I thought my heart would jump out of my chest. If you’ve seen this episode, you obviously know the sequence I’m taking about. Whoever decided Carrie should be a brilliant CIA operative with bipolar disorder is a goddamn genius. Is there anything more thrilling than someone who willing puts themselves in harm’s way, AND is mentally unstable? The episode hinges on luck and hope and conjecture. But in the end, no matter how capable and careful we are, we’re all left with faith. It’s got to be Abu Nazir in that truck. Carrie isn’t going to get capped. Saul is going to find something in that bag. Brody is going to be able to warn Abu Nazir before he’s assassinated. And what was Brody’s big secret that he couldn’t keep for long? His faith. It can be the thread that ties our sanity together, or the one that unravels and ruins us.
In drama, faith is an engine that drives the runaway locomotive. That amplified sense of threat when Carrie rushes up the steps to Fatima’s apartment is the result of our faith that she’ll make it out alive rubbing up against the slightest of doubts. This season is shaping up to be a series of close calls. Until that last reveal. The thread is unraveling for Nicolas Brody. And before he even knows his demise is imminent, he anxiously disassociates himself from Abu Nazir to Roya Hammad: “I’m not your guy anymore.” Has he lost his faith in Abu Nazir’s cause, or has he lost the will to risk his life, family and reputation?
And then there’s Carrie. I have never been so worried about a fictional person who I knew could not die. When she had her panic attack, I thought she was gonna jump off the roof. When she ran into the building I thought she was signing her death certificate. Then when she slouched on her couch, the overbearing grandfather clock had me anticipating a sudden sniper shot. I was ready to sue Showtime for inducing a heart attack! The added freneticism of her mania and depression accentuates the peaks and valleys of special ops work—you’re sitting around waiting, and then you pounce.
Last week was the waiting, last night was the pounce. Can you believe the gall of Gansa and Gordon (the showrunners) to put Brody on the ropes at the end of episode two? We have ten entries before this season wraps up. How will they drag out his apprehension? Can he weasel his way out of what Saul and the rest of the intelligence community will assume? How will this knowledge vindicate Carrie? That heartbreaking scene where she has staggered breathing and busts out of her bedroom for air, ends with the exclamation point of her own self-doubt. Being wrong about Brody “f*cked her up.” Will it mess her up more to know she was right all along?
We start with rogue Carrie arranging an impromptu meeting with Fatima, her old source and wife of Hezbollah commander Abbas. The intel she divulges is pretty major—Abu Nazir is meeting with her husband tomorrow in Beirut. Once Carrie snags this information, we all did a victory lap in our heads. It’s premature, however, because Saul wasn’t there to confirm. Asking her to trust him has him uncomfortably situated between a rock and a hard place. As a colleague and friend, he wants to believe her. His professional opinion and allegiances make him question if her mental capacity can be trusted.
At a benefit, Cynthia Walden, the vice president’s wife, approaches Jessica Brody about co-hosting a fundraiser for wounded veterans. She seems ecstatic about the opportunity, really embracing her role as a Washington elite. Meanwhile, VP Walden is asking Brody for some political leverage. Apparently, Roya Hammad’s claim that the Israeli strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities was, indeed, only partially successful. One of the facilities is so deeply entrenched, Israeli weaponry won’t do the trick. Of course the mighty U.S of A has a “bunker buster” that will do the job, but the President is blocking the sale. Where Brody comes in, is as a negotiating tool with the president. As a former Marine P.O.W he could light the fire under the Commander-in-Chief’s ass. Brody’s politics surrounding this shady maneuver are truly revealed when Jessica shares his good news about the fundraiser. He retorts. “If you really want to help veterans, you take out everybody in this room.” Ha! It’s funny because he sounds like a terrorist…OH.
Saul is relieved and hugs Carrie tightly when she arrives at the safe house. It isn’t long before he scolds her for conducting her own meeting. Despite gaining valuable intel, he should have been there. On a call with David Estes, Carrie details the situation. They realize that a drone strike is out of the question since it’s a residential area—glad at least the fictional intelligence community considers this—so they’ll need soldiers on the ground. Saul worries that this is a setup since he couldn’t vet Carrie’s source, Fatima. He’s further alarmed that they don’t have a complete map of the street since it’s Hezbollah territory. They’re essentially walking in blind. Furthermore, Carrie didn’t get a thorough enough confirmation—Fatima didn’t hear Abu Nazir’s voice on the phone call.
