This is a phenomenal episode, but not necessarily from start to finish. There’s a dud of a Dana storyline that seems even sillier since it follows the emotional ruin of the intense interrogation. In one scene—it’s unmistakable—we witness a mesmerizing moment of television, and in that stretch it’s perfect. Henry Bromell’s script skewers your heart as Carrie both pours herself onto the table and sneakily manipulates Brody into turning on Abu Nazir and siding with America. And while Claire Danes is cementing an undisputed claim for best actress on television, she might be overshadowed this week by the quivering lips and weeping eyes of Damian Lewis.
I’m not saying anyone could own Carrie Mathison like Claire Danes does, but when you have a steady diet of monologue to chomp on for 5-10 minutes and it’s all spindled gold, it’s easy to look tremendous. But when you’re expected to be on the other side, listening intently, conveying the gradual devastation of your conscience, all while not stealing the scene away from the speaker, you have to be incredibly gifted to pull that off. And goddamit, Damian Lewis not only executed, but he dominated. We’re given insight into every nuance of his shifting feeling as Carrie breaks him down bit by bit, the progression displayed all over his face. Lewis made his expressions like a canvas on which Claire Danes could paint the story of his systematic misery. Seriously, if you watch any scene of television all year, or if you’re looking for an example of riveting acting combined with knockout-punch writing, look no further.
And yet, there’s was an entire episode surrounding that golden scene, so let’s recap, shall we? With a burning light shining down upon him, we see a a sweating Brody, shackled feet tapping furiously on the dank floor. Estes storms in, and he’s pissed. He won’t allow Carrie to speak on her own behalf. Instead, he asks Saul and Peter Quinn what went down. Saul is quick to defend Carrie as always, and Quinn demonizes her irrationality and recklessness. Later, he’ll be biting his tongue when he realizes it is those very qualities that will disintegrate Brody’s facade. Saul continues to advocate that Carrie be allowed to stay. Her experience with him could offer them leverage. So while Estes signs off on a Quinn-led interrogation, he grants that Carrie can stay. Estes speeds off to run interference with Brody’s office. No one can question his absence.
Quinn begins his face-off with the Congressman with Brody shouting at him that as a citizen he can’t just be shackled to the floor like this, and Peter retorts that thanks to his colleagues in Congress the CIA has fairly broad powers for detaining and questioning. I’m growing quite fond of these subtle jabs at U.S domestic and foreign policy concerning the War on Terror. As we’ll see later, the writers aren’t opposed to painting either side as monsters based on their treatment of innocents. Quinn’s expert technique is to “set the table with Brody’s lies” as Saul mentions. It makes the moment where they reveal their apprehension of the tape even more triumphant for us as viewers and protectors of the truth. And it’s infinitely more fatal for Brody as his fortress of fictions is razed.
Quinn hammers him with questions. Why did the torture stop after five years? Who is Issa? Are you aware Nazir’s youngest son was named Issa? Did you know that Issa was killed in a drone strike on his madrasa? When he insists he didn’t know any of this, he says that Carrie’s addendum to his file suggests otherwise. Brody then tries to discredit Carrie’s testimony buy calling her crazy and obsessed with him. Quinn badgers him further about his supposed conversion to Islam, his involvement with Tom Walker and whether he was wearing a bomb in the state department bunker intent on killing the VP. He thoroughly denies all these accusations. Quinn even lays out a theory that sounds exactly like what Brody revealed in his suicide tape. And yet, he denies. Quinn then turns his laptop toward Brody and says smugly, “I have something I’d like you to watch.” As soon as Brody recognizes the hole he’s dug for himself, the shock overtakes his face and Quinn lets him stew. One aspect that might go unnoticed is that the discovery of the tape negated the Issa connection that Carrie had made just prior to her first ECT at the cliffhanger of season one. Here we thought the season would hinge on her remembering, but in the end the ECT stood on its own as a traumatic and humiliating experience for Carrie to endure, and the truth came to light regardless.
