“Homeland” – Two Hats episode review 0

Congressman Brody (Damian Lewis) is shocked to find a familiar face driving his limo.

★★★★☆

The theme of this episode—perhaps the series—is “Paranoia will destroy ya.” Over the past few episodes the anxiety within Brody has been bubbling: Do I have any semblance of control over my life, or I am a puppet being passed around by bureaucratic puppeteers? In “The Clearing” he found out that his values and both sides he’s playing for are in conflict. Then what exactly is he fighting for anymore? If he complies, he loses everyone and everything he cares about. If he disobeys, he’s dead. Doesn’t seem like he has a choice. In “I’ll Fly Away” he comes to the grim realization that he’s more alone now than he ever was at the bottom of a hole in Iraq. He’s lower than his literal rock bottom, what motivation does he have left?

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The answer is, as evidenced by Brody after 12 hours in captivity with Abu Nazir, it’s dwindling. It would appear the only fire in him is protecting his family. Yeah, his only ally Dana is disappointed to a point beyond repair, and Jess has no qualms about shedding her nightgown and slipping under the covers with his best friend. And Chris, well, he just likes the luxuries included in their temporary safehouse because there is a big screen in every room (Seriously, has there been a more useless character in an acclaimed drama? Bobby Draper, I suppose. But he doesn’t have any dumb lines, he’s just there. At least Mad Men stopped trying.) But Brody he doesn’t want to be the reason they’re all dead. And according to Nazir’s threatening tone, if he doesn’t “stay true to himself” that’s a serious possibility.

But the biggest enabler of CIA hysterics is the colossal fuckup that is Abu Nazir living among them in America. That is the oversight to end all oversights. Could you imagine the outrage if President Obama had found bin Laden chilling in a McMansion out in the Hills? Everyone with security clearance would packing up their things. So the discussion becomes, “How did this happen?” If you are well-versed in TV counterterrorism, you might chime in, MOLE! This would not be far-fetched, especially when you recall that our preconceptions were toyed with last year when we thought our beloved Saul might be feeding intel to Nazir. That fear turned out to be unjustifiable. But the rumblings are starting to feel like they have merit as the very same bearded man whom we once suspected is now suspicious of Quinn. Some are complaining that this investigation is out of the the blue. But I vaguely remember—and the “Previously on Homeland” segment confirms this—that Carrie asked Virgil to check him out. Then you wonder when Saul became involved and the explanation would seem to be that they gave Claire Danes less to do once she was preggers. So they lumped her surrogate daddy Saul into their snooping.

How do I feel about this subplot? I’m reserving judgement for now. It all hinges upon this shadowy Dar Adal figure played by F. Murray Abraham. As stoked as I am to see Louis C.K’s fictional uncle on one of my other favorite shows, it’s more than worrisome that we’d be introduced to a new character nine episodes in. It smells like a 9/11-style conspiracy too. Black ops guy sends in his trusted agent to kill a Congressman (confessed terrorist sympathizer, but still), to what end? Estes, as we know, is a fan of moral grey area and would be more than willing to murder to save his own ass, or to endear himself to the bosses. I’ve heard some suggest that in a callback to Walden nominating Brody for VP in order to bolster public support for war in Iran, maybe Estes, Walden, Adal and the gang allowed Abu Nazir to slip into the country undetected, with no intention of allowing the attack to be executed, BUT they would pin Brody’s assassination on the Al-Qaeda leader and incite civilian outcry. I believe, it’s a simple coverup mission. After all, an exonerated Brody could find the audacity to out the VP and Estes for their crimes against humanity (read: drone attack on Issa’s madrasa). Maybe Dar Adal sent Quinn as insurance, a helping hand to snuff out a potential blabbermouth?

I must admit I’m nervous though. While this season has felt often like a series of crescendoes and reveals, it isn’t a twisty show. Any reversals or backstabbing or switching of allegiances has been at the mercy of the characters themselves. When Brody started working as a double agent, it wasn’t some secret we discovered. We watched Carrie break him down to bits and reassemble him. Little is done behind the scenes, all of the excruciating deterioration is done right before our eyes. Hell, we had to listen to Brody nail Carrie in the background as Saul defended her questionable methods for snaring Brody back into the fold. How uncomfortable could it get? Instead, we hear after several episodes that Quinn may have ulterior motives to being on this task force. Sure, I remember that Carrie had suspicions, but if it was going to be important down the line, why conceal these developments for a good chunk of the season?

