This post discusses plot points from the November 11 episode of Homeland.
The tragic pas de deux between Saul and Aileen is a small masterpiece in this episode, and one of Homeland‘s finest explorations of how the decisions we made in the immediate aftermath of the September 11 attacks have failed us in the years that followed after it. “I want to trust you,” Aileen tells Saul, the man who tracked her down, who drove back from Mexico to the United States with her, who told her about his marital problems, who got her to give up some of what she knew, and who put her in a hole below the ground. “I’m sorry I’ve become this person, but I have.” What she doesn’t say, though she could have, is that she became this person because she’s being held in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day, conditions that would drive a lot of us to become, as her guard puts it, “a piece of work. A spitter, a hitter, and a shitter.” The warden, as Aileen puts it, may be a sadist. But, as he tells Saul, “We all have our issues. Homeland security funding goes to the big cities, my budget gets cut…And we all have our domains, don’t we? And the United States Penitentiary at Waynesburgh is mine.” And even more to the point, what the warden is doing to Aileen is the same thing we do to many other men who are guilty of her same crimes elsewhere.
Whether this is justice or not, the episode makes an important point: the way Aileen’s been treated has ruined her, both for terrorism, and for any good she might have done to Saul, and to the country that she turned again. “Look at that light. Isn’t it nice?” she asked Saul when she was brought upstairs to the conference room, unshackled, and allowed to look at out at a treeline and sky so mundane that, had the barbed wire been removed, it could have been reproduced and hung in chain hotel rooms across the country. “Time is of the essence, here,” Saul told her. “Not for me,” she reminded him. The country could burn, terrorists could be caught, and Aileen sees only the prospect of a hole in the ground for the rest of her life. And given the promise of a room above ground, even written on a legal document, she couldn’t really believe it, nor in her own potential to do any productive good. Whether she knew who the man in the photograph was or not, she lied to have time to commit suicide, rather than live another day even in a room with a view. “It was the sunset. I’m not going back. I’m never going back to that cage,” she told Saul, dying. “I just spent the day by the window. The whole day. The light. The view.”
That sense of lost opportunity pervades this episode of Homeland. “Tom lost his way. He just went through too many things. And he couldn’t get right again,” Brody tells Jessica regretfully, speaking as much about the ruin of his former friend as himself. And an encounter with Rex, who should have been a kindred spirit, only makes his sense of self-loathing worse. Rex pulls him aside after a repulsive interrogation from a vapid, wealthy woman, who continues Homeland‘s trend of slipping into a satiric tone when it portrays Washington elites, whether at a fundraiser in the country or in Quaker meeting at Sidwell Friends. “How long did they hold you?” the woman asks.”Did you ever just want to kill yourself?” Rex has comfort to offer him, telling Brody “It’s bad enough we went to hell and back. People want to ogle the damage.” But even he wants Brody to be someone he’s not, can’t hear Brody when he tells him “Rex. Honestly? The truth? I’m not that man…No. No. Really. I’m not.”
When Carrie meets him in the woods, he tells her how painful the weekend is for him. “I was just having a long conversation with the guy who owns this place. he was a soldier. He was a real soldier. Served in Vietnam. Saw the shit you see. Didn’t lose himself. The worst part of it is: he believes I’m like him. That guy is the man I could have been if I hadn’t…” That’s the answer to the question he asks her after they kiss: “You know what? I do feel used. And played, and lied to. I also feel good…Two minutes with you and I feel good. How do you pull that off?” The answer is that she sees him for what he is and wants him anyway, that they’ve achieved a perfect understanding in the comingling of their very different damage.
And Carrie sees that pain in Mike Faber, which no one else has quite recognized. Saul and David appealed to him as an intelligence officer. Carrie reaches out to him as a fellow victim of heartbreaking, telling him “You’re emotional about Brody because you’re in love with his wife.” In one of the tenderdest moments on this, or any show, Mike insists that it’s not true, “That was a long time ago.” But Carrie knows him–and herself–better than that. “Not really,” she says tenderly. “Not when you’ve chosen someone. I hope you get what you want.” She, and Aileen, and Brody all know how deep the ruin can be when you’re separated from your North Star, no matter how dreadful it would have been for you to reach it.