This post discusses plot points through the December 10 episode of Homeland.
Judging from some of the things that I’ve heard you say in comments and on Twitter, a lot of you are frustrated to the point of quitting with Homeland. I’m not sure I’m at that point yet—there are too many good performances, and too many strong emotional moments for me to walk away from yet. But increasingly, it seems like a show that’s sacrificing its best potential to plot mechanics that don’t necessarily even make much sense, to the sense that it needs to be exciting, rather than deeply felt, or tender, or psychologically astute. The name of the show should lend itself to the considerations of inner life, our sense of home and what makes it and the threats that come to it from ourselves as much as from our enemies, all things Homeland did beautifully last season. But instead, it’s turning outward in a way that feels less distinct than the show once did.
There are good moments in this episode, but often, they aren’t enough. Carrie’s suspicions of Galvez, telling Quinn “He is a Muslim,” only to find out that he’s forced himself back into the field too soon, would have been a nice character moment for the show, and a good repudiation of the correlation between Islam and terrorism that the show’s dispelled only fitfully. But we don’t know Galvez at all as a person, only as a functionary of Estes’. He’s barely a character. The mole storyline has been so dormant until this episode that I was choosing to believe that the show had wisely decided to abandon it. Instead, the whole moment is a perfunctory bump on Carrie’s path to finding Nazir still hidden in the plant where he held her captive.
The best sequence, by contrast, was one between characters we’ve come to know well. “I don’t want to fight anymore, even for something. I’m tired of fighting,” Jessica told Brody as they returned from confinement, musing on how well they’d done for so long. “Since we were sixteen, and all we wanted was to be together. We were all okay.” Even if Brody had never been turned, the dissolution of their marriage after his return from war would have been a worthy subject for a television show, and it’s the storyline that Homeland has respected most, trusting its initial elements—Jessica’s relationship with Mike, Brody’s sexual brokenness, his affair with Carrie, Brody’s relationship with Dana—to be genuinely moving without ornamentation.. Brody’s admission that “I tried, too, to deal with everything that happened. But that was beyond me. I was fucked the moment I left for Iraq. We all were,” would have worked in that context, which may be why it carried the weight that it did.
And even though we know that’s not the case, the simplicity of the means by which they admit their marriage was over was beautiful even in their pulp surroundings. Brody seems about to tell the full truth to Jessica when he begins, “The time that Carrie came over here to the house, on the day Elizabeth Gaines was shot and Tom Walker died, Carrie said some crazy things to Dana and to you. She said things about what I was going to do.” And there’s a particular sadness to Jessica stopping him, explaining, “Don’t. Not now. For the longest time all I wanted was for you to tell me the truth. I wanted to know it all. I don’t have to know anymore. I just don’t want to…Carrie knows, right? She knows everything about you. She accepts it. You must love her a lot.” Again, if Brody were only a wounded veteran, it still would have been haunting to hear Jessica admit that she can’t handle knowing the fullness of what her husband suffered and who he became, to surrender him to a woman with a greater capacity to absorb his pain.
In a way, this episode made me realize something about Homeland: the show would be more interesting if it were willing to invest as much in exploring the perspective of someone who hates the United States as it has in exploring Carrie’s zeal to defend it, or Brody’s broken embrace of his family even as he takes pleasure in killing the vice president. That’s a risky thing to do, going truly inside the head of a terrorist without endorsing his or her perspective, though Showtime managed to pull it off to a certain extent in Sleeper Cell, aided by a tremendous performance from Oded Fehr. But Homeland has never really seemed interested in doing that with either Abu Nazir or Roya. That’s lead to both machinery that never really made sense or was explained, like Nazir’s work with Hezbollah. And it’s left psychological blank space in the show, as when Nazir gets Carrie alone and chooses to rail against…argula?
Carrie’s confrontation with Roya in this episode carried the same promise and the same lack of fulfillment. Carrie mentions Roya’s family losing land, but we don’t know any of the details, nor how she came to know and be recruited by Nazir, and the scene never gets there. Instead, Roya rattles Carrie, asking her “Have you ever had someone who takes over your life, pulls you in, gets you to do things you would normally never do?…Do you have anyone like that?” knowing full well, of course, that she does, and his name is Nicholas Brody. When Carrie admits that she’s been so influenced, Roya turns the tables on her. “Well. I’ve never been that stupid,” Roya tells her, declaring her independence of choice. “You idiot whore. You think you understand me or what my family have lost and suffered? You think is just some fucking game?” When she switches into Arabic, the only thing we learn about what she’s saying is a clue that makes Carrie realize that Abu Nazir is still in hiding, the show sacrificing a chance at psychological insight for plot mechanics. Carrie may think that she fucked up the interrogation. But Homeland botched the sequence, too, choosing story over its characters.