This post contains spoilers through the Dec. 11 episode of Homeland.
Before anything else, I just want to pause in the delight of Claire Danes’ acting in this episode. She’s been more subtle, of course, much more tender, more sexy, tougher, more intelligent. But this was a textbook case for why we love actors who aren’t afraid to leave their vanity behind. I really appreciate the coherence of Carrie’s insanity, when it’s full-blown. There’s the troikas of descriptors, the question “Green is important. Green is necessary…Is green so hard? Is green elusive? I mean, my kingdom for a fucking green pen,” to the infinitely patient nurse in the hospital; the explanation to Saul that “Abu Nazir has methods, and patterns, and priorities…He goes big, he explodes, he maims on mass;” the promise that “Maggie will come. Maggie’s reliable. You can count on Maggie every time;” the musing “What makes them? Is it a whisper? A crash? A deep internal pain?”
And there’s the unreliability of her insights. “I wrote a 45-page manifesto declaring I’d reinvented music,” Carrie explains to Saul. “The professor I handed to escorted me to student health. I wasn’t in his class. You didn’t do anything, Saul. I just came this way.” But she hasn’t lost all trust in herself, and that’s what makes her compelling to us, and what communicates how terrifying her illness is. She keeps working because she senses that there’s something real. And when Saul affirms that she’s correct about the timeline and the gap in Abu Nazir’s life, he’s not just validating her work product but the idea that there’s something that makes sense in her brain, that she has not taken all leave of reason. When she runs out in traffic, seeing a miracle in a community garden and telling us, “Somewhere, down there, there’s a sliver of green. This is how everything works. You wait down there, you lay low, and then you come to life,” she’s right, too. The miracle and the tragedy of Carrie’s brain is its hyperspeed, its ability to beat Saul to conclusions and inability to understand that other people will need more time than she will to work through her insights and moral leaps and judge her as an alien from outer space, a criminal.
Rather than leaping forward, Brody’s taking his family back in time to Gettysburg, where he lays the intellectual foundation for the idea that his planned act of terrorism is of a piece with the noblest impulses in American history. He tells his children:
They prayed. Both sides did. These were extremely religious people…Imagine. You’re bone-tired. You’re cut off from water. The most crucial part of the line that must be held, it’s up there. On the hill. It’s Little Round Top. There are just 300 of you. You’re commanded by a schoolteacher from Maine. When suddenly 2,000 enemy soldiers come screaming out of those trees determined to cut you down…that’s when this teacher from Maine, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain was his name…He told them to stop shooting. No guns. Just bayonettes. And instead of shooting, they charged down the side of the hill towards the enemy. And it was so unexpected, so crazy, that the line was held that day. All because of a schoolteacher from Maine who was willing to do what was necessary for a cause that he believed in.
There’s a finality to it. Chris doesn’t notice — when his father tells him, “I hope that you’ll remember Joshua Chamberlain when you get older, and be brave, and daring, and ready to fight for what you believe in,” the boy asks “Do you mind if we talk about this some other time? It’s kind of melting.” Dana, though, sees something in the mystery package, in the video of her father’s stillness. After her monstrous self-absorption for much of the season, there’s something compelling about seeing Dana turn spy. Her father may, with a brilliant play, have eliminated one watcher. But he’ll never really be without them again, whether it’s the men who recognize him in a diner, telling him, “You’re one tough motherfucker. What you went through kind of puts things in perspective. I’d vote for you,” his daughter, a silent brotherhood waiting for him to act.
So what happens now? I saw this on a screener, so I missed the teaser for next week’s episode, but there are a couple of big issues that need resolution. How can Carrie make it back to the CIA, after the mental illness that she’s been terrified will be disqualifying has been revealed? Will Brody actually go through with his planned attack? Who is the mole? These questions are, of course, related. If Saul is the mole, he now has more extensive knowledge of both Carrie’s mental illness and her understanding of Abu Nazir’s plan than anyone else, giving him the best chance of discrediting her. If Saul’s not the mole, could he sacrifice himself to save Carrie by claiming that he assembled the documents, getting Carrie back into the CIA but without the benefit of his protection? If the vice president is the mole, is he facilitating his own death? Or using Brody to get him even closer to someone else, like the president? If David is the mole, a possibility Alan Sepinwall brought up as we talked while I watched the episode, could uncovering and discrediting him, including his efforts to undermine her, be Carrie’s trip back to the CIA?
And could the vest make it into the second season? It would drive viewers even crazier than The Killing did, I think, but it seems like the only way to keep Brody around. And it would be fascinating to see the tension. By outing his affair with Carrie to David, Brody’s sold, or at least rented, himself to the CIA for the duration — they can ruin him, take him out of the campaign, ruin his scheme, and out him to his wife if he doesn’t cooperate. To serve the master of his heart, Brody will have to play along with the people who have a lien on his reputation. Can he serve both masters?