The decision comes down to Saul. And he’s not happy with this role. Distressed, he tells David that if it were up to him, he wouldn’t have brought Carrie along. She’s not well. That’s when Carrie overhears and wigs out. Claire Danes once again earns all the awards as she gives shortened gasps and crawls on the floor. In her eyes you can read the struggle—the person who I trust most doesn’t trust me anymore. Where do I turn? Can I even trust my own judgement anymore? This state of uncertainty is like pulling the Jenga piece that will topple her inner security. She runs to the rooftop, and I was panicky too. There was no serious possibility that she would jump, but to even see her pushed to that precipice was extremely disconcerting. For anyone who has felt hopelessness, you know that a ledge is not something you stare over in fear. It’s a a state of being where you feel like your world could fall of its axis.
The writing gem of the episode comes in this bit of Danes-delivered dialogue: “It’s not lost on me why people don’t trust my judgement why you didn’t even want me here. It’s not fair, I know, for you to be the one who had to decide. It f*cked me up, Saul—being wrong about Brody. It f*cked me up. Because I have never been so sure and so wrong. And it’s that fact that I still can’t get my head around. It makes me unable to trust my own thoughts. Every time I think I see something clearly now, it just disappears.” Saul’s justifiably reluctant to risk American lives on a hunch, but Carrie persuades him by admitting her own fears. “I wouldn’t trust me either. But the Carrie who recruited her, that one I believe.” After that Saul’s assured because Carrie has humbled herself. Operation’s a-go.
At the “dump” where the Waldens reside—as Dana humorously dubs it—Cynthia springs the idea on Jessica that Brody would be keynote speaker at the fundraiser. Dana roams through the house and Finn, her schoolmate and soon-to-be love interest, sneaks up on her. She’s her usual snarky self until he charms her a bit with his wit. He “pictures her in a burqa”, due to her “My dad’s a Muslim” remark. Her laughter was troublesome for me since in front of her dad she’s more accepting of the religion. She also tells her mom that his praying is “weird.” I wonder whether she’s afraid to express her support vocally because of the stigma, or if it’s intended to present the question of what principles of Islam Brody adheres to. How devout is he?
The story line that suffers from the pulse-pounding action that dominated the latter half is that which involves Mike, his Marine buddy. He comes to his office asking him about Tom Walker. Reports don’t match up with what he knows. The official word is Walker was a lone sniper, but Walker was the best shot he’d ever seen. The likelihood he would miss once is mind-boggling, let alone three times. He’s betting on Walker being a distraction—which is the ugly truth. Brody tries to mock his theories, calling them conspiracies and invoking Freemasons and Illuminati. His friend (you know, the one that slept with his wife?) asks him simply to just check out the classified material and let him know if he might be on to something.
It’s mission time. At first, the orders are to capture the Al-Qaeda mastermind. Carrie, as they sit by the monitors, asks Saul why he stopped calling. He says her doctor, Rosenberg, said his check-ins were hindering her progress by making her think of work. She also confesses she hoped to be back, teaming up with Saul again. Brody, who was headed to the Pentagon to meet up with Walden, is whisked into a situation room. Walden tells him about the impending operation to take out Nazir. Since he was tortured by the S.O.B, he figured he’d have a vested interest. Some will deride the plausibility here as well. Why would a junior Congressmen be allowed access? How does it make sense to allow someone with such a visceral hatred of Nazir—well, perceived—into that room where he could affect decision-making.
I accepted it, because he had to be there. They could have made his presence even more happenstance. They weren’t being careless, they were trying to make an impossible scenario feel authentic. Considering the political investment Walden has in cozying up to Brody, I bought it. The only logical snafu might be why Brody had a cell phone on him. Government buildings require you leave your cell phone at home (I had to leave my phone at a convenience store for a fee when I had jury duty). Granted, he works for the feds, but that’s a generous privilege.
Armed men begin to clear the street, and they begin to wonder if Fatima warned them and they’re pinning the operatives in. But eventually they figure out they’re just sweeping the area. They do revoke the capture order because there are too many hostiles. Brody starts to sweat like he did in “Marine One.” He’s in the midst of a moral quandary. Where do his loyalties lie? When he pulls out his phone it’s made apparent that he can’t bear to see Nazir killed.
