatment of Brody to indict American counter-terrorism policy. I would not be surprised to see them take on Guantanamo next season.
When Saul confronts Estes about Quinn’s mysterious background, Estes tells him that Quinn is “here to kill terrorists, just like the rest of us.” But Saul and Carrie are not at the CIA to kill terrorists; they are at the CIA to keep Americans safe. And the corrosion of this fundamental principle is slowly destroying the entire system of government from within in the universe of the show – and, the show seems to suggest, in the real world as well.
If nobody ever tells the truth – if nobody gives guarantees that mean anything – then nobody has any motivation to trust anybody else. We have seen this acted out in moving fashion in the Brody family’s domestic drama, but it is also the most basic philosophical underpinning of the show as a whole, including its plottier elements. The vice president in this universe, who may as well stand in for the absent president, is a man who has no second thoughts about lying to the American public about the meaningless slaughter of children, while his second-hand man at the CIA has no compunctions about murdering an American citizen for an act he never even committed.
These decisions take place behind the scenes, of course; the average person knows nothing of them. But a government that operates this way affects us all. It gets into our culture and the way that we see the world. We may not be directly responsible for these kinds of unjustified deaths, but our willful blindness makes us culpable. Homeland depicts this, too. The Brody family drama may sometimes seem ancillary or overly melodramatic, but it is there to remind us that the decisions of men like Estes and Vice President Walden are not abstract or academic: they have consequences. There are young men and women who have lost parents to these men, and parents who have lost children. In a less realistic and more satisfying show, these men would fall and be punished for their moral transgressions. But Homeland doesn’t give us much hope for a sea change in governmental transparency. So long as President Obama continues ordering drone strikes, so will Vice President Walden. And our president isn’t stopping any time soon.
Odds and Ends
- I was relieved to see Carrie using her brain over her heart at the beginning of the episode. She’s interesting because she’s emotionally compromised, but she also needs to stay good enough at her job to stay realistically employed.
- Quinn’s partner (?) was fantastic. That woman took no bullshit.
- The music was particularly strong in this episode. Sean Callery always does strong work, but several passages here were particularly elegiac.
- THREE CHEERS FOR MIKE FABER.