There’s a weight to every single action you take, just as there’s a weight to everything that happens to you. These things add up in an intangible way that only becomes evident to you as you get older. When you’re in high school, the crush who jerked you around or the death of your grandparent might seem like just another rite of passage, but the older you get, the more those things hang around you, get stuck in your mind at odd times, become things you obsess over at 4 in the morning when you can’t sleep. The weight aims always to drag you down into the past, to the things you can’t escape from. It’s the pit you want to crawl out of. It’s the black hole from which you keep searching for your escape velocity. You are marked by your past, but it’s often all any of us can do to keep from being solely defined by the never-ending crush of people we could have been, things we might have done.
If I had to pin down a single thing Homeland is better at than any other thing, it would be depicting “the weight.” When Homeland focuses on Brody’s captivity, or his multiple allegiances, or his absence from his home; or Carrie’s mental illness; or Saul’s marriage falling apart; and how that weighs on them in their day-to-day actions, there are few shows on the air that can touch it for insight into its characters. What made season one so great was that it balanced itself equally between depictions of that weight crushing the characters and crazy thriller elements. When I think about what season two has been missing, particularly in the post-“Q&A” period, I think about how much I miss that weight, that sense that everything is coming to bear and the chickens are coming home to roost. It was present in a few episodes—notably the one that stranded Brody at that rich guy’s estate—but the show felt too tilted toward thriller elements much of the time, and I say that as someone who’s really liked the season, for the most part, and found it an improvement on season one in several ways. Yet that rich insight and that sense of psychological history seems to be missing, and I think that’s what many disgruntled fans of the show have been responding to in recent weeks.
You remember how I said last week that I both loved and hated the episode? That goes doubly here, but in a much more demarcated way. The first half of the episode was the weakest of the season for me, if not the whole series. (I still dislike season one’s eighth episode more than most.) It was marked by lots and lots of silly thriller moments and plenty of goofy plot moments, to the point where I thought everything had to be up from Carrie tripping in what appeared to be a puddle and losing her Abu Nazir smackin’ pipe, then found myself proved wrong again and again. I’ve been willing to go with the “Abu Nazir is alive and well and hiding in an abandoned mill in Virginia” storyline to see where it was all building to, and I can sort of buy the producers’ suggestion that he could have snuck in illegally across the Canadian or Mexican border. But I think now that the story’s over, it’s safe to say that it’s been the weakest element of the season in general, causing too many people to do too many stupid things.
Yet once Abu Nazir dies, it’s like the entire episode gets a jolt of energy, and it abruptly turns into one of the season’s best episodes. Suddenly, the weight of everything these characters have suffered rushes back into the show, and the sense of grief and relief that marked so much of the first season’s best passages returns. These are people who’ve been scarred utterly by these experiences, and even if this really did conclude the story of what happened to them, they would still be marked by it. I posited earlier in my reviews that this season has worked best as a character study of Nicholas Brody, who is pulled in multiple directions by too many masters. Now, two of those masters are dead—one by his hand—but he doesn’t seem relieved at all. He seems utterly at sea. And he’s probably about to die.
But let’s get back to the early portions of the episode, because there was some good stuff, but man alive, was there some dumb stuff, too. The good stuff pretty much boils down to the following: I loved seeing James Urbaniak again, and I thought Estes’ plot to get Saul out of his hair once and for all was really quite ingenious. (When Saul is asked whether he provided the weapon with which Aileen committed suicide, I almost cheered, so heartened by how smart the show was in that moment.) I really liked Roya roping in a tired, out-of-sorts Carrie by telling her a story that will obviously make her think of Brody, then throwing that right back in Carrie’s face. It was the first moment to humanize Roya all season, and that’s something the story had been desperately lacking. I also enjoyed Carrie’s quiet realization in the car, the one that led to the final search of the mill and the ultimate death of Nazir. I like when this show depicts the characters thinking and drawing conclusions, and having Carrie ponder her injured wrists for a bit before making a U-turn was a great example of that. Finally, I liked the way that the episode opened with so many of the characters wondering what the fuck had just happened, because we all spent most of last week asking ourselves the same.
But too much of that first half of the episode was marked by, for lack of a better term, horror-movie logic. Horror-movie logic is what compels Carrie to move away from the guy with the gun in the creepy, abandoned mill, that Nazir might stab him. Horror-movie logic reigns in that scene where Carrie is trying to outsmart Nazir by hiding behind some barrels. There’s no good reason for Carrie to end up in that room with Roya in the first place, while we’re at it, even if I liked the ultimate result. And horror-movie logic is all over the place in just about any other scene having to do with the mill.
Again, like last week, the interpersonal scenes are mostly quite solid. I found Dana’s mini-breakdown compelling, for instance. (And I continue to be baffled by the sheer hatred of her plotlines this season; the girl speaks the truth more often than not.) Yet there were simply too many scenes and sequences where the characters put their own agency on the line in order to keep the plot advancing. There’s an old truism in both psychology and writing fiction that more often than not, people will, like water, follow the path of least resistance, yet these past few episodes have had characters constantly rushing directly at brick walls and expecting to blow right through them. It’s a testament to the acting and the writers’ skills with writing the interpersonal scenes that this hasn’t hurt the show more than it has, and if this was all about figuring out a way to kill off Walden and Nazir, whose characters were severely weighing down the series this season, it’s probably going to be a benefit in the long run. But man, the path to killing both of those men was convoluted and didn’t make much sense, huh?
