This post discusses plot points from the November 18 and 25 episodes of Homeland.
During last night’s episode of Homeland, as Peter/John removed his silenced revolver from his coat, preparing to dispatch with Brody should he no longer prove necessary, I grabbed my boyfriend’s wrist so hard he told me it actually hurt. It was an interesting moment for me and my relationship to this sometimes-miraculous, sometimes-confounding show. The moment was tense and well-constructed, but the prospect of Brody’s death was viscerally upsetting to me not because of the plotting and counterplotting taking place around him, but because of the simpler questions Homeland has obscured this season. What does it mean to be alienated from your country, your family, and the values you once devoted to yourself to protecting? What does it mean to understand the motivations of a terrorist?
Homeland has always been somewhat uneven when it tries to answer those questions, but that it tries to answer them at all has always made it a rather different animal from its counterparts and predecessors. In the first season, and in an inversion of how these things normally work, the show did better when Brody talked about what Abu Nazir meant to him than in the brief flashbacks that outlined his relationship with Issa. In this week’s episode, the discussion between Carrie, Peter, David, and Saul about whether the plot Brody had outlined to them made sense produced one of the most interesting moments the show’s had in some time: Carrie explaining that it made sense because of how it met Abu Nazir’s emotional needs and standards. It was mirrored by Abu Nazir’s explanation to Brody himself, that he could be hunted and killed like bin Laden, his legend reduced by the manner of his death, or he could bring his fight to American soil himself, carry out a plot on his own terms. Nazir’s explanation of his own motivations—apart from the actual plausibility of the mechanics of it—was one of the smarter attempts I’ve seen to imagine how bin Laden’s death has changed the world. Homeland‘s genuine interest in mysteries both large, like why Brody would turn on his country, and small, like how Nazir feels about his place in the world, is the thing that sets the show apart for me even when it delves into more prosaic territory.
And as niftily-constructed as Nazir and Roya’s plot against the vice president is, it’s prosaic. It’s a standard fantasy of hyper-competent terrorism that ignores how small-scale and ineffective plots against America have actually become, and how easily-thwarted those that actually make it to the execution stage have been. I understand that the demands of plot keep some of these fantasies alive on-screen. But those fears also animate policies in the real world: they’re kept alive by interests more powerful than American audiences’ addiction to artificially high stakes. And just as those fears crowd out rational conversations about everything from the Defense Department budget to airline security in the real world, the plot this season has crowded Homeland, too. Last year, the construction of a vest and Tom Walker’s possession of a sniper rifle were comparatively simple logistical concerns that served the contrast between the two men, how they’d responded to torture, and what waited for them on their return. This year, the complexity of the plot against America, and America’s plots against its potential attackers, has put layers in between Brody and his motivations, Roya in between Brody and Nazir, the munitions expert in between Brody and Walden, Quinn in between Carrie and Brody.
The scenes between Brody and Carrie are a constant reminder of how excellent Homeland is when it strips away that clutter and focuses on what draws the two of them together: their shared inability to truly and seamlessly integrate into the roles set out for them. Their difficulty makes them valuable, to a certain extent: Brody can play the hero tenably enough to be of use to Nazir, and Carrie is right often enough to be worth some of the trouble she causes David and her other colleagues at the CIA. But both of their masquerades have expiration dates. Carrie’s already hit one of hers. And Brody is very, very close to his. “I’m going to be in the cell next to you. Which, I have to admit, isn’t the future I imagined for us,” she told him during their sojourn to the motel. “If we saw this through togehter, if we finally stopped Nazir once and for all, that you’d be a real hero. And that fact would somehow make everything you did before not matter. That it would all just be about getting to there.” Quinn may hear “a stage five, delusional getting laid” in the sex he overhears between Carrie and Brody. But they’re clearer-eyed, if more wistful, than he imagines.
Similarly, Homeland can demonstrate a lovely formal clarity when it returns to its original lineup of relationships. The moment in Sunday’s episode when Dana refused to talk to her father on the phone was a striking, and frightening, callback to the first season, when Dana’s voice, her need for Brody, saved him, the vice president, and many other people besides. I know some readers aren’t crazy about Mike, but watching him be a father to Dana, watching Jessica return to his bed as if she never left it, was a reminder of how hard it can be to build a dream American family and to get it right on the first go. Homeland is a better show when it reminds us that the homeland we work to protect is a hard-won, continually renewed fiction than when it refuses to acknowledge the nature of the other delusions it buys into.