Excuse me for a moment before I begin.
Sorry, all better now. But in all seriousness, that was my reaction to both the episode, and the preview that Showtime played during the credits. WOW! Where to begin? First off, for those who find spoilers to be among the scummiest of substances known to man here is your fair warning: SPOLER ALERT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
If you don’t wish to hear about the preview of next week’s season finale then SERIOUSLY, GET OUT!
Okay. I was absolutely riveted. My mouth was agape for the duration, but I may have stopped breathing when we got the viewfinder perspective of Brody filming his last message to the people of the United States, before he is about to execute his suicide mission. (NO MORE SPOILERS, YOU CAN COME OUT NOW) Obviously, the credit goes stylistically to the editing team that put that bit together, but no shortage of admiration goes to Damian Lewis, the MVP of dramatic TV this fall. He has seduced me like a tender lover with his ability to balance his all-American Marine/Dad persona with his jihadist sympathies so effortlessly. That “video clip,” encapsulated that season long elegance for me. Never have I rooted for someone, and despised them so equally.
Don’t get me wrong I don’t want to see America go down in flames, but much like Heath Ledger did with his legendary turn as The Joker, he has forced me to feel for me. I don’t condone his actions at all, I don’t wish him success in his plans to cause mass destruction, but I can shamelessly admit that I hope he finds some kind of inner peace. Lessening the body count would be nice, but if “Homeland” has emphasized anything, it has been the effect war has on all sides psychologically, and no matter who you pray to, or swear allegiance to, damage is damage, and we all are just trying to find some solace and recovery amidst a growing fear that maybe that won’t be possible.
Now for the state of current affairs. From the opening scene there was this running idea of precision vs. mania. Like a chess game played by jazz musicians, the pieces are being set up for a rousing endgame, but not without some improvisations, and unexpected diversions. The sequence with the bomb maker to set things off was awesome. Not that I was wondering how to make manufacture my own bomb vest (please don’t flag me U.S government), but it was a chilling way to ease us into the idea that while we were gone (the episode skips over Carrie’s week of recovery) more plans were being put in motion. I immediately caught on that it was for Brody, and that didn’t bother me because the show wasn’t shy about it, nor does it have to be with the question still remaining, “How will this factor into the bigger picture?”
After establishing the precision, we get the literal manifestation of mania. After we sit in on a frantic CIA briefing where agents are running around like headless chickens, Saul goes to escort Carrie from the hospital. Unfortunately the week off her “meds” has led to her regressing into a manic episode. We see her furiously demanding a green pen from the nursing station and initially we as an audience are alarmed, but chalking this up to her having been through an explosion and hitting her head. But eventually it becomes clear that this is her illness unchecked. She begins spewing conspiracy theories about Nazir, claiming that the alleged Walker/sniper plot is just one piece and that Nazir goes big, aiming for mass casualties. There is “method in madness” as some poet guy once said (dear God please tell me you knew that was Shakespeare, Hamlet to be specific).
The most heartbreaking thing to witness though is Saul (Mandy Patinkin) staring in disbelief at this truly wonderful mind, seemingly shattered by the explosion. As she begins to talk about colors like green, yellow, and purple, and what their vital importance is Saul can only shrug and painfully insist that she get help. Once her sister, Maggie (also her doctor) comes over it becomes clear: Carrie has bipolar disorder. Finally the suggested mental illness is revealed, but not without some sense of imminent danger. If the agency were to find out, her clearance would be taken away. Mental illness of any kind would be too risky for the agency and the government.
Saul volunteers to take the night shifts watching her as her meds start to kick in. He incorrectly blames himself, feeling like he has ignored the tortured parts of her and only focused on her promise, but as she explains later, “I just came this way.” During the night, illustrating his devotion to her, he tries to decipher the color coded notes that Carrie has been frantically attempting to sort. Eventually, Saul pins them up on a cork board and discovers a timeline. Carrie has been trying to tell him through her rapid ramblings about Nazir’s patterns of activity. The one period of seeming inactivity that the rainbow board reveals is during the tail end of Brody’s captivity, and both Carrie and Saul agree that if they can account for that, it might shed light on recent events.
Claire Danes valiantly portrays the manic Carrie with equal parts reckless abandon and restraint. She allowed herself to open up her face to a rush of emotions surging through her while also allowing herself to become lost, blankly staring at something like a garden, meaningless to us, but EVERYTHING to her. Her father summed it up perfectly by saying, “It feels good doesn’t it? Like you’re queen of the world up there!” Carrie’s exasperated, “Yes,” followed by a retreat into herself explained it all. She’s almost invincible, but far from flawless. For taking her performance to a dangerous level of “over-the-top,” while still maintaining a sense of tragic determination that we have all come to anticipate from Carrie, I commend Claire Danes with the utmost sincerity. This episode should be her Emmy submission without a doubt, and the rest of the field should be shaking in their boots.