The rest of the Brodys are headed to school when Jess tell her children that Brody is staying at a hotel. The son, Chris, looks crushed. I feel bad for Jackson Pace that he is only given the sappy material right now. Morgan Saylor has thrived with more screen time, I wonder if Pace would succeed under the same pressure. Maybe the Homeland team isn’t confident in the youngster yet. At school, Dana tells Finn that she spoke with Xander and he is now the “former home guy.” An eager Finn asks Dana out to a movie, Once Upon A Time in America. I don’t believe in coincidence, nor do I believe that a detail is ever frivolous. When Finn describes director Sergio Leone’s style as “specializing in widescreen agony,” it made me wonder if this wasn’t a mission statement for the show. As I mentioned last week, the show transcends its secret agent vs. terrorist predecessors when it becomes a show about damaged people caught up in this moral struggle of fighting a war.
Estes tries to buy time by telling Brody’s assistant Greg that he is helping the CIA with a matter of national security, and that if he needs he can use the flu as an excuse. Jess is no ordinary wife though. She doesn’t just accept what she’s told and goes snooping around, leaving Brody a few messages in the process.
After allowing Brody time to ruminate, Quinn returns. Brody admits that he lied about most things. He did teach Issa English, and he did grow to love him like a son. But his stance on the bomb vest remains—he wasn’t wearing one. He’s smart enough to realize they don’t have proof of that. So Quinn tries to go for the guilt muscle. What will Jess think? What about Dana, Chris? Brody doesn’t back down and says he’ll take his chances. Looking enraged, Quinn demands information on the impending attack on America. When Brody doesn’t give an inch, he stabs him with a switchblade in the hand. Stunned, Saul and Carrie escort Quinn out of the room as he screams. Creator Alex Gansa said in an interview that his intent was for this to be Quinn’s extreme measure of passing the baton to Carrie after he realized he was struggling. It was Carrie’s turn.
Jess, in a cute, black dress, delivers Brody some chicken noodle soup for his “flu.” In his room, he is nowhere to be found, and the USA Today on the counter reads yesterday’s date and that raises red flags for his spouse. (Did anyone else notice that Obama and Romney were on the cover? Usually shows are careful about not referring to the real world unless they want to create the parallel. This solidifies for me that Homeland’s world is not all that separate from ours.) She calls Greg and she’s not amused. Greg assures he’ll find her husband, so he call Estes in a panic.
Carrie sits down and starts by condemning Brody for his treatment of her. I apologize in advance for the abundance of quotes, Bromell’s script is just too powerful to ignore. “You broke my heart, you know. Was I easy for you? Was that fun? Because of you I questioned my own sanity.” He claims he was only telling Estes the truth. Carrie continues to berate him, “Tell me you felt a pang of regret, a teeny sliver of guilt.” Then she asks if he really believes she’s obsessed. He does. She tries to shame him more by asking if he felt nothing at that cabin. “I remember thinking it was exactly where I belonged.” I’ll tell you this much, whatever she was doing was working on me! Brody, however, is adamant that he knows what she’s doing and “It’s not gonna work.” Carrie responds with what I bought as a genuine remark, “I’m just happy to be talking to you again.”
Saul asks Quinn if him using the knife and losing control was all theater, he replies, “Every good cop needs a bad cop.” I actually fist-pumped when I heard this. Here I thought this move was just a blatant shock for its own sake, but I appreciate that it was used in order to set up Carrie. It was effective, because, hell, I was frightened by the seemingly off-the-hinges Quinn, and I relaxed knowing the docile Carrie was coming.
