This post discusses plot details from the December 2 episode of Homeland.
“I still prefer to figure the problem out, not obliterate it,” Saul told Dar Adul when the two men met over chicken and waffles at the beginning of this episode of Homeland. “You’re too sensitive for this line of work,” Adul told him. “Always have been.” There was once a time when this show was about that central difference of opinion about how to deal with terrorism, Carrie’s preference for building relationships with her sources pitted against David Estes’ way with a drone strike or a SWAT team. But increasingly, Homeland leaves conversations like these hanging in the air in favor of plastic ties and pacemakers. Remarks like David’s explanation that Quinn is “here to kill terrorists, Saul. Like all of us,” could stand on their own if the events around them questioned or affirmed his assumptions and the wisdom of that position. But last night’s episode of Homeland reaffirmed a worry I’ve had this season since it expanded beyond the core question of whether Brody will commit an act of terrorism: the show increasingly feels in love with plot mechanics rather than moral quandaries and character development.
There was a bit of moral debate in the scene between Carrie and Nazir while he held her in captivity, after she rejected his attempts to give her water. “Who is the terrorist?” Nazir wanted to know, querying Carrie on the drone strikes. But the scene couldn’t quite draw out a contrast or spark an actual debate between their world views there because Carrie isn’t even close to a forceful advocate for the use of drones. Instead, their conversation fell into a rather predictable track. Carrie reminded Nazir that his tactics can be similar to drone strikes, asking him to imagine “A young man enters a Shia village pushing a cart filled with candy and toys. He waits for all the children to gather round, then reaches back, and flips a switch.” Nazir tells her that he believes there’s a difference because”We fight with what we have…Generation after generation must suffer and die. we are prepared for death. Are you? With your pension plans and organic foods, your beach houses and sports clubs. Do you ahve the perserverence, the tenacity, the faith? Because we do.” Nazir “We carry God in our hearts, our souls. To die is to join him. It may take a century, two centuries, three centuries. But we will exterminate you.” Carrie points out that it’s that worldview that shapes her perception of him: “Like I said. You’re a terrorist.”
If the show had been able to make a connection between Nazir’s eliminationist worldview and the idea that it’s possible, or even desirable, to kill all terrorists and—as we’ve learned from reporting about the Obama administration’s drone strikes program—potential terrorists, represented by Estes and Quinn, it would have wandered into truly challenging territory. And the show might even have felt stronger to me if it made the point that, in the distorted world these characters inhabit, children are the only people still capable of taking moral responsibility. “Every morning I wake up and for a few brief seconds I’m free, I can just look at the sky, or listen to the birds again,” Finn, the only person in this show who experiences ongoing guilt, tells Dana when she agrees to see him while in hiding. “And then, wham. I remember the sound of that woman hitting the windshield. I remember that I’ve killed another human being and I can’t take it back…Remember that night? At the top of the Washington Monument? Can we start over?” Dana is sorrowful, but absolute, as she tells him no. “Whatever we felt, we broke it,” she reminds him of his dismissal of her. “We killed it, just the same way we killed that woman.”
Brody’s decision to help kill Vice President Walden may have been the big event in this episode, but it actually felt somewhat anti-climactic in this context, and I wouldn’t say hisaracter arc truly felt resolved. There are countless questions on the way to the moment when Brody tells Walden that he’s withdrawing from contention for the vice presidency because “It’s not for my family. It’s for me. Because I want to feel clean again. And because I pretty much disagree with everything you say and do…You still don’t get it, do you? I’m killing you.” Why didn’t he call Saul or someone else in the CIA when he knew Carrie was in danger? The only plausible explanation is that he knows about the mole, a plot line that hasn’t been mentioned since the first season of the show, but there’s no indication that Brody has any idea. How did Brody avoid the Vice President’s security? Isn’t that office monitored by video? Why doesn’t Brody just take a picture of the serial number and text it to Nazir? Or given that Carrie’s escaped, buy time with a number that’s a digit off? And really, what makes him decide to go through his collaboration with Nazir in the first place once Carrie was off and running? The only thing that really makes sense to me is that it’s a kind of demented, in-the-moment compromise, an opportunity to be a hero to Carrie and to fulfill his deep-seated desire to kill Walden, presumably triggered by Nazir requiring him to “Swear. On Issa’s immortal soul.”
And it’s in this environment that Estes pulls a power play on Saul, diverting him from the efforts to surround the power plant where Carrie says Nazir is holed up after her escape. “I’m on my way to catch a terrorist,” he asks them. “What could be more important than that?” No one says it out loud, but apparently, the means in which that terrorist is caught, and who takes the credit for it. Or as Adul puts it, “Little things I can count on mean more and more to me as I get older.” If only Homeland was still as good as it once was at parsing those little things that mean everything, that make all the moral difference in the world.