Is there anything better than watching two masterful actors play together? Claire Danes and Damian Lewis exploring the depths of human tragedy is like watching Magic battle Bird for the NBA title, like watching Muhammed Ali jab at Sonny Liston. It’s Yankees vs. Red Sox slugging for a bid to the World Series. And like those great athletes, this pair elevates the level of excellence not only for their competitors, but their collaborators. My main gripe for the past couple episodes has been convoluted plotting. There’s been some questionably orchestrated, and somewhat implausible actions taken in order to arrive at the crucial character peaks and valleys. And those emotional crescendos are not the problem. It’s the staging that has been suspect. In “New Car Smell,” Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa returned to what secured them acclaim, and likely the Emmy—the Carrie/Brody dance.
Arguably the best episode of last season, “The Weekend” focused on the volatile sexual relationship between Carrie and Brody that led them to shack up in a cabin for a weekend, where they had vigorous sex while also confiding in one another. The getaway culminated in Carrie slipping up, revealing a detail that she couldn’t possibly know without having watched him—which she had been doing for several weeks. It snowballed into a cards-on-the-table type of interaction where Carrie tells Brody what she believes about him being a terrorist, and Brody both disputes that claim and honestly describes what happened during his time in captivity.
It was an electric scene not only because of the brilliance and authenticity of the actors, but because it was a bold move for a drama to make. Whole seasons have been constructed around the concealing of secrets, leading to a finale where the bubble is burst. But once Carrie confessed she thought he was working for Al-Qaeda, it was like the show swerved us off the road into the breakdown lane, only to speed off on a detour route that was equally as hair-raising. This season is is showing the same cojones. Just when you think you’ve figured out where we’re going, no longer nervous that we’re lost or roaming around in circles, you pass what you perceived was the destination, when in fact it was just a stop along the way. Let’s take stock of the speed race to the shitshow for Sergeant Brody. End of episode two, Saul discovers the tape he made confessing to his treachery. Episode three, his wife tells him to leave her home and Carrie now knows she was right all along. Episode four—that’s right, we have eight more of these things—he’s hauled off by the CIA wearing a black hood to hide his identity. Holy crap that was a quick tailspin. A downfall that other modern classic antiheroes have managed to stave off for entire series. Does this mean that Brody’s incompetent, or does this mean that show is interested in swift justice?
Let’s delve into this mostly genius episode, starting with David Estes’ mea culpa moment. Saul stops by his boss’ humble house (seriously, murdering muslims for Uncle Sam pays!), Saul breaks the news that VP Walden was almost taken out by a suicide bomber—that almost attack was scheduled to happen the same day Elizabeth Gaines was shot and Estes was sequestered in a bunker with Walden as well. The bomber was Congressman Nicholas Brody. He hands him the proof, he uploads it to his laptop, and it’s not long before the “Oh shit, the crazy woman was right” look is plastered all over that smug mug of his (Well done, actor David Harewood, by the way). It’s not only a victory for Carrie, but a sobering mistake for Estes. Was he right to question Carrie after Brody had alerted him about her condition? Absolutely. She needed help desperately. Her obsession with Brody, romantic or otherwise, was ruining her. But it doesn’t mean her frenetic behavior wasn’t rooted in a real investigative prowess and keen intuitiveness. Alyssa Rosenberg of ThinkProgress made an astute observation that should have been obvious—what separates Carrie from other conventional antiheroes is not just her disorder or that she works for the “good guy,” but her gender. Her inner chaos can make her an unreliable agent, but her instincts and determination have clearly outshone the more restrained tactics of Saul and Estes.
After admitting his own fault in not trusting Carrie, he immediately reinstates her as member of the surveillance team that will monitor Brody in hopes that he can lead him to Abu Nazir. Also on that team is our old friend Virgil, the wise-cracking guy who accompanied Carrie on her illicit stakeouts last season. Already his comedic contributions are much appreciated—”You were right about the red-headed menace?” HA! A new member is Peter Quinn (Rupert Friend). It’s pretty transparent that he’ll become a love interest for our heroine down the road—now that Brody doesn’t seem like the most available option. And he’s not necessarily a complex or original character. He’s a bit of an ass, but he’s a good-at-what-he-does brand of asshole. And, as much as you’d like to deny that he doesn’t disarm you, he definitely does. And while his blunt and unapologetic quips may make us growl at his insensitivity, he quickly comes to Carrie’s defense, and recognizes a capable asset when he sees one.
On the home front, as I mentioned, Brody is also…how do I say this delicately…royally f*cked. Jess, after a peace offering of espresso demands an explanation from her husband. “If you don’t have something real to say, something true, you should pack a bag.” Brody seems legitimately troubled by the corner she has backed him into. He wants to include his wife in his world, but he would be correct in assuming it is one she would firmly reject. He implores her to understand, “I want to tell you, but I can’t.” Since she isn’t willing to give an inch, he concedes and gathers his things.
