I’ve heard, or seen written, by a number of critics and TV people, that Homeland is the thinking man’s 24. I’m not sure that’s meant as a swipe at either program, but it’s definitely reductive. First off, I was a fan of 24. At its best it was white-knuckle thrills and a captivating cast study of counterterrorism. At its not-so-best, it was a formulaic serial about just how far Jack Bauer would go to protect his country. It was by no means a simple show. So to suggest that Homeland supplies the intellect that 24 was missing is as false an accusation as it is insulting.
It’s an unfair characterization of Homeland as well. While Jack Bauer had an intense devotion to defending his country, much like Carrie Mathison, he was a man who chose isolation for the sake of a higher calling. Carrie is damaged. Not by hard choices, not by misplaced loyalty, but by disease and psychological futility. 24 was about the hero that would exist in our paranoid times. Homeland is about how dividing the world into two sides—with us, or against us—is causing the slow deterioration of the American soul. Carrie is incomplete, left to suicidal thoughts if she isn’t deciphering a national security puzzle. Brody, has his moral fabric profoundly torn when he realizes his allegiance may not be to the nobler men. Yeah, we’re rooting for loose cannon Carrie to catch the bad guy just as we cheered on the renegade Bauer—because it’s more in tune with our narrative sensibilities–but what Homeland does that 24 didn’t is challenge what we, what any human beings, are fighting for.
This episode also showcases its subtleties and self-awareness—something that sets it apart from most dramas. Considering that Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon were involved with 24, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were mocking their own predictability in the opening sequence. Saul, now in possession of the memory card that will crush Brody, is held up at the airport. I was prepared to fume at this development. After being so impressed at the boldness of the writers to tie up that loose end in two episodes, they were ready to erase or severely impede that impact. A corrupt security official—Saul suspects Hezbollah-connected—rips the bottom of his suitcase that is marked as diplomatic property. Disregarding Saul’s warnings of retaliation by the US government, the official seizes what seems to be the memory card, refusing to return it to Saul. Once aboard, he opens up the case and pulls out the true memory card from a compartment in the handle. SNEAKY SAUL! You’re always conscious of the savvy he brings to the spy game, but you’re never sure how far ahead he’s thought since he’s not infallible (like a certain aforementioned CTU operative).
After my nerves dissipated (I was more nervous the show would resort to a typical TV trope than I was about the implications of the card being taken), the episode began its halved ambition. Carrie, with jazz piped in through earbuds, is furiously typing up her report on the Beirut mission. It struck me that after her dad came to her defense in the premiere, he’s the one scolding her about skimping on sleep. She assures him that she’s feeling excellent. He corrects her, “Wired is what you are, there’s the difference.” She’s exhibiting the mania that goes with manic-depression. I see this episode as a dual descent, a double nosedive into the depths of their respective diseases. This is where hers begins, with the denial that she’s headed for disappointment.
Brody’s debacle begins with a breakthrough. The always ravishing Jessica Brody (seriously, Morena Baccarin is the epitome of the MILF moniker) spots a speech on the table. It’s her husband’s, for the benefit she’s co-hosting that night. He speaks earnestly about his time in captivity, how he had made peace with death and convinced himself his family would be better off without him. It’s a dimension of his PTSD Jess was unaware of, and she’s over the moon he would share that with an audience, let alone her. She thanks him for his openness, for agreeing to speak at the event. Her appreciative peck turns into a steamy makeout. She grabs his crotch and he stops her for a second, then asks her not to stop. She starts to escort him to the bedroom when he yanks her back and props her up on the counter. He’s aggressive, a speed demon in his affection. She slows him down, and he eases up, gently kissing her neck, his touch simmering on her skin. His progress—and their collective orgasms—are halted when Dana comes home. While he may have shattered the cup Chris made for him, Brody was receptive to intimacy, not just beastly sexual release.
With the mood sufficiently ruined, he receives a call. It’s his sleeper cell buddy Roya! She relays some unnerving intel. In some of the papers gathered by Carrie in her raid of Fatima’s apartment, there was evidence leading to the tailor who built his bomb vest in Gettysburg. His job is to transport him to a safe house. Brody’s not only concerned about being caught, but he’s worried he won’t be back for Jess’ benefit. He leaves immediately. This begins the trail of deception that will unspool the ties that bind.
Danny swings by the Mathison residence to retrieve Carrie’s report and offers an “Atta girl!” for what she did in the field. He gets her hopes up though when he says he’ll text her to confirm the 6pm debrief. Good grief, Danny. When are you not fudging up with sensitive information! Dad looks displeased at the CIA’s constant interference with her healing. As I mentioned, I was curious about the choice to make the bipolar afflicted father her Jiminy Cricket here. Was there a scheduling conflict with the actress who plays her sister?
