The experience of watching television has changed fundamentally in the past 10 years: with the advent of DVDs and now online streaming services, it is possible — and, indeed, commonplace — to watch TV shows long after they have originally aired.. The cultural afterlife of a show like The Wire, for instance, is vast, and almost limitless.
Though this practice did not single handedly invent the coherent television season (consider, for instance, the season-long murder case of Murder One in the '90s), it has certainly encouraged series to tell stories in the form of a season arc. The great TV shows of the current era — Mad Men and Breaking Bad being chief among them —would be almost incomprehensible if watched out of order. The fact that shows on cable typically range from 10 to 13 episodes rather than 22 to 24 makes a coherent season arc infinitely more possible.
This is all to say that Homeland, like most other shows on the air right now, will ultimately rise or fall not as a series of individual episodes but as a block, a unit. I have been wondering recently whether this season is more disjointed than the one that preceded it, or whether the experience of watching week-to-week simply engenders the illusion of disorganization. I watched the first season of the show as it aired, but watched it a second time shortly before this season began. I was struck on my second viewing by how cohesive and compelling the season was not simply as discrete episodes but almost as one long movie.
We’re two-thirds of the way through this second season, and the plot lines have occasionally felt a little more disparate than they necessarily should. Though the plot moves forward at a neck-breaking pace, certain moments and story lines have felt like the writers treading water while they try to put everything else into place. The worst offender in this respect was certainly Mike’s investigation into Tom Walker’s death, but others have complained about Dana’s hit and run as equally tired and unimaginative.
This episode makes me wonder, though, whether watching this season all in one go — figuratively speaking, at least — wouldn’t be quite a different experience. I made a case last week for the relevance and necessity of Dana’s storyline, but was certainly skeptical about Mike, and understood other viewers’ qualms with the teenage melodrama attendant to the hit and run. This episode weaves together both these plot lines, along with Brody and Carrie’s individual struggles and relationship difficulties, into one coherent whole. The way these stories bleed into each other is enormously satisfying storytelling on the level of pure aesthetic pleasure, but it’s also appropriate for a show that’s so much about the way public and private selves bleed into each other, and that showcases the pervasive, insidious nature of deceit.
These story lines function as one story in this episode because Nicholas Brody is a liar who can’t afford to tell the truth, as he learns to great cost to himself here. The vast web of (private) lies in which he is enmeshed is so overwhelming that his entire (public) self is collapsing. The hunched, paranoid man who tells Roya that he can’t work for her anymore bears little to no resemblance to the natural liar Brody was last season. The enormity of his deceptions would be enough to drive anyone a little crazy, but Brody is particularly vulnerable because he doesn’t have any outlet through which he can tell the simple truth.
I wrote about this at the very beginning of the season, and with the exception of his relationship with Carrie (itself fraught by their contact-informant imbalance of power), every element of his life has grown even more corrupt. His relationship with his wife is on the verge of imploding completely, his former best friend not only feels guilty for sleeping with his wife while he was away but now believes him to be a murderer and (possibly) a terrorist, the CIA doesn’t really trust him, he can’t really trust the CIA, and he’s being forced to continue to lie to Abu Nazir’s people about his commitment to their cause.
He dug these holes himself, but it’s not difficult to understand why he essentially had a nervous breakdown early in the episode when sent to ferret out information from Roya. He’s a man utterly at the end of his rope. And everybody else knows it, now, at least on some level, which means that he isn’t simply making himself miserable but also systematically destroying every interpersonal relationship he has that isn’t predicated on the CIA. The bond between Dana and her father, for instance, once the most simply moving and positive relationships on the show, has been utterly spoiled. It’s telling that Dana, betrayed by her real father, turned to the closest thing she has to a surrogate – thereby involving Mike, who must be eager for any glimpse into the inner workings of the family at this point, given his suspicions about Brody.
So Brody’s world (and Carrie’s, by extension, as she hasn’t got much of a world outside of his at this point) has shrunk or flattened into a single damning slew of lies that nobody believes anymore. He doesn’t have the luxury of being able to lie about anything and get away with it. He doesn’t have the luxury of any privacy at all. His wife knows he’s been seeing Carrie, and his outburst to Roya was immediately relayed to Nazir’s higher-ups.
Most squeamishly, even his sex life exists under only the flimsiest shadow of privacy. When he and Carrie have sex in the motel to which they’ve decamped, we don’t get to see much of the actual sex scene, but are subjected to a seemingly endless audio feed of it courtesy of the CIA. It’s difficult to decide whether to be horrified or incredibly amused by Saul and Peter’s exquisite discomfort listening to Carrie and Brody’s coupling. While it is undeniably morbidly funny, mostly it’s a sign of how diseased the entire situation is by this point.
Carrie and Brody’s entire lives are enmeshed in this web of lies, and the web is corrupt and complex enough that they won’t ever be able to fully escape it.
Odds and Ends
It feels strange to neglect the very ending of the episode – Brody’s abduction and the reveal of Abu Nazir in the states – but I’ve come to terms with the fact that trying to predict anything about the future of this show is a futile endeavor, and we don’t know anything about what’s going to happen here except that Brody was taken somewhere and cut off from the outside world (once again). Brody: “I’m more alone now than I was at the bottom of that hole in Iraq.” Not true, but the fact that he thinks it is is pretty horrifying. Once again, Morgan Saylor’s phenomenal work as Dana does a lot of the heavy lifting for her storyline, even now that it’s more closely to what else is going on in the show. She’s so superb in the role that her material feels vital, even though it isn’t from a purely plot standpoint.