The magic of Homeland is not it’s ability to have the tablecloth yanked off without a single piece of glassware shattering, nor is it a disappearing/reappearing act. The sorcery comes from watching two disturbed, damaged people being pinned up against a wall where they’re so suffocated by expectations that it’s wondrous to watch them come out alive. It’s escape artistry at it’s finest. And it’s cheapened when an obstacle is thrown in at the end just to make it more formidable. I’m not only hoping, I’m betting that Quinn’s assassin mission is one handed down from the unspoken intelligence authorities for the purpose of covering up a trail that could become a PR nightmare. That would be my guess. I don’t believe there’s a larger conspiracy at play. And if there is, it better be damn compelling because suddenly there would little too much 24 in my Homeland. 

Let’s explore the plot a little deeper. So, after 12 hours, Saul, David, Quinn and Carrie are all assuming the worst about their asset, Carrie expressing their darkest assumption–he’s dead. Operationally, at best. They consider rolling up in Roya since it may be their only play left. Of course, if Brody is alive, this would be his death sentence. Meanwhile, Brody is dropped off at a desolate location by the Sandman himself—epic code name—Abu Nazir. I thought seeing Navid Negahban clean-shaven and bespectacled was more haunting than the scruffy version, and as much as I wanted more screentime for him, withholding his appearance made for an effective cliffhanger and tense opening this week. At the drop site, Abu Nazir tells his subject, “This is where we say goodbye forever if all goes well.” I took this to mean a suicide mission. Is it possible Brody still isn’t telling his CIA friends everything? They say they will pray for one another and then part ways with Nazir jumping into a blue SUV.

Brody walks in the streets of Baltimore (They looked uncharacteristically drug-free, but there were plenty of young hoppers. The Wire references are fun!) and hurried into a store. After mistakenly asking for a pay phone (evidently Nazir transported him to last century) he borrows the cell of a clerk and calls Carrie. He asks that she send her family somewhere safe and he’ll call back in an hour. Carrie implies they send Mike Faber to retrieve them since they trust him. As darling as Dana has been as the moral compass and emotional core since last season’s finale, her turn as disgruntled daughter has been awfully one-note. Her “This is bullshit” tirade was only tolerable because Mike gave the fiery attitude right back to her. Finally! Mike Faber the walking-talking-cooking exposition machine shows some signs of life! Well, I suppose screwing Jess is also a sign of vitality, but you get what I’m driving at. “You don’t get to talk to me like that! I’m here to help and you damn well know it. I’m not asking in the words of the CIA, so get your shit together because it’s happening now even if I have to carry you out of here kicking and screaming.” That homewrecker can rant!

Brody calls Carrie back from an actual pay phone this time—go figure!—and says to meet her where they first met.  Carrie’s slight smile when she answers, “In the rain?” was perfect. It’s still discomforting to see that she’s clearly blinded by her affection for him, but seeing such a flawed spy, and sucker for romance, is also weirdly comforting. While it may not bode well for our national security, my favorite Jack Bauer moments were when he broke down.

Max and Virgil break into Quinn’s apartment and start taking pictures. Max is able to find several anti-intrusion devices, a rifle cleaning kit and a photo he was using as a bookmark for his copy of Great Expectations. The photo shows a woman holding a newborn baby. After they gather all the photographic evidence, the twosome shows Saul and he’s initially unimpressed. “That’s it? A CIA analyst is a security-phobe? His personal life is a little wanting?” As quippy as Saul is, he raises legitimate questions about gathering information about people. How much do the disparate objects that one surrounds themselves with define them? But once Max highlights the rifle cleaning kit fit for a sniper and says that the picture traces back to a policewoman, suddenly there’s enough to encourage his delusions.