Yet, as mentioned, once Nazir dies, it’s like a weight is lifted, and the episode goes in for some of the best scenes the show has ever come up with. In particular, I’m thinking of the scene where Brody weeps, then tries to disguise it as tears of joy and relief, after being told Nazir has died—sure, there were joy and relief in there, but there was so much else, too. And I’m also thinking of that long scene in the car where the Brody marriage dissolves amicably and compassionately. In both of those scenes, the full weight of everything that’s happened finally starts to crash down around the characters. Now that he’s out of the constant push-pull machine he’s been trapped in all year, Brody is able to reflect, and what he reflects upon doesn’t leave him in a good place. He’s a man who’s served too many masters, and it’s eaten at his soul. There’s no way for him to move forward without dealing with that, yet there’s no good way for him to deal with that. Whom could he possibly talk to about all of this?
That scene where Brody and Jessica finally end things is a knockout. Where the two have been arguing and yelling all season long, this is all quiet accumulation of business. They won’t really have to tell the kids, because the kids already know. The people they were before he went to Iraq are gone now. (And, crucially, the scene suggests that the two of them were already on this course before he went overseas and this just hastened it.) There’s no way for them to get back what they had, and they still have to give themselves credit for trying as hard as they did. And, beautifully, the scene has him walk right up to telling her about his days as a terrorist, then has her stop him before he can say anything more. It’s not her job to know this stuff anymore. It’s not her job to know the truth. It’s Carrie’s job, she says, without saying it, and Morena Baccarin’s, “You must really love her” is perhaps her best line delivery of the series so far.
Plus, this scene allows the show to continue to divest itself of characters it doesn’t really need anymore. I suppose there’s a way for the show to go forward with the Brody family or with Mike next season, but this also gives it the option of completely writing them out, just as it’s written out Walden and Nazir. The core of the show is always going to be Carrie and Saul trying to stop attacks on the United States, and I’m hopeful the series realizes that there’s plenty about the first two seasons that has been ancillary to that. (Then again, who knows? Maybe the finale will reveal that Jessica was the mastermind all along.) And we’ve still got the open question of whether Brody dies or not, which hangs over the end of the episode. Frankly, I find it hard for him to not die at this point, without the show somehow selling its soul, though I’m willing to be proved wrong on that count. When Quinn watches Brody enter Carrie’s house, his orders from Estes clear, it’s simultaneously hard for me to imagine Brody surviving and hard for me to imagine him dying, simply because the show likes to swerve away from what should be obvious story developments. It all makes me nervous, but killing Brody would be the ultimate indication that this show means business when it comes to moving forward ruthlessly. (It would also probably allow some of those who’ve become disenchanted with the series to forgive it, to some degree.)
At the same time, I’m left with one big question: Does Brody really love Carrie that much? To a degree, he’s made his bed with her, in that she was the one person who could keep his deal alive and now the one person who can keep knowledge of what he did to kill Walden from reaching anyone who might care. And I liked the way that last season they were drawn to each other as twin souls who were psychologically damaged by the war. But I’m not sure I completely buy the part where he puts his hand on her face and says that when it was between her and Walden, the choice wasn’t even close. To me, Carrie loves him unconditionally, and she is willing to play whatever card she has to keep that spinning along. But his love for her has always felt cagier to me, bound up in all sorts of things even he doesn’t understand. Maybe that’s where we’re headed, but that one line is the moment in the back half of the episode that rings false for me.
Still, it almost works because it gets back to the weight. Here’s a man who’s been beaten down and crushed by what seems to be the very forces of destiny and the universe. Here’s a woman who’s spent her whole life trying to outrun a disease she dare not call a disease. In that regard, they’re a perfectly matched set, two people who can settle into a kind of shared damage together, a frequency on which only they can vibrate. It’s all too tempting to write off my misgivings and wish them all the best, and hope that they’re able to find a kind of solace in each other, no matter how improbable. But the weight never leaves for long. Sometimes, it’s sitting right outside with a gun.
Grade for first half: C+
Grade for second half: A
- Goddammit, Danny: You heard her say it, right?! You heard it, right?! I mean, obviously, somebody wanted to let me know I was on the right track. (And if Carrie’s suspicions had been correct, this would have been the saddest “goddammit, Danny” section ever!)
- If this is somehow the last episode for Chris—and I don’t see why he should turn up next week—then he died as he lived: getting rejected for quality time with his dad.
- I entertained for a brief second the thought that Saul would be revealed to be the mole. That would have seriously disappointed me. Instead, he’s just being blackmailed. I also hoped it would be Saul at Carrie’s door late in the episode. No such luck! (Apparently, all of my thoughts on this show revolve around Saul.)
- I have no idea why this is no longer called "The Motherfucker With The Turban," but I demand a refund.
- It was wildly unbelievable that Carrie would somehow end up alone in that room with Roya, but it might have been worth it for Quinn’s reaction when he realized she was in there.
- Having James Urbaniak turn up as Larry was the best early Christmas present ever. Having him only be in the one scene, with the few lines of dialogue, was not as great. Next season must have a full episode of Larry being Larry!
- Make your finale predictions here! I continue to think the season is going to wind its way around to Carrie having to kill Brody, then discovering she’s having his child, but I just don’t know how on earth the show is going to get to that point after this episode (particularly its ending). Possible plot points still floating around out there: Abu Nazir had a real plan that’s only now been set in motion with his death. The mole still exists somewhere. Whatever Dar Adal is up to has yet to be truly revealed. (It has to be more than just, “We’re going to kill Brody once this is over,” right? Right?!)