The genius of this scene is rooted in many narrative tricks of the trade. There’s the tension, the time spent waiting for the scene to develop. One vehicle rolls in. A second rolls in. A third. It’s paced well, deliberate. What elevates this scene into another stratosphere though is the character stakes. Will Carrie be redeemed for her (supposed) misjudgment of Brody by providing the opportunity to eliminate the Al-Qaeda leader? And for Brody, he doesn’t wish to lose his friend and mentor in Abu Nazir, but he’s also, by his own admission, not a terrorist. He doesn’t wish for innocent lives to be taken in the name of a cause. He wants to use his privileged position to change foreign policy to one that respects human life. And the most impressive feat is that we sympathize with both parties. This one of the achievements that so dazzled me in the first season, the ability to juggle two protagonists, with a national traitor being one of them! Here their interests are pitted against each other and yet we’re frozen with anticipation in hopes that both will leave unscathed. Though our mind tells us no one will get off scot-free.
Brody stealthily sends a text message—May 1, the day Osama Bin Laden was assassinated—to Abu Nazir. As he arrives at the street where the soldiers are perched, he’s given a phone. With the target in one of the snipers’ sights, Nazir suddenly turns around, narrowly dodging the bullets. The same can’t be said for two of his most trusted lieutenants. Carrie’s visibly distraught over the missed opportunity, but Saul says it’s a victory because no American lives were taken, and that Carrie’s source came through. Unsatisfied, Carrie dashes from the car when they pick up Fatima, grabbing the keys and rushing to rummage through the Hezbollah commander’s things. For the duration she searches for something incriminating, Saul was braving a mob of hostiles who began to shake the car, threatening to tip it. You’re holding your breath, begging Carrie to hurry. She gathers up some files in a satchel she finds lying around. As she exits, some of the insurgents have split from the group and run after Carrie. It’s a Bourne-style rooftop chase that is well-executed, despite being a little disorienting trying to figure out the layout. She’s eventually grabbed by her own people and Saul expresses that relieved fury that defines their relationship.
At a bar parking lot, Brody meets with Roya who extends Nazir’s gratitude. Brody is understandably nervous since he sent a treasonous text while surrounded by the Joint Chiefs. She assures him that his loyalty has not gone unnoticed, but that his role is vital now. Afterwards, he enters the bar to meet up with his Marine buddies. He says there’s nothing being hidden concerning Walker. One of his belligerent brothers-in-arms tells him that his conduct is “f*cking unbecoming.” Brody rebukes that “Walker was broke” and there’s no conspiracy to justify his actions. Perhaps he was expressing some of his self-hatred.
Saul, still in Beirut is packing up the papers that Carrie had retrieved. There’s nothing revealing in the bunch, but as he examines the bag, he feels a bump in one of the straps. Remember the memory card that Brody had hidden at the end of “Marine One?” Well, apparently, it was in the possession of this man. And once Saul popped it in the computer he was stunned by the confession that he was seeing. It’s a complex stare on Saul’s face. It’s one of disgust, of confusion, and probably a bit of excitement. Carrie’s crazed investigation wasn’t for nothing.
There will be, no doubt, a number of detractors. Call it it Deus Ex Memory Card or a Deus Ex Satchel Strap, it’s a high degree of coincidence. Many stars had to align for this destiny to unfurl. Brody had to be in the situation room. Carrie had to find that bag. This new commander had to be integral enough to be in possession of the memory card. In this instance, it depends on what standards you wish to hold this show. Is it a measure of authenticity or of narrative efficacy? In regards to the latter, the only other episode that was as evocative or awe-inspiring in it’s mix of raw emotion and relentless action was last year’s finale. Not only is Beirut back, but so is Homeland. And while it hasn’t reached the heights of Breaking Bad in terms of conveying desperation and and constructing contraptions of doom, it’s ready to rival its competitor, and it has the heavyweight actors to do it. Man, if only actors could face off in the ring. Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul vs. Claire Danes and Damian Lewis? It would be like watching all-time Olympians squaring off. Instead, we’ll watch them grapple with their character’s demons in a wonderfully crafted arena.