"‘Homeland’ Open Thread: Right"
This post discusses plot points from the October 14 episode of Homeland.
This episode of Homeland clarified what, for me, has been the major struggle with the beginning of the second season of this show, which I still love, but which has been experiencing what feel to me to be some serious growing pains. There’s been a significant imbalance, episode by episode, in the quality of Carrie and Brody’s stories. Claire Danes and Damian Lewis continue to work at the top of their game, but while Danes has been given a relatively streamlined storyline that showcases Carrie’s struggles to adjust herself to life without the CIA to provide her an identity, Lewis has been asked to employ his formidable skills in the service of increasingly ridiculous and unsustainable capers. And that’s never been clearer than in “State of Independence.”
When we first see Carrie in this episode, she’s as high as we’ve seen her since her marker-induced meltdown in season one, listening to jazz like that which focused her concentration and lead her to see Brody’s hand gestures in Homeland‘s pilot. Her father, who has always been one of Carrie’s best advocates, wants to know what she’s doing. “I need to get this done and it needs to be done right,” she says of her report from Beirut, showing substantially more loyalty to the CIA than it’s show to her. I felt a brief moment of pride in her when she acknowledged his insistence that she needs sleep—perhaps the electroshock treatments, the vegetable garden, the teaching gig, the test in Lebanon had produced a Carrie who knew her own limitations, could temper her brilliance to the needs of her brain chemistry without giving it up entirely.
But it turns out that flash of self-care was just set-up for a more devastating sequence when Carrie arrives at headquarters, prepared to walk agents through her report. “I’m sorry. Am I late? I was told 6pm, which would mean I’m 15 minutes early,” she says, falling apart as she realizes that she was given the wrong time to keep her away from the meeting. “Always debrief with the person in the field. It’s in the goddamn manual.” There are good reasons for Carrie not to be in the CIA any more, among them that her illegal surveillance of Brody could weaken an eventual case against him. But it’s cruel to see the people who punished her break the rules out of a distaste for her, and shame her out of an inability to directly exclude her. “He’s still out there, David,” Carrie pleads with her old boss, her old lover, only to be told that “That’s not your concern anymore.” Carrie, always the junkie, needs to know “What about all that stuff I pulled out of the Beirut apartment. Can you at least tell me if there was any actionable intelligence in that?” But it’s a form of self-torture to ask that question and to know that she won’t be allowed to work on the material, much less to know what it contained. Carrie’s brain could burn itself out spinning scenarios for those papers and that bag. And David doesn’t help by insisting on cutting her off. “Between you and me, yes there was,” he tells her, before revealing how little he knows of her. “Carrie, you didn’t come here today expecting to get reinstated?”
Of course she did, on some level, even if Carrie knows that returning to the CIA could be disastrous for her, that cooking lasagna from the vegetables from the garden might be the only way to keep herself sane. When she suddenly packed to return to her condo, abandoning the family home that had been an oasis even as she told the officer who returned her from Beirut that it wasn’t really hers, it seemed inevitable that something dreadful was about to happen. “I’m going home, Dad,” she told her father, shoving off from the person who understood what was happening in her brain even if he can’t contemplate the exact triggers. “All I know is I need to figure out what to do with the rest of my life now, and I can’t do that here with you hovering over me.”
Even so, it was hard for me to believe that Carrie was attempting suicide, that what she’d do with the rest of her life is to end it. At first, it seemed like she might be repeating her night out from the pilot, putting on the same short skirt and slinky top, putting the wedding ring—initially a symbol that she wasn’t up for something serious, but now an image of a more ominous finality—back on her finger. But instead of seeking out company, she poured a solitary and deadly cocktail, the disgust on Danes’ face as she washed down a fistful of pills with a second glass of wine an image of terrible determination. In a way, her sudden decision to reverse course, to purge up her means of self-destruction, and to save her own life are more frightening than the fact that Carrie contemplated suicide at all. We are separated from death and despair by the thinnest of margins, the most sudden whims.
But what a tremulous joy to see Carrie save her own life, in time for Saul to bring her the evidence that can begin to heal the great fissure in her mind, the wound caused by the world telling Carrie she was wrong about Brody. It’s always fun to see Saul be a badass instead of simply a wise old owl, and his calm confrontation with his interrogators at the airport was as delightful to watch as a more aggressive, showy game of cat and mouse. “Saul Berenson. Jewish, yes?” the Hezbollah agent asked him. “American,” Saul told him in an assertion of national identity over a religious one. It was thrilling and tense seeing Saul get one over the man with the flash card hidden in the lock to his briefcase, an explosive revelation that will literally blow American politics wide open disguised as a mundane utility. And I was so relieved for Carrie, alienated even from her own will to live, that Saul arrived to show her compassion, to treat her like a priority, telling her “Before you dig that hole any deeper, I have to show you something…I came straight from the airport because I think you deserve to see it first.” It’s been so long since Carrie was treated like she deserved anything, be it respect, trust, or even consideration. No wonder she’s on the verge of tears as she says “I was right,” a world that had told her she was insane, a disgrace, profoundly wrong settling back into a tenuous and comprehensible shape.
