This post contains spoilers through the Nov. 13 episode of Homeland.
I’m feeling rather pleased with myself for theorizing correctly — or so it seems for now — that Brody would turn out not to be a terrorist, but that Carrie’s initial information from her source would be correct, and that the two would have to find a way to work together. But I’m down in a paranoid enough place to wonder if Thomas Drake is really alive, or if there’s some sort of plant. And the mechanics of plot feel almost irrelevant in light of the larger questions posed by this extraordinary episode of television.
Carrie and Brody’s recklessness and tenderness are a marvel to behold. Just as an artistic juxtaposition, the contrast between the way Carrie plays a neo-Nazi in a bar, telling him “I love sucking Nazi dick,” with her confession to Brody that she wasn’t actually much of a mankiller in college is wonderful. Similarly, I love their tentativeness even though they’ve effectively run away together, Brody’s “Can we graduate to cabin sex?” their slow escalation from a quick fuck in a car to tender, sober, emotional sex, is great stuff. Even if the show didn’t have such enormous stakes, this would be the stuff of great romantic drama, of the negotiations between us. The heart is its own adventure.
But of course there’s more — the false intimacy of Carrie’s surveillance that lead to their real intimacy betrays her. While her showdown with Brody and its aftermath — her wounded in the woods, him crying in his living room — is amazing. It felt less like a dramatic break to me and more of a piece with other work the show is doing on consolation in the aftermath of torture and trauma. Where Jessica was upset by Brody’s scars, where he didn’t want her to dwell on them because no amount of contemplation will make her understand, Carrie is tender in the face of the evidence of what was done to him. She can touch him for the same reason she can tell him the story of seeing her translator being hung from the bridge. It isn’t only sex. “You live in despair for eight years, you might turn to religion, too,” Brody tells Carrie, explaining the garage, the nervous tic with his fingers — though not, perhaps, the inexplicable question of how deep his conversion goes. “And the King James Bible was not available.” And when Brody explains his relationship with Abu Nazir, it’s entirely psychologically plausible — and damning. “I was embarrassed. Ashamed,” he says. “Because he offered me comfort. And I took it…I’m not made of that stuff. I’m no hero. I had nothing to give. I was broken, living in the dark for years. And a man walked in and he was kind to me. And I loved him.” What does it mean that we have turned people people out into the world after doing the same to them? Who offers them kindness and comfort after Guantanamo, after indefinite detention, after extraordinary rendition? And to what ends?
I’m less compelled by the psychology behind Aileen’s turn to terrorism, that Saul can turn her back because they’re both so hopelessly, heartbrokenly lovestruck. Maybe her politics really do come down to a childhood love, but it’s a less interesting, challenging story to have it all come down to Philip Larkin, to a racist, wealthy father, to a mandate not to assimilate into the all-consuming breadth of the American Midwest. There’s no question that there’s real power in Saul’s warning to Aileen that “Well, if no one claims him, he’ll be buried in a Potter’s Field,” and her reaction. But I am concerned that Homeland is giving somewhat too little credence to the power of ideology. People come to worship destruction without being beaten near to death, without falling in love. Their stories may be less fathomable to us, but they’re no less important.