Homeland is a tricky show. More often than not, it figures out a way to thread the needle so you can read it either as the story of a rogue CIA agent who knows something massive is coming and also knows it must be stopped (a fairly traditional narrative for this genre) or as the story of a woman who’s slowly losing her grip on reality and is dragging everybody down with her. As much as people discuss Brody when talking about this show and tend to see it as a study of his character under the microscope—both from the other characters and from us—I really prefer to read the series as a character study of Carrie, a woman so single-minded that she’s essentially unable to relate to anyone but Brody, even as she’s pretty sure he’s trying to bring down the country. And while I’d say this episode suggests more and more that Brody is, indeed, a terrorist, I also wonder just how much projection is going on there.
Let’s start with the razor blade, however. Much as I think it would be fascinating to have Brody not be a terrorist—and let’s remember that he hasn’t actually committed an act of terrorism yet, even if he’s flipped, though if he has, he’s a traitor and would be imprisoned—I don’t really see a way the show writes itself out of the suicide of the informant (called Affy, apparently, and that’s how I’m going to spell it; apologies if that’s wrong) without making Brody the one who smuggled the razor blade to him. At some point, there has to be something to Carrie’s accusations if she’s going to be a protagonist worthy of our following her, and as damaged and fucked up as she is, it’s hard to imagine the show agreeing with the prevailing theory that Affy slipped the razor blade fragment in in his shoe. (After all, it was small enough to escape detection.) It’s much easier to buy Brody bringing him the razor blade, at least dramatically speaking.
“Blind Spot” reminded me, in a lot of ways, of that great midsection of the one and only season of Rubicon, where the show was getting down in the muck about how the U.S. intelligence community does business and really developing the characters via mostly procedural means. Sure, there was an overarching story of an impending terrorist attack on the U.S.—and the conglomerate of businessmen who may or may not have been behind it—but for the most part, the show turned into a “spy story of the week” show, with the characters getting involved in interrogations or heading off to a black site to witness what happened there or taking lie detector tests. What makes “Blind Spot” so compelling (and so much like Rubicon) is the way that it focuses very clearly on the interrogation of Affy and all that goes with it. It’s basically a character piece about four different people whose lives collide in that small room, Saul, Affy, Brody, and Carrie.
This is by far the most time we’ve gotten with Saul, who’s been a compelling figure before this point but hasn’t come under the microscope quite like this. The Affy interrogation coincides, unfortunately, with the return of Mira, the woman who’s either his wife or girlfriend. She’s been in India with her parents for a month, and he’s been dearly missing her. But now that she’s back, the CIA needs all hands on deck, and he has to leave her for the time being. Carrie tries to clear out his schedule as much as possible, but we can tell from the look on Mira’s face just how often things like this happen. His job—just by the very nature of it—will always take precedence, even if he doesn’t want it to. So after Saul spends the episode very ably interrogating Affy and deflecting Carrie’s attempts to raise her suspicions about Brody, he’s perhaps hoping for a little quiet time with his lady friend. Which Mira ruins by breaking up with him so that she can go back to India and run her parents’ Mumbai slums program.
It’s a devastating scene—as both actors let you know the full weight of regret they have that this didn’t work out, that the last thing either wants to do is head back out on the dating scene in late middle age. But there it is. Mira needs more, and Saul can’t give it to her so long as he holds this job. And the job is always going to be bigger than any one person. And then Carrie’s at the door, and the series has what might be its best scene yet. She wants to show Saul that Estes let Brody into the room with Affy, that Brody might have been the one to slip him the razor blade and eliminate a potentially valuable intelligence asset. She also wants to take her suspicions up the chain, even as Saul—who’s obviously starting to side with her on this—tells her she’s got nothing. She calls him a pussy. He asks her to leave.
