This post discusses plot points from the October 28 episode of Homeland.
“How about a movie?” Finn Walden asks Dana Brody as they arrange their first date in this week’s episode of Homeland. “Once Upon a Time in America is playing in Dupont Circle…He’s an Italian director who specializes in wide-screen agony.” That’s pretty lofty taste for a high school student, even the son of the Vice President, but it’s no mistake that Henry Brommell, who wrote this episode, put a movie full of assumed identities and betrayals in Finn’s mouth. This is a craft episode of television, full of cultural allusions and subtle parallels, as Carrie breaks down Brody and builds him back up into a potential double agent.
I’ve loved the introduction of Peter Quinn (Rupert Friend, wisely underacting opposite Claire Danes) as a sardonic foil to Carrie who speaks in pop culture koans and is willing to employ violence that she isn’t. All the interrogation scenes in this episode are just beautifully written, but Peter’s confrontation with Brody started with a blunt and useful delineation of where power lies in the room—and of how this scene would be different from the exchanges we’re used to seeing on television. “I’m a United States Congressman. You can’t just kidnap me and shackle me in the fucking floor,” Brody insisted. “Actually, we can. Thanks to your colleagues we have fairly broad powers,” Peter reminded him. “I want a lawyer,” Brody insisted. “Well, life is full of disappointments,” Peter told him.
I think this episode of Homeland may end up being interpreted as pro-torture, given Peter’s calm use of much of the latitude awarded to him—it’s telling that the CIA has a medical team on hand to treat Brody’s hand immediately. But it’s telling that Peter’s stabbing of Brody’s hand, his spitting rage, are almost immediately revealed to be an act. “Every good cop needs a bad cop,” Peter tells Saul, and it’s true. It’s the emotional connection Carrie has with Brody that allows her to break down the central lie he repeats first to Peter and then to her, that he wasn’t wearing the vest. But for that to work, Brody had to be goaded to feel his connection with Carrie, and Carrie had to believe that her expertise was being underestimated and her emotional connection to Brody treated like it was evidence of her hysteria.
Carrie’s interrogation may seem emotional at first blush, but with the benefit of watching the episode a couple of times, it’s impressive how systemic it is. Carrie beings by evoking Brody’s guilt at the sin both of condemning her and not loving her quite enough. She gives him water, a kindness. She reminds him of their shared damage from the war. She delineates the difference between him and Abu Nazir. And she reminds him that he’s still worthy of love, and of doing the things that make someone worthy of the love of a daughter, or a lover, or a wife. “It was hearing Dana’s voice that changed your mind, wasn’t it?” Carrie asks him. “She asked you to come home, and you did. Why? Maybe because, maybe because you finally understood that killing yourself and ruining Dana’s life wouldn’t bring Issa back. Maybe because you knew then how much you loved your own child. Maybe you were just sick of death. That’s the Brody I’m talking to. That’s the Brody that knows the difference between warfare and terrorism. That’s the Brody I met up in that cabin.” If you doubt her intentionality, even for a moment, it’s so striking that she moves from the finale piece in her emotional portrait, “That’s the Brody I fell in love with,” to the question “What is Abu Nazir’s plan?” From that moment forward, Brody tells her the truth, about Roya, about the vest, about the fact that there is a coming plan. A blade through the hand produces resistance. But love is undeniable. The question that hangs over the episode is whether the latter could have done its work without the former.
And while love is patient here, it is not as kind as it appears. “I know you think that he was kind to you, that he saved you, but the truth is that he systematically pulled you apart, Brody, piece by piece until there was nothing left but pain,” Carrie told Brody after she took over the interrogation and sat down at the table Peter set so bloodily for her. “And then he relieved the pain and he put you back together as someone else. He gave you a boy to love. And then that other monster, Walden, took that boy away. Between the two of them they made your life a misery.” But of course, she’s doing exactly the same thing to him, albeit with less sustained damage to him, and with less promise of purification by fire. The asks start small. “We need you to call your wife,” Saul tells Brody. “Reassure her that you’re okay. That you’ll be home later tonight.” Carrie makes the small and tentative promise of immunity if Brody turns double agent: “Immunity? You guys don’t have the power to give me that,” Brody insists. “You better hope we do,” Carrie tells him. And they set up their signals, if not the things that Carrie will ask of Brody. “The affair will be our cover going forward,” Carrie explains. “If you need me for any reason just call and say you miss me. I’ll do the same. We’ll meet at my apartment.” Great and terrible things grow from the initial terms of contracts.
I just wish Homeland appeared to trust itself more. In a domestic or teen drama, Finn and Dana’s wild ride would have been the devastating climax to the episode, both for the death they may have caused and the fundamental differences it revealed between them. Dana, the agent of her own father’s decision to choose mercy, wants to take responsibility and offer help to the person she and Finn struck after she urged him to go “Faster, faster!” And like his selfish, ambitious father, Finn sees the woman he hit only as potential collateral damage in the ruin of his own life. “Dana, please, if anyone finds out about this, my life is over,” he tells her. The parallels between their fathers is reasonably interesting—and the decision to score their drive to Neon Trees’ “Everybody Talks” is clever as hell—but it’s unnecessary in the context of tonight’s powerful interrogations. The sequence made Homeland feel like a cheaper show, instead of the sleek, lethal emotional strike it’s capable of being.