In Carrie’s car, Brody is frazzled and Carrie’s look of concern is significant. She holds his hand and once again your forced to weigh her feelings against her competency on the job. This has been the most effective complication so far— the idea Carrie may be unraveling, but she also might be completely in control. It’s impossible to tell, but that’s what makes her so seductive for Brody. She’s either as unstable as he is, or she’s the rock he’s been seeking this whole time. He divulges that he was taken to Nazir and Carrie’s incredibly struck by the idea that Nazir has infiltrated the country.

Cut to the dank interrogation room where he gives all the gritty details on the record. He mentions being hooked up to a car battery and daring them to kill him before Abu sat with him for tea. Then we see the flashback where Nazir senses that “Nicholas” has become unsure of his commitment. Brody insists he’s done what he was told always—no more, no less. Although Nazir does remind him of the favor he did for him in Beirut. That was above and beyond. When Nazir pushes further about what is troubling him. Brody says he wanted to avenge Issa, not kill innocents. Nazir uses a cliche religious response of “What if it is the will of Allah?” Brody’s counter is solid, that neither of us know the will of Allah, and that he taught him that. Was this a test of some sort? Because I was disappointed Homeland would resort to simplistic extremism like that, but I suppose it was a subversive move.

Bringing it back to his diminished feelings of agency, Nazir asks what his will is and Brody can only reply that it is close to breaking. Saul, in the present, interjects wondering if Nazir asked about his recent wavering with Roya. Apparently, he did and Brody responded saying he underestimated his love for his family, and the fear of what would become of them after he was gone. This is when Nazir issues his threat about “staying true” to himself. I’m thrilled by the propect that finally Brody has found a way to not bottle up the truth inside and that he is giving shades of honesty to both sides. But when does that game of laying all his cards down become too dangerous?

Estes—to some suspiciously, to me genuinely—asked if Nazir spoke about how he got into the country, but all he did was explain his motives. “My choice was simple—run, hide and wait for death like a cowering animal, like bin Laden, or die taking the fight to the enemy.” Delving into the inner thoughts of a terrorist is not the first disturbing place this show has gone, but it separates itself from the pack. While it may scare us, understanding how an extremist rationalizes may take us closer to not only thwarting terrorism, but preempting this deviant behavior.

Brody then details the plans for said “fight.” Walden and Brody are to greet a special ops group returning from Afghanistan. I noted that Estes leered over him in this moment as a potential indicator of his treachery. Three hundred soldiers to be reunited with their loved ones will be there, and Nazir plans to hit the homecoming. The congressman’s essential role is to convince the VP to allow one reporter to cover the events. Guess who?

An intriguing scene then follows where the team discusses the validity of Brody’s story in a stairwell. Quinn thinks Nazir might be playing him, leading them all into a trap. Saul suggests it’s possible because he just spent hours with a man with considerable power over him. Carrie, however, can’t ignore the symbolism. It’s quintessential Nazir. Killing a group of soldiers just as they think they are safe and about to embrace their loved ones? It’s an idea worthy of him. It would appear to be an exercise in monotonous intelligence work, but for me it contributed to the most substantive aspects of the episode—the exploration of vigilant, paranoid minds who need to stay a step ahead for fear they’ll be too late. Carrie, a delusionally-minded individual already, delves into the mind of a master criminal. The lengths we go to feel safe truly are extraordinary.

At the swanky safehouse, Dana confesses to Mike she’s beginning to wish her dad never came home. He reminds her that they all come home with wounds. He says his was leaving his best friend behind—clearly extending his hand out to Jess for comfort. She later thanks him for being there and she insists he take the guest room instead of the couch. While adultery is supremely soapy material, the added element of trauma gives their affair added gas to the fire. Jess has tried to love a husband so distant from the man she remembers, but there’s Mike, closer than ever, and comfortable. He was the replacement, the warmth on cold nights where even a lingering feeling of her former marriage couldn’t be found. Asking someone to turn back the clocks and rekindle a romance is not easy. But when she’s being deceived, neglected, and unfulfilled at every turn, you almost want to praise her for holding out so long. Plus, well, let’s be real here—Morena Baccarin topless has also been a long time coming. She’s a sport, and it was a beautiful scene as well. All season she’s been holding back, trying to give the appearance that her life isn’t lacking, and for once she’s able to peel back the layers and give herself to someone who’ll appreciate her. It’s raw, explicit, and it continues to showcase Homeland’s affinity for sex as emotional release.

