This post discusses plot points from the second season of Homeland.
“Why do I feel like this?” Carrie asks Brody as he walks off into the woods, in pursuit of a tentative hope of redemption, at the end of the second season of Homeland. “‘Cause you gave it up to me,” Brody tells her. “Completely,” Carrie confirms to him. It’s a sentiment I share about this show, which I loved without reservation in its first season. But my sentiments at the finish of this one are somewhat more complicated than “Goodbye, love.”
I thought in many respects, this episode felt like a deliberate punting of issues down the road. First, Quinn declined to kill Brody, and then, when it seemed like the episode might be setting Brody up for self-murder, a suicide that would end only his own life, and the continuing prospect of shame to his family, sent him off to have his name cleared. The show appears to feel very little regard for the fact that Brody murdered Vice President Walden. And though Brody cleared the way for Mike to take care of his family, it doesn’t seem to me like Homeland is prepared to jettison Brody’s family and clean the slate, given Dana’s miraculous deduction that her father did, in fact, intend to be a suicide bomber, and the release of Brody’s suicide tape, whether by al Qaeda or by the mole.
It seems relatively obvious at this point that Saul must be the mole. His off-hand offer to Carrie to accompany him to Abu Nazir’s send-off, combined with the close-up shots on his wary face as the bomb at the CIA exploded the moment after Brody realized that something was wrong, but before he made the connection as to what it could be, seems to confirm that, and to set up the conflict for the show’s third season. But it’s unclear to me what his motives are. Does he hate Estes so much? His joy when Mira told him she would return from Mumbai in the wake of the bombing, that almost greedy “Yes. Please,” was a lovely character moment, but this is an awfully complex way for Saul to try to heal his own broken homeland. I expect we’ll learn more about who Saul is, but I suspect I’m going to have a difficult time making the shift from understanding him as Carrie’s devoted mentor, and a man with a particular, ethical view of American intelligence, to seeing him as a criminal mastermind who says Kaddish for his victims out of a kind of twisted guilt.
I think I also have some trouble with the idea that this is going to become a show whose primary means of moral interrogation is the emotional torture of Carrie Mathison. It would be enough for me, rich, and touching, and terrifying and joyous enough to simply let Carrie try to figure out how to be a whole person as she was in the first, and best, episodes of this season. “She told my dad she was going to CVS, and she never came back,” Carrie tells Brody during their brief respite at the cabin, the only night they have together as a true, and genuinely loving couple. “He has what I have,he just wouldn’t get treated…There’d be a message in the stars and we’d have to buy a camper and drive out to the Great Lakes for the miracle.” That tragedy of her father’s mental illness is stakes enough, particularly when it expresses itself in Carrie’s self-denial. “I understand,” she explained of her mother’s decision. “Living with that can eat you up.” Her fear of what her mental illness might do to Brody, and of what it might mean to give her whole life to the CIA, would be enough to carry a season of the show for me. “Maybe I’m just not giving it away to this place,” she told Saul. “Maybe I want other things.”
But it’s not interesting enough for the show, I think. The “other things” has to be “a terrorist in your bed,” as Saul put it. And the choice isn’t between Brody and the job, but between the love of Carrie’s life, and the mentor who’s like a father to her. A recent Washington Post story about the real-life CIA analyst who is the basis for the main character for Zero Dark Thirty, and perhaps for Carrie as well, suggests that she can be a prickly person whose career has stalled out in part because of the agency’s parochial politics. That culture, much like the full implications of Carrie’s affair with Estes—nicely alluded to by Quinn’s question “You never made a bad move in your romantic life?”—make for rich drama, but Homeland has literally leveled the agency and its culture with this finale, and is now free to build its own vision of our future, rather than engaging deeply with the real implications of our past and present.
Brody’s goal, as he tells Carrie, “is to be a good person again.” And it’s a genuinely interesting question, often implied, but never quite grappled with this season. Is it possible to fall out of love with your country, in fact, to come to hate it, and to learn how to love and to serve it again? Roya’s appearance in Nazir’s life, and Brody’s elimination from true Vice Presidential contention, effectively made that question moot, replacing it with the choice Brody posed in the last episode, between Walden’s life and Carrie’s. The question of what price is too high for Carrie to pay in service to her country is always subordinated to a source who needs to be reeled in, to an interrogation, an explosion, to the story’s need for her brilliance, and her quivering chin.
The thing that drives me nuts about Homeland is that, in the midst of crazed professions of love, and the exploding CIA headquarters, it still can come so close to being something truly extraordinary. The juxtaposition between Walden’s memorial, where Walden praised him by saying “It was Bill Walden who championed the fledgling drone program, which has since degraded al Qaeda to the point of irrelevance,” and Nazir’s burial at sea established a quiet moral equivalence between them. That’s a daring thing to do that almost no other piece of popular culture in America could get away with, but Homeland doesn’t really have much to do with it as long as the show is primarily a thriller.
Similarly, there’s a lovely and melancholic parallelism to seeing Carrie, who began this series as a watcher alone in a room obsessively pursuing a man she hoped to destroy, end this season in the room with that man, who has become her lover, watched by Peter Quinn, who ultimately decides to save her. Carrie and Quinn are profoundly kindred spirits, a man and woman who have distanced themselves from their families, who exercise independent moral judgement to the shock and dismay of their superiors. And when Quinn decides to save Carrie by saving Brody, he speaks of her with something more than professional admiration. ” I have never seen a better intelligence officer. Killing Brody would kill her. So the only reason now to kill Brody is for you,” Quinn tells Estes. “And the collateral would be to wreck a woman you already wrecked once before.”
I want to believe that this was love. But as I head into a winter without Homeland, I’m feeling less a wrenching, unprecedented loss, and more a sense of confusion.