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‘Homeland’ Open Thread: Yes Or No Question

By Alyssa Rosenberg on November 7, 2011 at 8:37 am

"‘Homeland’ Open Thread: Yes Or No Question"

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This post contains spoilers through the Nov. 6 episode of Homeland. And are they ever spoilers.

I moved up my plans to watch this episode when a TV critic friend emailed me in a lather to discuss it. And when we did, I told her I thought what was so striking about the show is that so far, it moves at the speed of actual humanity. In another show, two people who were attracted to each other would refuse to do anything about it until threatened with a fan revolt or a ratings decline, no matter how baroque their excuses were for staying away from each other. In Homeland, they do what actual people do: get drunk and made some poor decisions. On another program, secrets like the fact that one of the main character’s wives has been schtupping his best friend during his years of captivity and torture might last years. Here, they come out, because when a certain number of people know a secret of a certain size, it comes out. That’s exciting, because it makes me feel less like I’m going through a conventional process with the show, I’m not being manipulated by conventional formulas — and because if that’s true, I can’t predict what’s going to happen.

And I’m still not sure what I think happened in this episode! Does Carrie like Brody, or is she just going to have sex because it’s her go-to tool, as we’ve seen with David, with her date in the bar, even with Saul? What does she hope to accomplish by telling him the purpose of the polygraph? Does she want him to be guilty? Innocent? To test his ability to lie? Carrie’s not mentally healthy, so her internal logic may not be apparent to us, but I don’t think that means it doesn’t exist. And I think Brody’s ability to keep a secret, while it heightens Carrie’s suspicion of him, is also the thing that makes her powerfully attracted to him. It’s the one way a person can genuinely understand the way she structures her life. “How come when I met you at the safe house the other day, you pretended like we hadn’t bumped into each other at the support group,” Brody asks her as they start drinking. “You mean, like how that I’m not supposed to get help from the counselors outside the agency?” Carrie asks him, and he doesn’t run away, he understands keeping multiple layers of secrets. And he responds to the same thing: Brody can have sex with her, but not his wife.

Speaking of secrets, the show’s made it clear just how many people have them, but not what they mean. I thought the multiple polygraph exams were beautifully constructed. There’s everyone’s answers to the “are you married?” test question, from David’s “You know, I was married, but I cheated on her, so that kind of soured things,” to Saul’s “No, not really…I don’t know, Larry, okay? Maybe yes, maybe no.” Then, there are the questions that trip — or don’t trip — the (notoriously unreliable) polygraph: whether Carrie’s used illegal drugs since she joined the CIA; whether Saul gave the razor blade to the terrorist he said Kaddish for; whether Brody has ever cheated on his wife. We know what the answers are, but we don’t know if they’re true, and we don’t know what they mean.

So what to make of the certainties? There are deep waters in Saul’s relationship with Mira. Seemingly in response to Carrie’s taunts and the threat of losing his wife, Saul asks David to support his request to go out into the field, an ask that David interprets as a move towards retirement, snarking, “You thought you’d end your illustrious career as the New Dehli station chief.” I appreciate that it’s a gesture that doesn’t win Mira, who tells him she doesn’t want him to come with her to her new job, over: what’s between them is too broken. But it’s not clear how Carrie will take it, whether she’ll be pleased and proud, or betrayed. If I were Saul, whether or not I was slipping razor blades to terrorists, I might want some distance from my troubled proteges. Even though they’re still going to be working together, they’re still sniping at each other. “I’ll bet you everything I’ve got, including my Monk’s Dream, signed by Thelonius himself,” Carrie tells him, trying to get him to agree to the polygraph plan, only to have Saul swipe back, “I prefer Coltrane. Not so fussy.”

Then, there’s Aileen and Faisal who are on the run. I said in my Bloggingheads episode with Chloe that I appreciate how Homeland makes women as well as men responsible for the disasters of our security regime, and now, I appreciate that they’re granting women the respect of assuming that they can be just as destructive, dangerous, and ideological as men. I thought this episode did a nice job of making leading us to the realization of who the instigator is, from Aileen’s apology that “Rakim. I’m sorry I dragged you into this,” and Rakim’s wistful “You didn’t drag me into it, okay? I dragged myself into it. I am a victim of your fabulousness;” to her being the one getting the instructions about the safe house and spotting the bomb; to the selfishness of her declaration that she’d rather die than seek protective custody. And Carrie is the one who, because her brain doesn’t work like everyone else’s. When Saul wants to know, “Why hasn’t she cracked? At least a little bit? Called her parents, run away? Things are getting pretty hairy for an amateur,” Carrie sees “A naive, weak-willed American rich girl falls madly in love with a Saudi engineer who happens to be a terrorist…Maybe we’ve got it backwards. Maybe she’s the terrorist.” And of course she’s right. So is Carrie crazy? Or are the rest of us blinded by our sanity?

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