Obviously, a big reason this works is because we, again, know something Carrie doesn’t: Saul and Mira have just broken up. This is not the time for her to be pushing him on these matters. But Carrie’s greatest strength and her greatest weakness is that she’s not someone who knows when to stop pushing. Indeed, it’s pretty much all she has. She’s a relentless force of forward momentum, and while that gets results, it also tends to shred people up in her wake. And so she breaks with Saul—kind, grandfatherly, papa bear Saul—and while the narrative pretty much dictated she had to at some point, I don’t know that anyone would have thought it would come this soon. (Though I think the opening credits for this show are sort of goofy, I do like the way they position Carrie as someone influenced by jazz trumpeters, suggesting the show is just as loose and improvisational. It’ll hit all the notes we know it will, but it’ll do so in orders we’re not expecting.)
The centerpiece of the episode, then, is the interrogation of Affy, a grueling affair that involves letting him suspect the CIA knows far more than he would have thought, threatening his family (which is already safe), asking him to write down the names and addresses of his colleagues with a purple crayon, then subjecting him to constant flashes of bright light and loud music. It’s not torture—not like Brody was tortured—but nobody’s going to sit there and say, “Hey, what a great way to treat a human being!” And the show puts us right in there with Affy, letting us see just how tormented he is by all of this, even as the camera cuts to Brody shaving or Carrie watching or other things. These sequences use a lack of dialogue so well, letting us wonder just what’s going through these people’s heads. (And it’s only now that I’m putting together that Brody goes in to see Estes about getting to look Affy in the eye after shaving—with a razor. Hmmmm…)
But the heart of all of this isn’t Affy, per se, or even Saul. It’s watching Brody and watching Carrie watch Brody, trying to see just what’s going on at the heart of both characters. Carrie, who’s just gotten done pilfering pills from her sister and bantering with her dad (the great James Rebhorn, who will surely be coming back soon), has her certainty, but she also doesn’t have any evidence. She just has her belief that when Brody stops breathing when Abu Nasir is mentioned, it has to mean something. And maybe it does. Maybe it’s the key she needs to assure herself that what she thinks is right, that she’s on the right track. But she’s also in a situation where everything she sees will only reinforce what she already believes. The reason Carrie’s able to recognize something in Brody that nobody else does is fairly simple, to my mind: She sees in him a fellow true believer, able to look past facts and evidence and just get down to the core. And true believers, the show doesn’t have to remind you, are dangerous.
- It’s always fun to watch a show like this come into its own. As much as I enjoy writing about shows that are trying to find themselves, it’s a relief to watch a show that is just so certain of itself and what it wants to be. In fact, I’m going to say it: Homeland’s not just the best new show of the season; it’s the best show currently airing on TV. It’s a shoo-in for my top 10 list, and I’m glad it got a second season, so hopefully more people will check in on it.
- The e-mail address Affy gives Saul and Carrie bounces to Faisel’s e-mail account at the university. (The computer guy is almost as much fun as Virgil, incidentally.) Virgil takes the occasion to get the address for Faisel’s secret house, but by the time everybody goes there, it’s already clear. Somebody’s tipped Faisel and his wife—who’s named Aileen, apparently—off.
- The title refers to Carrie’s theory that Brody’s exploiting another “blind spot,” a spot where the cameras wouldn’t be able to pick up on him passing something to Affy. And while that’s an interesting theory, I’m not entirely certain that Brody would have the know-how to do that. Maybe? He’s still such a cipher that it’s hard to know just how smart he is about this stuff. I don’t doubt he could figure it out, but if he really does carry out his plan, that’s a remarkably sophisticated piece of work to put in motion.
- A fellow critic passes on a theory from a friend: Saul himself is a terrorist. I sincerely hope the show doesn’t go down this route, as it would be cliché, but I thought I’d pass it along for all of you to argue about.
- Very nice montage of Saul saying the quiet prayer for the dead Affy in Arabic, as the camera cut between all of the characters. (Update: As several of you have pointed out, Saul is actually saying the Kaddish. Thanks for the clarification.)
- It sure seems like Carrie quits her job—she tells her sister she did, at least—but without a scene where she actually did it, I’m sure some will think she’s just taking a leave of absence. Still, nice way to reduce her to a shell at the end of the episode.
- The week in the Brody family: Kid Brody’s getting his karate blue belt. Brody promises to attend, but his need to see Affy one last time and look him in the eyes is so great that he forgets all about it. Good thing Mike is there!