Well, that was an ... unexpected twist.
This week’s episode of Homeland wasn’t nearly as strong as last week’s, which is to be expected, since last week’s installment was one of the best episodes of television I have ever seen. The writers clearly felt the need to catch up the viewers with the various plot threads that they had put on the back burner last week in order to showcase Carrie’s interrogation of Brody. Some of them were more compelling, and others – can we just scrap the Mike plotline, please? – but such is the nature of the beast.
And, um, one of them involved an entire SWAT team of terrorists gunning down seven members of the CIA.
It feels foolish to criticize the show for this without first seeing where they go with it – but it must be said that this is … a major step. Let’s pause for a moment to consider the ramifications of an equivalent action in the real world. Can you even begin to imagine the media shitstorm that would arise around something like this? If Abu Nazir and company are trying to keep under the radar at all, they’ve just kissed that wish goodbye. And if the show underplays this, they’ll lose major plausibility points, because seriously: things like this don’t happen! I mean – machine guns! What on Earth?
But because I like to give Homeland the benefit of the doubt, I like to think that they’ll deal with the consequences of this in a moderately realistic fashion. If whatever that tailor was hiding in his office is actually worth enough to Abu Nazir’s cell that they’re willing to blow the lid off of their low profile to get it before the CIA does, the urgency of Carrie and her team’s work is greater than ever. Carrie will know this, and she’ll have the extra motivation of her dead colleagues driving her.
But as shocking as all of this was, it didn’t really hold a candle to the episode’s final scene, which featured Carrie confronting Brody about the incident in his office (not particularly wise, even by Carrie’s standards). As I wrote last week, the core of the show is the relationship between these two people; the actual plot is kind of just window dressing. And though they weren’t as front and center this week, the fallout of their emotional catharsis last week was clearly, uncomfortably delineated in this episode. Brody seems understandably uncomfortable about how much of himself he showed last week, while Carrie keeps trying – unsuccessfully – to tell herself that she has no continued emotional investment in him.
They two of them are wobbling back and forth between distrusting antagonism and intense camaraderie: they clearly can’t do anything to defuse the electric connection between them, and they increasingly can’t find comfort in other people who don’t have their particular, strange shared history. But they also aren’t capable of trusting each other fully: Brody can’t tell how much Carrie’s apparent overtures are genuine, and how much they’re just a way of pumping him for information; Carrie, on the other hand, can’t be sure that Brody isn’t acting as a triple agent. The whole relationship is a convoluted mess, and it’s only going to get messier with each successive episode.
The real fallout of this episode, for the series if not necessarily its plot, is that, like Carrie, we can’t be sure whether to trust Brody. The conversation he has with Ruya is weird, and though I’m inclined to believe that he’s being honest with Carrie, there’s certainly room for the alternative. All of the sudden, it feels like we’re back in the early episodes of season one, back when Homeland was a show about a nutty CIA operative stalking a POW who may or may not be a terrorist. Gordon and Gansa have brought the show back around to this dynamic without directly recreating it: instead of Carrie surveying Brody’s house, a unit of people is surveying the entire city with his help. If Brody’s lying, it’s not just to his wife and children but directly to the CIA, and Carrie in particular. The show has become simultaneously bigger, a Big Brother kind of conspiracy, and even more personal. If Carrie was too invested in Brody’s life last season just from watching him on TV to judge him fairly, she’s crossed around ten important boundary lines since then. No matter how often or intensely Saul and Quinn tell her not to trust Brody, she can’t help getting sucked toward him.
In the episode’s final scene, Brody does something for Carrie that we haven’t often seen: he comforts her when she’s panicking, and he does it physically. There’s nothing threatening about this physical contact – on the contrary, it feels like he’s offering Carrie a lifeline. We’ve seen any number of shots so far this season highlighting how alone Carrie is, but the final shot here was of her folding into Brody, whose face dominated the frame. She’s emphatically not alone in this shot, and if she gets too addicted to the feeling she’s in real trouble. (Let’s be honest, here: she’s already in real trouble.)
I don’t really want Brody to be working for Abu Nazir – it would undermine the deep emotional breakthroughs of last week’s episode. But whether he is or not, his reaction to Carrie’s panicky, furious verbal attack must be at least partially calculated. No matter his true affiliation, is very important for him that she trust him, and he’s already pissed her off by calling her out on her own physical friendliness earlier in the episode. Carrie managed to get under his skin last week because she knows him better than anybody else, but let’s not forget that he knows her just as well. He knows how lonely she is, he knows how scared she is of herself, and he knows that offering her simple physical solace will win her over to his side, just a little. He’s manipulating her, and it’s working.
But what Damian Lewis manages to convey so well in that scene is that, though he may be manipulating her, he also means it. Just as Carrie’s questioning of Brody last week was as much of an act of love as an act of interrogation, it’s clear that Brody is genuinely distressed by her anger. He wants to help her. And in that final shot, we see a kind of resignation in his face: he’s realized that he can’t help it. Neither of them can. That’s what makes the relationship so compelling. They don’t only want each other; they genuinely want to help each other. But they just might want to help themselves – and the organizations they may or may not be working for – even more.
Odds and Ends
- Okay, seriously: there is a mole in the CIA. I think Galvez is now dead (which is a bummer, I liked Galvez!), which rules him out – which is kind of a relief, honestly; I was worried they were going to make one of the few good-guy Muslims on the show a bad guy out of convenience. I’m suspicious of the character played by Seth Gilliam, who was a regular on The Wire, back in the day. He’s hardly wildly famous, but he barely had a line in the episode, which would be pretty bizarre for somebody of his profile. I think we probably haven’t seen the last of him.
- Peter Quinn: we're feeling sociopath here, right? Right.
- I keep meaning to talk about what’s going on with Dana and getting distracted by her dad, but I think it’s a testament to the quality of the writing and acting on this show that a scene as potentially hackneyed as her finding the woman Finn ran over last week in the hospital was as affecting as it was. Morgan Saylor gets better every episode, and she really shone here. Finn is really a nasty piece of work, isn’t he? In lieu of saying anything more, I’ll simply direct you to this great piece by Spence Kornhaber in the Atlantic recently about why “Homeland Is Really About the Kids.”