After debriefing the vice president, Brody rings Roya Hammad and assures her she has clearance to be at the event. Of course Walden is now cooperating in their takedown, but still doesn’t know of Brody’s deeper involvement. Roya warns Brody that when the plane lands, he should find a way to be near her. Saul deciphers this as advice for how to avoid the blast radius. It’s a bomb, people! As they scatter to prepare for “game time” Virgil slips Saul the address of the precinct where mystery woman from the photo works.

This leads into a delightful game of cat and mouse where Saul takes on the identity of Richard Keller of the IRS. He uses some sloppy techniques to try and extract information about how she knows Quinn, a.k.a John. It’s riveting to watch this spunky cop call his bluffs and sit there stone-faced, not giving an inch. The only thing he ascertains is he is her baby’s daddy, and they never married. But the result he was looking for, was her panicky call. Virgil looks on as Quinn answers his phone, calming his son’s mother. He assures she did fine, then asks Carrie to cover while he deals with personal bullshit. It’s Max on the case as he tails the bus he hops on, then follows the one he transfers onto (but not after ditching his jacket and donning a hat). This is when Max captures the photo of him conversing with the infamous Dar Adal. Even if Adal’s presence suggests sloppiness, the means by which he’s discovered, the routine, often monotonous spywork, is the unsexy stuff that makes Homeland one of drama’s tension masters.

This is where the paranoia spills over into all-consuming territory. Now with his suspicions justified, Saul can’t help but speculate what Quinn is really doing, who is he working for? And as Virgil eloquently puts it, “He’s no more an analyst than I’m in Hair Club for Men.” Later, we get our answer when Estes gives Quinn the nod and he leaves the site, ensuring Saul that he’s a liaison for the FBI. “He’s wearing two hates today.” When he shows up in Brody’s driveway with a silenced revolver, it’s still thrilling even with it’s implications down the road. The trail of breadcrumbs to get to that moment were satisfying. It also had me nervous that this was the end for our friend Brody. And isn’t that strange? He’s the bad guy! But that line is ever blurring in the morally-corrupted, constant threat universe of Homeland.

Also of note, the scene where the Brodys dial up their patriarch on the satellite phone. While Chris is concerned only with shallow stuff like how sweet these digs are, Brody knows he can trust Dana for some settling remarks that will calm him as he once again puts his neck out for Abu Nazir. But this time, she won’t be bothered. No matter how her mother begs, she won’t talk to him. In terms of tragedy, wouldn’t this have made Brody’s demise make even more sense? Practically, sure, David still needs him since Nazir is at-large, but in the story sense, he’s lost Dana as his advocate, Jess has betrayed him in bed, and he’s about to burn his bridge with the man who showed him kindness in his darkest moment. He would have been killed at the instance he was rendered the most useless. Except he can still hand them the Sandman, so his utility hasn’t run out just yet. And sadly, Quinn isn’t lying when he says “I’m your best friend in the world right now” because he’s the only person that has spared him from harm.

While the camera battery bombs didn’t go off, there’s plenty of explosive material left. How will Nazir react to Brody’s sabotage? Is the clock ticking to when Quinn will pull the trigger? What more can Saul dig up about Adal’s involvement? And will Carrie’s winning streak end eventually? While she may be disrespected and undermined at every step, all she has does is win lately. Is her breakdown once again synchronized with Brody’s? This has been a messy season with many questions of legitimacy and plausibility swirling around the increasingly intricate plot against America. And while I am the number one fan of the stripped-down, Brody vs. Carrie battle for America’s soul, Homeland has a knack for asking difficult questions and answering them with a confident uncertainty. That’s where I’m at right now. Caught in the middle, looking for a way out like Carrie and Brody. And it’s not the future I imagined.