Now on to Brody-ville, or should I say Gettysburg. I was quite cautious at first about this particular plot thread, considering that it started with an angst-y Dana trying to get out of family time, but once I realized the multiple purposes of the trip it added a layer of eeriness to this day-cation, that was downright brilliant.
Purpose #1: Brody needed to pick up the vest. The recently constructed suicide vest-bomb was obviously for Brody, and it was waiting in the back of a tourist trap clothing store in Gettysburg. It was definitely the sort of plot point that was “so absurd, it just might work,” but honestly what would be a more likely place to hide a bomb-making operation. You can’t debate this one, because there is no way you would know that answer unless you are being flagged by the government (again, like I should NOT be) and in that case you wouldn’t openly tell me…so…HA!
Purpose #2: He needs to preemptively justify his actions to his kids. Well, it’s not like he can just openly tell Dana and Chris (I’m just now noticing that they are named after the Reeves..intentional?), “Kids, Dad’s gonna blow himself up for the terrorists in a couple days, and I just figured I would take you out here to a historical monument to explain why I am taking revenge on this great nation.” So, since he can’t do that, he uses Gettysburg as a metaphor. He tells the story of the Battle at Little Round Top, where a former schoolteacher from Maine (which is very weirdly emphasized, like they were giving a shoutout to schoolteachers from Maine) led the Union troops to victory by inspiring them to sacrifice their lives by running down a hill and defending the line behind them at all costs. He ordered them not to shoot and instead take them by surprise, attacking them with only bayonets. By doing the unthinkable, since it was so risky and potentially deadly, they were able to win. Basically, in his own coded way, he has preached to his son the importance of sacrificing your own life for something you believe in, and how that is true bravery. It’s a warped and yet somehow sensible logic. Neither I or Brody are sure if the kid really got the message, but ultimately Brody isn’t looking for recognition, he’s trying to prove to himself that it’s the right thing to do.
Purpose #3: To say goodbye. Pretty simple. He is going to be killing himself in a matter of days and he wants to say goodbye to his family. I have no doubt in my mind after this trip that he cares immensely for the whole lot of them, but this is something he has to do. Sure ,he might be having regrets, I got a particular hint of that sort of second-guessing in his face when Jess said she was finally happy. For a moment, he may have wondered if this was selfish, if leaving her behind when they were just starting to put their marriage back together is unfair to the women he loves, or at least used to love. Instead, he makes love to her. For real this time. This to me was the biggest hint that this is the man he is most comfortable being. Unfortunately for Homeland universe’s America, Brody in his element is Brody as a terrorist.
As for the devastating climax, I might never forgive “Homeland” for that. It was so genuinely debilitating to see Carrie stripped of her security clearance and job, I tried desperately to look away from the train wreck. But as expected, I couldn’t look away. Carrie deemed it a matter of urgency that she ask Brody to come over so that she could ask him about what it is that happened to Nazi during the “yellow period.” Her working theory is that he suffered a loss of some kind, something that would have inspired him to set the wheels in motion. This is precisely (there goes that word again) what makes Carrie a threat to his mission. She knows too much. Therefore, he spills the beans to David Estes, her boss, about their fling, and categorized her contact with him afterwards as “continued harassment,” and this is grounds enough in Estes’ eyes to fire her. Watching Carrie get gussied up once again for the man she has unwittingly fell for is both adorable and pathetic. It’s clearly a futile effort, and we don’t want to see her get hurt, but there’s also the urge within me to yell at this blinded, one time masterful agent.
As the jazz began to play (sort of like Carrie’s theme at this point) I began to hold my head in my hands. Carrie wailing that they don’t take down her timeline (though they have to because it is FULL of classified documents) is gruesome to watch unfold as she deteriorates into what the untrained eye would see as a helpless basket case. At the series’ start I never would have anticipated this moment. I knew she couldn’t succeed. And I knew that though she may be right, her disregard for the systematic approach to intelligence building, and her evident psychosis, would catch up with her. But I wouldn’t wish this sort of debacle on my worst enemy. She not only lost the war, she lost any and all respect and dignity she once had from her boss (and former lover). Yet for hysterics, the final images were beautiful. Like watching footage of a volcano erupting, you know the devastation that is being documented before you, but you are transfixed by the beauty of it all, the grandeur of this moment, knowing in the aftermath, nothing will be as it was.
Despite the flaws in logic, like the CIA’s oversight in not considering what sort of monumental occurrence would lead to such a prolonged period of inactivity, “Homeland” executed this penultimate episode with an startling and unsettling mastery. All the nuanced acting, patience in character building, and deliberate, honest storytelling is paying off in a major way. The 90 minute season finale, I predict, will go down as historic, and cement “Homeland” as part of the dramatic TV canon. For giving me cause to shake with anticipation for next Sunday, affirming my “Vest-ed” interest, I diagnose this manic episode as being symptomatic of an A.