This post contains spoilers through the Nov. 27 episode of Homeland.
Homeland‘s had an incredible introductory streak, so I suppose it’s inevitable that the show would produce an episode that’s less than stellar. And I’m still trying to decide if this episode, which in one fell swoop made the plot more convoluted and saccharine, signals a derailment of the show or if it’s a mild aberration, necessary to the film’s larger themes.
First, there’s Brody’s backstory, which is about as straightforward as it can possibly get: it turns out that in his captivity, Abu Nazir had Brody teach his son English, and when the boy was killed by a drone attack, Brody dedicated himself to revenge, specifically on Vice President William Walden. There’s nothing precisely wrong with that storyline, and as usual, it’s well-executed: Brody’s face when he sees a bath for the first time after months of filth and captivity is a sight to see. But I’ve gotten used to seeing Homeland subvert our expectations, and so the cheesiness of Brody teaching Isa to sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” or bonding with him over soccer, of seeing the boy comfort the post-traumatic man by treating him like a son would treat his father felt like a letdown if only because it was so emotionally predictable. I want to resist the urge to demand that I be surprised all the time, because on principal, I do think fictional should operate by consistent internal logic rather than aiming to operate like Rube Goldberg devices in contravention of the logic we’re all governed by. I don’t want the show to get increasingly baroque. But I do want Homeland to continue its commitment to subtlety and emotional richness that doesn’t grow out of entirely predictable places. This story of drone strikes is entirely too emotionally and politically simple, it doesn’t make the case for using drone strikes. The show’s portraying Abu Nazir as a decent man and only asserting that he’s a villain. It would be nice for that work to go in two directions.
In addition to that saccharine interlude, the show’s writing also felt a little flat. I actually think it’s been to Homeland‘s credit that, in a season full of shows like Boss and Hell on Wheels that aim for rhetorical heights, the show’s stuck to plain language. The writing hasn’t overshadowed the emotions. But here, the writing felt a little flat. We’re stuck with an FBI stooge who says things like “Justice? What does that mean?” or “It’s his word against mine.” His snark at Carrie, “You people have rubber hoses, don’t you?” isn’t a bad slap at the CIA’s record on interrogation, but he’s got such wooden lines otherwise that the line doesn’t land very hard. Carrie isn’t elevating matters either with lines like “If your men made a mistake, you need to come clean.” I hate seeing this show feel like a cliche. Fortunately, there’s Tom Walker in the woods, joking grimy that he’s hunting “office supplies” before blowing away a hunter who has the misfortune to recognize him. Homeland is more fun when it pulls us into sympathy with someone whose head we don’t necessarily want to be in at all, much less feel in concert with.
And I thought it was particularly unfortunate that the episode ripped off the supermarket scene from The Hurt Locker, sending Brody off to the grocery store where he calls Jess to ask “What’s, I think it says, Vitamin Water? Is it some kind of medicine?”:
Homeland‘s smart when it’s broad-reaching, examining the way the War on Terror has infected every aspect of its characters’ lives. It doesn’t need to be overly complicated or to resort to cliched language. It just needs to tell the truth, which is complicated enough as it is.