In a gesture of kindness, Carrie fetches him some water. Then, in a measure of good faith and trust, she turns off all the video feeds to the cameras. Saul and Quinn can still hear, but it is disconcerting. She undoes his cuffs and Brody looks perplexed at her sudden gentility. What game is she playing now? She relates to him by saying she never knows what to tell anyone about the war, and starts to peck away at his vulnerability by saying, “No one survives intact.” She asks how he responds when others ask about the war. He says he lies. She consoles him, “It’s the lies that undo us, the lies we think we need to survive. When is the last time you told the truth?” Brody is defensive, saying, “When I said ten minutes ago that I didn’t wear a bomb.” Carrie just persists. “See, you’re drowning in lies!” There’s a turning point here where Brody breaks from his performance to bark at Carrie—”Walden lied to the whole world….!” In an almost maternal tone, Carrie says, “Yes, he did. But you’re not like him, are you? You’re not a monster.” Beat. “Are you sure you’re not a monster, Brody?”
Killed it. That line absolutely blew me away. It’s on-the-nose, but it was such a delicate progression to the heart of the matter, and the soul of the show. How do we know we aren’t the evil ones? What is a proper justification for our actions? We’ll rationalize our atrocities until we’re blue in the face, but what separates “them” from “us?” When Brody finally mutters, “Yes,” she follows up with “But Abu Nazir is.” She doesn’t give a chance for rebuttal, she just delineates his pattern. She rattles off the list of his targets. She sums it up, “He kills wives and children. Jessicas, Danas and Chrises. Not soldiers or high ranking officials.” He looks at her with both wonder and horror. Like she just told him his hero was a villain, but that mommy wouldn’t lie to him.” Slowly, but surely, he has sunk in his chair and tears are streaming down. And as she describes the process of brainwashing that Abu employed to gain his devotion, she is really employing the same technique. Without torture, she is able to toy with his fragile psyche and deconstruct the pillars he has clung to—that America was wrong, and that Nazir is on the side of justice. All his anger was turned against him, and now Carrie is simply using the space where anger used to be to insert her empathy. She gets him to believe that she wants what he does—to do what’s right.
She describes Nazir’s manipulation: “I know you think he was kind to you, that he saved you. But the truth is, he systematically pulled you apart, Brody.” What’s so chilling is that as she says it, she pulling off the same maneuver. “Piece by piece, until there was nothing but pain. And then he relieved the pain, and put you back together as someone else.” Some might say that what Carrie expressed eradicates the complexity of last season where we grew to believe that Brody had his reasons for treachery. But I’m not so sure she’s invalidating his well-intended rebellion. She’s simply showing him that Nazir is not a better or worse man than Walden. This is exemplified when she says, “He gave you a boy to love, and then that other monster Walden took that boy away. Between the two of them, they made your life a misery.” It would seem that both sides contributed to his moral confusion. It’s a global disregard for the sanctity of life that has shattered Brody’s understanding of right and wrong. When both sides are killing each other, all you have left are your motivations. And Carrie believes Brody’s a good man, on the side of peace, family and honor. He just simply isn’t fighting with the right allies.
When she leads him by saying, “You’re a good man, because you didn’t explode the vest you were wearing,” she is offering him two opportunities. One, she is giving him the chance to break free from the chains his lies have created while also offering him an opportunity to distinguish himself from the men who have caused him such pain. After an excruciating, shaking silence he still insists he wasn’t wearing a vest. Then in a stroke of genius, Carrie connects the dots. She recalls her visit with Dana, she assumes she must have called him. It was Dana’s voice that talked him off the ledge. “Maybe you suddenly understood that killing yourself and ruining Dana’s life wouldn’t bring Issa back? Maybe you were just sick of death.” Suddenly, his posture seems to have slackened. She’s gotten to the core of him.
“That’s the Brody I’m talking to. That’s the Brody that knows the difference between warfare and terrorism. That’s the Brody I met in that cabin. That’s the Brody I fell in love with.” She takes his hand, holding together this broken man. She’s lifted him up, given him a chance to redefine himself, and yet she’s disassembled him so that she’d have the power to put Humpty Dumpty together again. Now that she’s hit the sweet spot, she pulls the trigger. “Is there a plan to attack America?” A long, desperate stare. “Yes.”