Brody arrives in Gettysburg in his best undercover getup—a baseball cap. I mean, when do Congresspeople look like ordinary folk, amirite? The tailor resists a ton. He doesn’t seem to be trusting his ride’s sources. This is the only explanation I have for why Brody is the right choice for this assignment. After saving his life, why would Nazir be sending him out as an errand boy? Is he recruiting him as his version of Mike the Cleaner from Breaking Bad? The justification Roya gives about him being the only guy he’d recognize is thin. I believe her, but the risk is astronomically high. If ANYONE recognizes him (which is highly likely given hero and politician status) he’s under public suspicion. Last season, the show did a superb job of disrupting his domestic bliss with inner turmoil, Just because we know he’s in league with Al Qaeda, doesn’t mean he needs to do their dirty work every week. There’s some redemption in this plot. Damian Lewis can act his ass off. Brody’s resourceful enough to pull off these tasks regardless of how hairy they get, and in another Breaking Bad comparison, the testing of a wife’s patience and her resulting wrath can really take a conniving man down a peg.
While not as showy, Carrie’s collapse is effectively soul-crushing. She’s distracted in class, checking for a text as her students chant typical American sentences. So in her haste, she arrives early at the CIA. She’s in the equivalent of a waiting room—probably the most proficient method of torture our country possesses—and she dashes “for the bathroom.” She interrupts the debrief, which has started without her. David Estes speaks to her privately, heaping on the bullshit. While I buy that Carrie’s report is unusually thorough, he wouldn’t negate protocol because she was too cool for school. Carrie keeps prying, wondering what the next move is, but Estes denies her any insight beyond that what she pulled from the apartment was helpful. He straight up asks if she thought she’d be reinstated. She acts like it hasn’t crossed her mind, but when she’s in the elevator, she whimpers as if her hopes were demolished.
The tailor continues to question what will happen after Brody drops him off. He’s dismissive, but we know he’s truly in the dark. Suddenly, Brody’s truck gets a flat and he’s without a jack in the trunk. He constructs a makeshift one with wood logs. Here’s where this plot borders on the comical. This distrusting tailor grabs a rock and inches toward Brody, presumably to bash his head in. Much like when Carrie risked herself last week, we knew he’d be fine. But there’s also the “out of left field” quality. You get the impression that Murphy’s law has been summoned by the writers not the universe. Whereas Carrie’s brush with death is the effect of her personal burden, Brody’s botched job is cursed by bad luck and negligence. Why wouldn’t you lock the door at the rest stop, dude? You’re practically begging him to bolt! So he darts into the woods to search for his skittish sewing friend. As he is tending to his ringing phone he finally gets conked in the head, not hard enough to subdue him. He tackles the tailor as he scurries away. However, because this is Nicholas’ Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day, the tailor falls on his knife and is bleeding out.
As I mentioned, while the extent of his misfortune is laughable, Brody’s adaptability was somewhat remarkable. He dresses the man’s wound with a handkerchief, and no matter how much the tailor begs, he doesn’t drop him at the hospital. Why? The point of this transport was to ensure he wouldn’t talk. And while you can fault the story line for its engineered feel, in its execution there are moments of brilliance. It’s chilling to watch Brody comfort the tailor as death begins to beckon. He tells him to think of his family in Syria. Then Jess calls. After all the preparations she’s made for this benefit, he’a about to ruin it by not showing up. He builds upon his mountain of lies to explain where he is. I’ll say it again, it’s an ingenious move to pit a devious man against his wife. Especially when his family is the one stability he can lean on. You see his desperation as he tries to juggle his fiction for his wife (he does utilize the truth by mentioning the flat) with cleaning up the self-imposed stab victim.
The tailor starts to moan. Ever try to clamp your mouth over someone and lie to your wife? Incredibly difficult. So he does what any rational terrorist would do. He snaps his neck. The light at the end of the tunnel was within reach for the guy, so you could consider it an act of mercy. But the context with which he savagely ends this man’s life makes him appear cold and numb. He promises Jessica he’ll see her later. And the director Lodge Kerrigan frames a stunning shot where we perceive him as leaning into the camera. Exhausted, beaten down by his obligations, starving for a moment of tranquility. Whether it’s purely self-preservation, or a still firm conviction for Nazir’s cause, he’s trapped himself in this prison of where he’ll never have a moment to rest.
Carrie, after her humiliation at Langley, has packed a bag and decides to be solitary at her old place where she can ponder her future in private. We soon learn her intentions are more devastating. In a beautiful, mostly silent scene, she makes her bed, sits in a chair, gets herself gussied for a night out. Instead of leaving, after applying endless lipstick, she jumps to the counter and pours herself some wine. Then she spills out the contents of all her pill bottles and cups them in her hand. She swallows every one of them and chases her prescription cocktail with more wine.