Dana sits against a tree with Xander who doesn’t console her much, only offering to get stoned. Dana responds that it can’t be the only thing to do. When Brody drops her and Chris off, she seems less sympathetic to Dad. This a bigger blow than you might expect, considering how colossally screwed he is on all levels. Dana was his one confidant in the family. He felt like she “got” him, and she seems to value this bond since it wasn’t one she could cultivate with her mother. She doesn’t appreciate, however, how he embarrassed her mom. She adds that the car smells like smoke, which makes Brody nervous that there’s remnants of his adventure in Gettysburg. Finn Walden, the veep’s kid, asks her what’s up. She replies, “My dad’s a liar and mom’s a rube.” He jokes, “You mean we got stuff in common?” Oh, teenage angst, am I right? More on the budding young love later.
First step in the mission is for Carrie to spook Brody by running into him at Langley. As he’s walking in for a meeting, she walks past him and he immediately spots her. Shocked, he calls out her name. They exchange pleasantries and Carrie tells him she’s great, much better since they last talked. He apologizes for how he betrayed her, but he did it out of concern (not entirely true). She acts as if she accepts his apology (she doesn’t) saying, “You kinda saved me.” They shake on “peace” and she walks away having achieved what the team hoped for—an unsettled Brody who would need to consult his handler.
Jessica Brody has a surprise visitor—perpetually wasted drunk Marine Lauder. He spouts off about how he’s gonna get to the bottom of this “murky pool of shit,” referring to Brody’s suspicious behavior. First, Jess dials Brody, but he’s unavailable. Of course her next call is to Mike and he rushes over. Two things bothered me about this thread—though it didn’t affect my grading because it held such insignificant screen time and did little to overshadow the rest of the greatness. One, I’m on board with Jess being pissed about Brody’s secrecy and flakiness. But, she called him in the middle of a workday and the dude’s a junior Congressman. Shouldn’t he be busy? Far too many fans get their ardor up about “naggy wives” and I refuse to be one of those ignoramuses. But I think her anger toward Brody veered into irrational territory there. That’s fine character-wise. It makes sense she would be testy about Brody not being there for her. Especially since he’s the reason Lauder came stumbling by in the first place. It fell short of gaining added sympathy though, and I don’t want reason to find Jess a pest. Morena Baccarin is a lovely actress and deserves better.
A panicky Brody is approached by Roya Hammad at the office building where the surveillance team believes he’ll engage his handler. They’re right, but they don’t suspect Roya. In one of their subtler indictments of American intelligence gathering, Saul suggests they focus on Arabs and Africans since it’s most likely that’s who would be in league with Nazir. Max, Virgil’s assistant pipes up and accuses him of racial profiling, and Saul rebuffs, “No, it’s actual profiling.” Roya tells Brody to renew the relationship with Carrie, thinking it could be to their advantage. Maybe she’s thinking he can have her careening off the rails again? Or do they believe they can gain insight into CIA affairs?
Quinn abruptly tells Carrie, “You were fucking him.” Yes, he came to a correct conclusion, but she’s not exactly willing to talk about that affair. She fires back, “Who are you fucking?” His curt response, “An ER nurse. I’m not that into her.” The significance of this exchange is unclear, but I think it serves the dual purpose of setting up their inevitable romance, while getting her to confront her volcanic feelings surrounding that issue. Afterwards, Carrie asks Virgil to look into him. He, as always, reluctantly accepts. Carrie also faces David Estes for the first time since he found out about Brody, and he’s appropriately ashamed. He tells her he feels like a heel, and she too takes the high road.
While studying for a test on Thomas Jefferson, I guess, Finn and Dana joke about Sally Hemmings (another political swipe by the Homeland staff about the fallibility of politicians?). Finn’s dear old dad pops in to rag on his son’s lack of academic initiative. Dana stands up for him and says they can’t get by on “gentlemen Cs” like he used to. This is a definite jab at George W. Bush who had a C -average at Yale. Finn, using his wealth and influence to bag babes, says they should go somewhere. He shows her his sick Beemer—I’ll admit I was seriously jealous—but instead doesn’t drive it. Prick. He instead has them race to the under-construction Washington monument where they head to the top floor and look out over D.C. It’s a douche-y sort of romantic. And it’s a gorgeous scene. The way their reflections were captured in the window was magnificent. I’m also legitimately intrigued by this couple. When they kiss, Dana doesn’t forget Xander, but she seems to be wrapped up in Finn for sure. Like all the best young love stories, there’s an added layer of conflict between the families and outside world that gives their attraction weight. And as smarmy as Lil’ Walden is, he’s got some wit. His later of text of “Good night, Sally” made me smile like Dana did.
