The reason Carrie Mathison is my favorite new character of this TV season is pretty simple: She throws herself into things with reckless abandon, and she pretty much expects that if she keeps hurling herself at a wall, it’s going to give way. Take, for instance, the scene where Brody is coming over to see her. We in the audience know that he’s almost certainly coming over to tell her not to say anything about their relationship. But she doesn’t know that. She thinks this might be a chance to rekindle something pretty great. So she puts on the little black dress. She pours the wine. She turns on the Miles Davis. She makes herself look fantastic. Then he tells her what he has to tell her, and you can see in her eyes—in Claire Danes’ eyes, technically, but who’s counting—that all of her dreams are crumbling somewhere, but she’s not going to let it through so he can see it, even though he’s obviously aware that she had a very different idea for the evening than he did. He leaves. She dumps the wine in the sink and tosses the bottle out angrily. And then she turns into the wrecking ball again, ready to solve problems however necessary.
Though I had some small problems with “Representative Brody”—the “Brody needs to run for Congress because that’s part of Abu Nazir’s long-term plan for some reason” plot continues to bug for reasons I’ll get into in a minute—I thought it was a fantastic episode for Carrie, and I liked it very much on that level. There are at least three great Carrie scenes, where you see her use her intelligence and stubbornness to figure a way out of the corners she backs herself into, and the one with Brody shows that she’s just as bullheaded in her personal life as she is professionally. The same thing that causes her to be so destroyed by the meeting with Brody is the thing that lets her get through to the Saudi diplomat even when it seems like he’s not going to cooperate with her and Saul. One of the things the show has done quite skillfully is portray just why Carrie and Brody make such unexpectedly good partners: Whenever either one comes up against a problem that seems unmovable, he or she finds a way around it.
That makes them easy to root for, even if in the case of Brody, we’re rooting for him to do something nefarious (even if we don’t know what it is yet). Characters who refuse to take “no” for an answer are always more interesting than those who crumple up and let the world beat them up, and Homeland has the best collection of strong-willed people this side of Breaking Bad. Not a one of these people is content to just sit back and let things happen. Even if they’re being ordered by other people to do stuff—as Virgil usually is—they’re going about these things in their own way. They’re all characters with agency, characters who have agendas, and while that sounds like it should be TV Drama 101, it’s surprising how often that isn’t the case at all.
Look, again, at that scene between Carrie and the diplomat. (Saul’s present for this scene, but he mostly hangs out at its edges.) It’s one thing if Carrie comes in and uses the diplomat’s debts and his sexuality against him. That’s, essentially, what we expect. It’s still a pretty interesting scene, because it indicates that not everybody in Abu Nazir’s organization is a diehard. There are also people like this guy, people who just need to pay off their debts and are willing to do small things for a terrorist killer because he keeps their bills paid. Portraying a diplomat who’s conflicted about the role he’s playing in Abu Nazir’s plot—because he loves the West and what it’s given him so much—is already a more interesting take on the whole matter than a simple black-and-white kind of morality you might get in other versions of this tale. But then comes the twist: He doesn’t care that Carrie and Saul know he’s gay. Go ahead. Tell the world he likes to suck cock, he says. His wives know. Most people he’s close to know. He’s got diplomatic immunity. What does he care?
The turn in the scene comes when Carrie threatens his daughter. But she doesn’t threaten said daughter physically; she threatens her existentially. She’ll be shipped back to Saudi Arabia. She’ll have no choice but to put on a burka and get fat and crank out a bunch of kids. She’ll become everything her father hoped she wouldn’t by coming to the West. It’s roughly the equivalent of a scene back on 24 when Jack Bauer would show a suspect his family on a video link and then pretend to kill them (something that actually happened on that show), but this is somehow far more chilling, even though nothing happens here that’s technically unethical or illegal. Saul tells Carrie that the way to build a bridge with someone who’s helping terrorists is to find what’s human in them, but Carrie finds that weak point and ruthlessly exploits it. And for her troubles, the diplomat ends up dead.
The scene at the fountain in Farragut Park is another of the episode’s great ones, even as it ties into my increasing reticence about the Abu Nazir side of things. It’s tense in all of the ways it needs to be, and it reminds me of a similar scene in the season finale of Rubicon—perhaps because this episode, like that one, was written by Henry Bromell. But where that scene messed up the tension, this one just keeps building it. Key to this is the fact that Carrie and the audience realize what’s going on when it’s too late to stop anything but well before anything actually happens. So we have to watch with her as the homeless man carrying the bomb walks forward and forward… and the bomb detonates. This must go on for at least five seconds, and it’s a great example of using the audience’s knowledge to build a kind of agonizing suspense that just doesn’t let up. Carrie ends up in a hospital bed. The diplomat’s dead. Nobody’s any closer to catching Tom Walker.
Which gets to what I didn’t like about the episode—and increasingly about the series. Because Abu Nazir’s an offscreen presence, for the most part, we don’t have any idea if he’s improvising his way through a series of problems or if he’s some sort of terrorist genius mastermind. Homeland has been so down to Earth in most regards that I don’t want to see the show end up with a bad guy who controls people within the U.S. government and has incredibly elaborate plans that run decades in advance. It’s notable that this could all be cleared up in a second—likely in the season finale—if we just got a sense of what Abu Nazir’s up to, but at this point, he’s starting to feel like Ben Linus or something, and that’s not really a character type Homeland can sustain. Homeland works best when it’s both pulpy and small/realistic. Abu Nazir pushes a little too heavily toward straight-up pulp.
All of which is to say that Brody’s whole “running for Congress” thing still feels a little silly to me. I like the individual scenes in it, but if I stop and think about it too hard, something about it doesn’t quite work. (Part of this may be my long-standing bugaboo with shows that refuse to name the political parties involved. The vice president’s desperation to recruit Brody makes more sense if he, Dick Johnson, and Brody are all in the same party, and the V.P. sees a high-profile candidate like Brody as the only hope at retaining the seat.) Jessica’s turnaround in this episode, in particular, seemed a touch abrupt, even if I liked the way it played around with the complicated relationship among Jessica and her two lovers. I also liked the way Brody found a way to exploit Jessica’s weakness by going to Mike and getting him to convince her to let him run. And yet there’s something here that still feels a little silly. I’m still waiting for the pull-back that will reveal just where this all fits into Abu Nazir’s plan. Until then, I can only be cautiously optimistic.
- I liked when the Miles Davis song took over the soundtrack and we just got to watch Carrie and Saul both stewing in their own regrets. That was the type of character moment that this show does really well.
- It was so damn great to see Virgil again. It’s been a while since he’s been around, hasn’t it?
- Speaking of plot threads that kind of went away: Will we be seeing the Prince’s right-hand man again, the one who smuggled the diamonds?
- Brody’s so understanding of Mike and Jessica’s love when he’s pursuing his terrorist goals!
- Todd’s crazy theory corner: The vice president is in on it! How? I don’t know!