He gives up Roya Hammad, the tailor, and even the Saudi attache. She commiserates that besides Roya, they’re all dead. His head falls to the table like he’s an infant with too big a head and too small and fragile of a frame. Saul takes control and demands he call his wife and assure her she’ll see him later that night. Afterwards, we see Jess sitting outside waiting and drinking wine on the stoop. Dana comes out for her date and there’s a tender understanding between them—a sympathy the daughter extends to her mother. “Dad changed out there. They did something to him.”
After Carries startles a shivering Brody awake, she gives him two options. One: a trial, public scrutiny, shame and dishonor on you, your family and the Marines. Option Two: he helps them figure out Nazir’s plan and this all goes away. Nobody will ever know. He accepts option two and it’s literally back to the drawing board for Saul and Quinn, who strip the board of all names and photos but Roya Hammad’s.
Unfortunately, I have to acknowledge the cold sore that was Dana’s date with Finn. I have no issues with Morgan Saylor or the Dana character. But in the ever-changing landscape that is the second season the writers are having trouble finding her a place in the arc. So, she gets an absurd story where her date with Finn is abruptly ended when her man slams his car into an unsuspecting woman and drives off, concerned more for his reputation than this victim’s well-being. Welcome to Washington D.C, folks! It’s not just the ditching of secret service that felt like a scene out of My Date With The President’s Daughter (look it up) that bothers me, because I could have used some levity after half an episode of anguish. But they end the chase with this grave and dire conundrum that feels so disconnected and forced. I’m game for Dana exploring thorugh Finn how power corrupts, but does it have to involve such a stock teenage plot of a car accident with the added gravity of harm inflicted on a bystander? So much of this rang true emotionally that I just couldn’t forgive this blatant manufacturing of sentimentality.
In the car, Carrie shows her weakness a bit. While she’s able to channel her insecurity into an effective interrogation, here we can see right through her attempts to reconnect with Brody. She coyly brings up how Roya Hammad must know about her, so he can use her as an excuse. If she comments on his absence, he can say he was with her, unable to keep his hands to himself. And in the future, if he needs asylum or a place to vent, her apartment is open.
She drops him off and Brody immediately spews a bullshit story about a bender to explain his bloody hand. Lying is reflexive to him now. He asks for permission to come home and Jess consents, but only if he tells he entire truth NOW. He gives her the partial truth, saying he’s working for the CIA, swearing this isn’t bullshit.
Carrie, back at her place, has another of her infamous melancholic strolls through the halls of her apartment, echoing her suicide attempt a couple episodes back. She pours a glass of wine, guzzles it, then pours another. She sits on her couch and just stares out, as if waiting for Brody to need her again. It’s an unhealthy dependency, even if some good is coming out of it. It’s painful to watch her at that couch, looking beyond as if there’s a screen there like the days she surveilled him. She needs Brody in her life, even if we know it just means another spiral into madness is imminent.
I had A LOT to say about this episode, mostly because it may be the finest this show has produced (it’s only rival is “The Weekend”). And while I could pontificate about the psychological, moral and political implications of “the scene” for days, it shows its greatest significance in the impeccable art of it all. The performances, the writing, and the directing are all superior, and drama as a whole is greater for its existence. As far as the show’s future, they’ve wiped the slate clean again, but the endgame is more evident. While they can certainly play with whether he has been completely turned back into a patriot, it’s 24-esque now in it’s race to stop the terrorist attack. I wouldn’t put it past this show to mess with form some more and have the attack thwarted with a couple episodes to spare. And I might prefer that because then the conclusion would be less of a “save the day” mentality and more about saving their souls. Because while we are all compelled by the idea of America being on the line, the story of two people searching for wholeness in a disillusioned and destructive world is a much more universal and, I’d argue, vital one to tell.