I wish we could just skip over this to the exhilarating final fifteen minutes, but let’s address it. Mike picks Lauder up from Brody’s, and as they leave he says regrettable things about how Mike is just being helpful so he can sleep with her. It’s not wrong, but it’s uncalled for. Once he sobers up, he is sorry, and they discuss the validity of Brody being in league with the deceased Tom Walker. I’m really at a loss as to how this plot while prove relevant down the road. They’re so far behind what we and the rest of the main characters—except for Jess—already know that there’s no reason for us to be sucked into their investigation. We don’t care about them, and what’s left to accomplish? Brody’s in custody! This was the proverbial blip on the episode’s radar though. No more than a pesky pothole that was sped over.
Quinn and Carrie are running the night shift. They have eyes in Brody’s room, the bar, and all the necessary entryways. After searching for answers at the bottom of a rocks glass, Brody calls who but Carrie for company. Maybe he’s following Roya’s orders, maybe he misses her. At any rate, she agrees to see him and is understandably nervous. Quinn gives a vote of confidence. When she arrives Brody swears it isn’t a booty call—Darn! They talk about the slump he’s going through with the wife, then the topic switches to Carrie’s life. He asks what she was doing at the CIA, and she says she’s “back in a way” and that she’s “closer to her goal.” Brody, clearly with feelers up for Nazir probes further and Carrie seductively whispers that the certain terrorist she’s circling is the “head of the snake…that stole eight years of your life.” This is where you start to shake and scream giddily. The dance has begun.
Brody directly apologizes for calling Estes about her stalking him. He says he knows she underwent ECT because of it. It’s at the mention of this horrific memory that she starts to lose her cool. We learn for the first time that every Monday and Thursday for six weeks she was zapped. Jesus. The fury rises in her, and Danes gives it to us in a satisfying yet nearly undetectable look. It’s enough though to turn off Brody and cause him to duck out to his room. They share an instance of sexual tension and you can feel the chemical reaction of feelings between them. Lust, rage, desperation, sadness, ecstasy. As an audience member, it’s addictive. And the show gives us what we hope for when Carrie goes off the reservation again. She’s upset because she thinks “he made her.” She believes he detected when she got pissed talking about ECT. She’s worried he’ll signal Nazir to go to ground. Quinn’s insistent she get the f*ck back.
She disobeys and knocks on Brody’s door. Quinn asks Saul, “How many times you gotta tell her?” “A lot,” he laments.
When Brody opens the door, it starts off flirtatious. She suggests he said his room number not just to pay the bill, but to get them alone. This is when Carrie goes off the rails again and jeopardizes the mission, but achieves her catharsis. She defeats the man who destroyed her, who left her in a heap of mental wreckage after he rejected her love and had torn her career off the hinges. It’s both disturbing and triumphant. “It reeks, your bullshit,” she begins. “Do I wanna be friends with a demented ex-soldier who hates America?…Despite the people who loved him in the real world, not the mindf*ck world of Abu Nazir. And in the end he didn’t have the stones to through with it, but enough to put me in the nuthouse? I don’t think I need a friend like that.” It’s heartbreaking and courageous. And there’s still that knockout punch where Brody tells her that he liked her. Carrie roars, “I loved you. If only the circumstances had been wildly different. You have disgraced your nation…now it’s time you pay for that.”
What’s so devastating about that last line is that this was never solely about nailing the traitor for her. It ends on that note, but when she says “time you pay for that,” you wonder if she’s talking about just his terrorist affiliations or if she’s referring to the personal suffering she endured because of him and his lies. Because he had to cover his ass he broke her heart and ravaged her mind. When she’s on the verge of crying as the camera pulls back on Carrie, standing distraught in the hotel room, it tells us all we need to know. She’s irreparably damaged by this equally damaged man. And that’s the essence this show was neglecting slightly in the last couple episodes.
Now we’ve returned to the core of the conflict—the dueling personalties inside our two protagonists reflected in the blurred line between good and evil on the global scale of counterterrorism. That’s the story I was so invested in. With Brody now in custody, what’s left to uncover? It’s a question not easily answered, and I respect Homeland for accepting the challenge. Like the jazz of the opening credits reminds us, some of the most affecting art is in organized chaos. There’s no conventional way to tell this tale they’re spinning, but no matter how the seasonal arc shifts, we’ll still be squirming in our seats because they haven’t abandoned the essential tenet of fiction—staying true to the characters. While Carrie’s recklessness has endangered their endgame, she wasn’t about to let her chance at redemption slip away. And while we have expectations of our quality television, what we really are asking for is a series that says something true, truly, and in a way we haven’t heard or seen before. And what could be truer that the tug-of-war between our internal struggles and the way of the world at-large. So while we can quibble with the logistics, this show has bigger fish to fry.