This clear effectiveness of this scene is not whether she’ll die. Because without question she’s even less expendable of a character than Brody. Here, it’s the why, and how drastic her decision is. Brody’s backed up against an absurd wall, and his actions while brutal are justifiable. We see Carrie lay in bed, waiting to drift away and we expect her to gag herself, but it’s a searing pain to watch someone self-destruct. And while the tale the writers were spinning seems to be of contrasting rock bottoms, Carrie’s is more organic, a tragic fall Shakespeare could sign off on. And while the acting on both fronts was the stuff of legend, Brody’s story was a contrived exercise in point A to point B plotting. Carrie’s actions fit the psyche of her character and fit snugly into the arc of the season.
Jess is allowed to rise to the occasion as well because of Brody’s shenanigans. After waiting anxiously, and VP Walden badgering her about who the hell he’s going to introduce now, she takes matters into her own hands and delivers a speech in his place. Like what we heard of Nick’s, it comes from a place of heartache and rawness. She describes what it’s like to be the spouse, the family that a soldier returns to. She couldn’t have imagined how he’d look at her like a stranger, how violent his nightmares would be, how awkward he’d be with the kids or how he’d struggle with intimacy of any kind. She proposes that the money raised should go toward a program that would educate families about the process of coming home. She wraps it up with a political slam-dunk, “In the end, we’re all fighting this war together.”
It’s a devilish cut when after the squeaky clean, inspiring speech we see Brody hosing the blood off his clothes at a gas station, no doubt rinsing out some of that soaked-in shame. Jess bluntly asks Mike if he’s coming in for a nightcap. Traditionally speaking, a nightcap is meant to be an alcoholic beverage before bed. Knowing their history though, it takes on the sexual euphemism. And while I’m slightly appalled by Jessica’s blatant disregard of Brody, she’s undoubtedly tired of trying to repair their relationship. Mike, wanting to be a good guy and give Brody a shot, says he better not. (Personally, Mike, I can’t understand how you would pass that up!) Mike says to cut Brody some slack, it could have been car trouble. Then Jess tells him about the entire weekend he spent with “that CIA woman, the crazy one.” “He was fucking the bitch” (Jess sounded a little hood there, right?), so she ain’t buying it. Suddenly, he doesn’t feel like his best friend deserves kindness, so he agrees to head in for one drink. Cockblock that he is, Brody rolls up.
Jess’ eyes bore into Brody as Mike recounts her triumph at the benefit, a kickass speech. Brody solemnly follows her inside and she immediately corners him. He isn’t quick enough to sustain his lies. “They just roll of your tongue, don’t they?” she kids. So sure he’s hiding something, she suggests he look for a hotel room. She proposes he give their marriage some serious thought. The heartbreaker and lingering image of this scene is Dana popping out of her room, looking despondent. Not a word is exchanged, but you can tell she’s conflicted, especially considering the vagueness of what she knows and accepts about dad. She’s angry her dad can’t come clean, but upset that her father can’t be himself.
Carrie’s doorbell rings and frenzied knocks follow. Saul came straight from the airport. He’s heard about her being turned away by Estes, and understands how shitty that must feel. Claire Danes delivers an impeccable line. “Before Beirut, I thought I’d found a way to cope.” Ugh, like a knife to the heart. Like Prince Charming, Saul gives her the dream come true she needed. “Before you dig the hole any deeper, I need to show you something.” Her eyes widen in revelation as she watches the Brody confession tape, lips trembling as the relief seeps out of her. “I was right!”
While Brody’s path to loss should have been just as shocking as Carrie’s—he resorted to murder, she to a suicide attempt—Carrie was a casualty of herself, whereas Brody needed some freak accidents and an unreasonable request from the big guy for his setup. While some moments of Damian Lewis’s shone as brightly as Claire Dane’s routine brilliance, the writers were working against him. It was at times a silly quest, and with the stakes of his journey slim compared to Carrie’s potentially fatal depression, it was hard to take seriously. While I applaud their endgame, and felt that the approach was a refreshing one—to juxtapose their separate, but related dredging of holes—there had to have been a way Brody could have been sucked into a mission he hadn’t accepted. What if some other Nazir minion had tried to escort the tailor to the safe house (which I’m convinced would have been the stage for his execution), but he escaped and sought Brody out. This way, Nazir doesn’t look ill-advised for sending out his invaluable asset, and Brody still gets suckered in to terrorist hijinks. Despite my quibbles, any episode where Claire Danes is given free reign to go nuts, and Saul does his lovable thing as the world’s most huggable super spy, I’m pretty darn satisfied.