Big time spoiler alert.
The general response to last week’s episode of Homeland was that it was ludicrously implausible. I didn’t think so – I’ve always been of the opinion that plausibility is important only insofar as it distracts from the emotional impact of the characters and their relationships. Homeland has never been a particularly realistic show – remember when, in the first episode, Carrie illegally set up a comprehensive surveillance package on a POW, and then was never really punished for it? While it’s certainly true that certain plot developments in the last few episodes have strained credulity – could Brody really have wandered around the vice president’s residence like that? Do random agents get to walk into interrogation rooms with extremely important terrorist suspects willy-nilly? – this episode showcased the show’s strengths, and is a compelling reminder that we’re not really watching for the intricacies of the plot.
This isn’t to say that this episode was light on plot – to the contrary. Estes laid down the law with Saul, Carrie managed to turn her catastrophic interrogation of Roya into useful intelligence, and as a result engineered the capture and death of Abu Nazir. Nazir’s death was weirdly deflating and anti-climactic, which isn’t a criticism of the show. Carrie’s bogeyman turned out to be nothing more than a flesh-and-blood human, and we have to wonder – as she must be wondering herself – where she can go from here, now that the driving force in her life is suddenly good. (The scene directly echoes one near the end of Kathryn Bigelow’s new film Zero Dark Thirty, which also features a female protagonist dead set on catching a terrorist – in that case, Bin Laden himself.)
Nazir’s death fundamentally changes the nature of the show. Though I suspect he left some kind of destructive plan at the ready in case of his death, the driving narrative force of the show is no longer tied to his capture. All of the characters we have gotten to know and grown to care about over the course of the past two seasons are still alive, and their lives will not stop in the wake of this man’s death. Unlike Zero Dark Thirty, which ends shortly after Bin Laden’s death, Homeland is nowhere near finished.
The impact of Nazir’s death on the safety of the American public is presumably immeasurable, and for somebody like Carrie, whose drive to protect America is fanatical but well-intentioned, this is not a trivial matter. But when she looks at Nazir’s body on the stretcher, face quivering, she must be thinking what we are: that her life is the same as it ever was. Indeed, Nazir’s death has minimal practical impact on all of the characters’ lives. It does not solve anybody’s problems. Brody’s marriage is still broken, he still has to lie to everybody he knows, Carrie’s litany of personal problems remains intact, and Saul is still screwed. The emotional release after the news of his death may have finally spurred Brody and Jess to admit that their marriage is kaput, but that was a long time in coming. We’ve gotten the sense, over the course of the show, that Carrie has fixated on Abu Nazir as a way of avoiding her own problems, but Brody has done much the same thing, albeit in a very different way. Without him animating them, they’re going to be forced to really confront their psychological hangups – unless they can find something else to fixate on, and quick.
That something might present itself in the form of Peter Quinn, assassin extraordinaire. The last shot of the episode, which featured him watching Brody follow Carrie into her house, seemed to suggest that Quinn might be feeling some sliver of doubt about the task he’s been assigned to perform. Estes has described him as somebody who’s “here to kill terrorists, like the rest of us,” and he invoked the magic word with Saul again tonight, explaining that America “doesn’t negotiate with terrorists” as an excuse for the hit he’s ordered on Brody. This kind of language is designed to erase all the nuances and gray areas of any specific situation in favor of the kind of blanket, incendiary rhetoric employed by the Bush administration in the wake of 9/11.
It’s easy to say that the U.S. doesn’t negotiate with terrorists when those terrorists are extremists like Abu Nazir or Osama Bin Laden, who are bent on the destruction of America at any price, and much harder when the terrorist in question is Nicholas Brody. Brody may not be dad- or husband-of-the-year material, and he’s certainly a slippery son of a bitch, but I don’t really get the impression that he’s out for mass bloodshed. Unless he’s got something big hidden up his sleeve, I’d guess that what he really wants right about now is to sleep for around a week at Carrie’s house, and probably to watch a lot of television and eat a lot of take-out.
Quinn has proven himself to be a nasty piece of work, but his handling of Carrie in her disoriented state at the beginning of tonight’s episode was touchingly compassionate, and he trusted her enough to send people in after her when she insisted that Nazir was still in the tunnels. He even seemed surprised that Estes wouldn’t want her to be part of Roya’s interrogation, despite the fact that anybody with any sense could see that she wasn’t in the right state of mind to be interrogating anybody. He might still be a sociopath, but I think he actually kind of likes Carrie, in which case murdering her boyfriend is probably going to make him pretty uncomfortable. When he sees Brody walk into her house, he’s not looking at a heartless terrorist but a sad, sad man crawling to the only place he’s welcome. Estes and his ilk would like the political to never be personal, but we’ve seen over and over this season that it can’t be anything else. And without Abu Nazir driving everyone, in one way or another, both the political and the personal seem likely to get even messier.
Odds and Ends
I CANNOT EXPRESS how relieved I was that Galvez was not a mole. This has got to be one of Carrie’s worst moments, and I am thrilled the show went there. “He is a Muslim” – yeah, and also one of the only people who doesn’t think you’re totally out of your mind. Good job with that! Estes seems to think the threat of making Saul’s life miserable will keep him from talking. I think he’s underestimating him – what does Saul have to lose, at this point? He’s got no personal life to speak of, his job consumed it – and he’s probably the most morally direct person on the show. Who’s he gonna talk to? The moment when Jess tells Brody she just doesn’t want to know the truth anymore was pretty powerful, given how hard she’s tried to get it out of him. Slightly more disturbing was Brody’s non-reaction when she commented on how much he must love Carrie. It’s like their relationship is actually really fucked up and unhealthy!