This post contains spoilers for the Dec. 4 episode of Homeland.
After last week’s off-track, weirdly sentimental episode, I admitted to some anxiety about Homeland‘s core DNA. Fortunately, “Representative Brody” set the show squarely back on track. And as I tweeted while I was watching, “why can’t Henry Bromell just write all the television?” In between this and “The Good Soldier,” the man is having a year.
While what frustrated me about the last episode was its emotional and causal predictability, I appreciated the way “Representative Brody” made its characters do distinct, specific things that were surprising but not wildly illogical. You get the cliche in one scene, the vice president (who increasingly seems like a conspiracy suspect) telling Brody: “I would consider it an honor to work with a man who’s actually fought the war on terror, who’s lived with the enemy and understands them.” But even then, the cliche is revealing — there’s a profound hunger for authenticity in that request. And countering it, you have a Saudi diplomat who doesn’t respond to Saul and Carrie’s threats to reveal his debts and his homosexuality in the way they would have predicted. “I suck cock and I love it,” he snaps back at them. “My wives already know. They don’t care. They love me. So fuck it. Fuck you. Put it on CNN. I’ll admit to everything. Now, I would like to go back to my embassy.” Scripts are useful until they aren’t. In fighting the war on terror, in living your life, there’s only so much you can do to prepare and only so much you can predict. “We’re trying to find what makes them human, not what makes them terrorists,” Carrie tells Saul, and it turns out she’s right.
And the dissolution of Saul and Carrie’s plan to, as Saul put it with a hint of terrible foreshadowing, “eviscerate the motherfucker” also revealed a hidden and under-discussed advantage in the war on terror that also gets to that quest for humanity: modernity is a lot more appealing than the values of the Middle Ages. What Nazir’s collaborator may pretend to want for the world, he doesn’t actually want for his daughter. “We would deport her,” Carrie says, emphasizing the threat and drawing out the disgust he feels at the scenario she lays out for him. “And we would make sure that she was not welcome in England, or Germany, or France, or Italy, or even all-forgiving Scandinavia. We would make sure she had no choice but to go back to Saudi Arabia and get fat and wear a burka for the rest of her miserable life.” Radical Islam will lose not because our military is bigger but because the American idea is more broadly compelling than a return to the caliphate.
That doesn’t mean, of course, that the freedom of modernity is easy to manage. Brody plays on Mike’s need for his forgiveness by offering it — but only after Mike’s promised to talk Jess into the campaign. When he does, Mike wants her so badly he can’t even go in the house. And Jess both wants both men and wants clarity, things she cannot have together that she responds bitterly, “Why don’t we all just take off our clothes and get in bed together?” Brody goes to see Carrie to secure the promise of her discretion, and while she knows it’s the right thing, she can’t quite bring herself to let him go entirely. When he says “goodbye,” she can’t match his finality, telling him “good night,” instead. In her hospital bed in the aftermath of the bombing, she’s pained, seeing Brody kiss Jess as he announces his Congressional campaign. Saul might want good drugs and a long vacation, but the emptiness of even a few days will be a torture to Carrie. And I like the way the show consistently has her listening to jazz, the thing that gave her her first-episode revelation about Brody. In life and in policy, sometimes you need intuitive leaps, sometimes logic doesn’t always serve you.
A tiny nitpick in this episode: I wish the show hadn’t doubled down on calling the location of the bombing “Farragut Square,” when it’s patently, obviously not, and doesn’t even look like the real place. An actual suicide bombing in the Square would have caused a lot more damage: people are clustered more densely together, and the park is smaller, so windows might have blown out of office buildings, etc. It’s not a big deal, but for the political and intelligence junkies in Washington, it’s a bit of a break from the show’s realism and immersive quality. But I think the tension between Saul and the State Department official over whether the CIA can pursue someone with diplomatic immunity was a nice little turf battle that more than made up for that error. “To us mere mortals in the State Department, it’s a serious issue,” the diplomat complains. This is where most of the drama in Washington comes from, not suicide bombs but verbal fencing matches.