It’s a remarkable sequence, and though Brody kills another human being in this episode while Carrie attempts a long-foreshadowed self-annihilation, it’s amazing how much less powerful his plot line is than hers. The plot mechanisms by which he comes to kill the tailor who made his suicide vest in the first season are ludicrously thin. Roya tells Brody that he needs to be the one to pick up the tailor “Because he knows you. He doesn’t know me. You’re the only one he knows,” which doesn’t make much sense, considering that when Brody was sent to pick up the vest, he didn’t know the tailor, and that if the man doesn’t know anyone, he won’t know who he’s being handed over to in the safe house. Roya’s pivot to blackmail Brody into the operation, “Must I remind you he’s the one man who knows the truth about you?” smacks of a setup. That’s really the only plausible explanation I can think of for Roya’s urgency in getting Brody to make the pickup, despite the significant risk of exposure he faces, the tailor’s efforts to get some space from Brody, the jack that’s been removed from the car, and the tailor’s flight into the woods. I’m not sure why Abu Nazir would want to kill Brody, unless he has lingering doubts about Brody’s loyalty. But if that is, in fact, what was meant to happen, the show left things rather muddied.
I dearly wish that the show had focused this half of the episode on the more mundane, but vastly more compelling issues of the Brody marriage. The show’s done a nice job this season of communicating how much Jessica enjoys the political capital that comes with being a political wife. It makes sense that they’d seem closer to a sexual rapprochement than ever before after Jessica tells Brody “I know you’re doing this event for me. I want you to know I appreciate it.” There’s a real tenderness in their discussion of the revelation Brody plans to make in his speech, that “By my third year in captivity, I knew this was where I was going to die,” and the fact that, as Jessica tells him, “It’s the first time I ever heard it.” It seems for a moment that they may have reached a true reconciliation and a place of peace, all of which makes it more crushing when Brody’s actions destroy their fragile closeness.
His absence from the event embarrasses Jessica, who then claims both a triumph of her own and her right to reach out to Mike, to whom she still remains emotionally attached. “Let me be crystal clear,” she tells Mike bitterly. “He was fucking the bitch for a whole weekend.” The implication, of course, is that Jessica, as long as she’s believed Brody to be alive, has remained faithful, and been repaid in ash. At first it seems as if Mike will cling to his honor and leave Jessica at her front door. But that story makes him change his mind. “I thought you weren’t coming in,” Jessica tells him. “Maybe just for one drink,” Mike says. And when Brody comes home late, Mike tells him “She got up there and gave a speech of her own.” It’s a dig that reminds Brody that Mike has been a better husband to Jessica in recent memory than Brody has been.
There’s an alternate version of this season of Homeland where Brody doesn’t crack CIA safes, send text messages that save terrorists, or snap traitorous tailors’ necks in the woods, where he tries to do the thing that he said he would do, use his office to make sure that no more Issas are killed because they commit the sin of being in proximity to adults like Abu Nazir, where his marriage to Jessica disintegrates because Brody is simply unable to share the details of his life with her or give her a full measure of his emotional energy. This would be a quieter, sadder story, and one that more directly highlights the extreme trauma Brody experienced in captivity, and the way it’s permanently alienated him from the place that was once his homeland.
Instead, Homeland is reinforcing the idea that Brody is a criminal. It’s a decision that’s created a lot of opportunities for action sequences, for Damian Lewis to work the edges of his mouth where his dimples should be into a contortion of fear and tension. But it’s also made him a smaller creature, a violent, manipulable crook, while preserving our understanding of Abu Nazir as a compelling, exceedingly powerful genius, rather than a rather-more-effective-than-usual criminal. There’s a good argument to be made that many terrorists are precisely that, criminals who should be dealt with judicially where possible, rather than state-level enemies against who we fight wars. But in Homeland, Brody’s always been something greater, the shade of a man whose first self died overseas in the hands of his torturers, who makes the rather remarkable decision not to carry out a mass murder he’d been planning for years. I miss that conflicted, sometimes opaque, but deeply human man. Carrie Mathison will see other people with the same piercing clarity she applied to Brody. But I don’t think Brody will ever be seen, and loved, and hated in the same way by someone else.