Homeland: “State Of Independence”
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Homeland: “State Of Independence”

“State Of Independence” is a weird, bifurcated episode that I respect more than I love. That’s not really true, actually, as I love the Carrie stuff while finding the Brody stuff a little inexplicable. Having talked with some colleagues about this episode, I suspect this will be a minority opinion. But while I respect the choice to play out the Brody half of the story as a darkly comic nightmare that just keeps getting worse and worse, it was the first time this season pinged my radar in terms of the show seemingly pushing the characters in directions it needed them to go to keep the story rolling along. Some of you have been having suspension of disbelief problems with Brody’s storyline this season, and while I can understand where you’re coming from, it hasn’t bothered me until now. In general, if a plot point doesn’t bother me while watching the episode, I don’t get too upset about it when I realize the plot hole later on. Execution counts for a lot.

So maybe that’s what’s weird about the Brody storyline to me. The direction of this episode—by Lodge Kerrigan, who directed Keane, the film that got Damian Lewis his job on this series, albeit indirectly—is largely terrific, but the hyper-personalization Kerrigan brings to both storylines cuts against what the Brody storyline is trying to do while heightening the intense desperation of Carrie’s storyline. Kerrigan is a director who loves close-ups of people just thinking about something and then cutting back to reveal them existing within whatever environment they’re in at the moment, be that Carrie essentially infiltrating the CIA or Brody standing alone in the woods, looking for the man who’s on the run from him. I suspect the reason this approach works so well for Carrie while feeling a little forced in the case of Brody is because her situation is a largely internal one—will I find myself accepted by my former colleagues again?—while his is a largely external one—can I find this guy who’s running away from me?—and Kerrigan’s style is better at heightening inner conflict than outer conflict.

That said, the script doesn’t really do him many favors. On the surface, the actions of the tailor largely make sense. His paranoia over the congressman who knows the tailor is the only guy who can tie the congressman to a terrorist plot works, but it also feels as if it develops too suddenly. The guy goes from having several questions about just what Brody’s doing—quite logically—to the camera panning up to his face while he’s holding a tire iron, a menacing drone building on the soundtrack. The episode goes from the tailor wondering why he’s being taken into hiding to apparently threatening Brody, then it goes to that well again and again and again. Perhaps it’s because the show leans too heavily on the menacing music when it could be building tension solely through the camerawork, allowing the audience to draw its own conclusions. But by the time the tailor is picking up a rock with which he will apparently brain Brody, almost all of the tension has leaked out of the scene, because we know he won’t kill Brody. Brody could die at any point, I would guess, but it will come at the hands of someone more important to the overall story than this dude.

Again, I like the choice to play up some of the dark comedy of this story, so maybe that’s what’s going on here: We’re meant to find the tailor’s situation sort of bleakly funny in a way, particularly when it comes to Brody’s attempts to corral it. And, indeed, by the time the tailor has escaped into the woods and Brody just happens to spot him doing so from his car, it’s hard not to laugh just a little at the situation he’s gotten himself into—intentionally, I suspect. But the chase into the woods is similarly goofy, particularly when the tailor falls on his own knife, before it finally takes a turn for the deeply grim, as Brody attempts to keep the tailor alive, then finally realizes he’ll just have to kill the dude, bury him in a muddy grave, and wash himself off in a car wash (which you’d think someone would notice, but whatever). It’s a grim place to leave the storyline, and it’s supposed to feel inevitable, as if this were always coming. But at all times, I can feel the hands of the writers too firmly tugging at the characters’ strings.

In particular, I feel this when Jessica asks Brody how many lies he can tell her at episode’s end. I get what the episode is trying to do here. By telling one story about a very long, very bad day in the lives of its two protagonists, it’s trying to contrast where they start out their days—Carrie with hope, Brody with some semblance of his life coming together—with where they end up—Carrie nearly killing herself, Brody letting his wife down. And by opening up with Brody and Jessica almost having sex, only to get interrupted by Dana and Xander (who appears to be a bargain-bin Seth Rogen knock-off), then closing the episode with Jessica briefly rebonding with Mike before reading Brody the riot act. It’s a neat structure, but it ends up feeling schematic. I’m always aware just what the writers are trying to do here, and that awareness takes away the immediacy. The Brody marriage has gotten so little focus this season that it feels forced to shove all of this onto it right here. Certainly Jessica’s become increasingly aware of her husband’s double-talk and strangeness, but this story needed more room to breathe to be as effective as it wants to be.

Compare all of this to Carrie’s long descent into desperation before being saved at the end by Saul showing her she was right. (Claire Danes plays this with a certain religious fervor, and it makes the moment that much more moving.) All of this grows so organically out of Carrie’s preestablished mental illness that the only question it raises in my mind is if it would really be that easy to navigate CIA headquarters if you didn’t work there, but Carrie’s so good at this (and knows the territory so well) that I accept even if I couldn’t do it, she probably could.

The best thing about this storyline is the way it progresses naturally from one scene to the next, where the Brody storyline seems to jump a bit, as if watching a time-lapse film of something that should have taken longer. Carrie starts the day by staying up late to finish her briefing for the CIA, despite her father’s warnings that she needs a good sleep. Then she passes the document along to Danny, who feeds her some inside information about what’s going on at headquarters, causing her to feel just a touch closer to her old life. But then the spiral begins. Danny never gets in touch with her about what’s happening, and when she goes to headquarters, Estes gives her the brush-off, and she can tell he is, even if he’s giving her compliments as well. She tells her father she’s moving back into her own place. Then, in a riveting, lengthy, wordless sequence, she gets ready for a night out, then swallows every bit of medication she can find in her apartment and settles in to slowly die. A few moments pass before she vaults out of the bed and throws up everything in her stomach into the toilet. It’s one of the best sequences in the series’ history, and it’s so perfectly attuned to what Kerrigan is doing that it becomes like its own mini-highlight reel of the way this show can blend larger conflicts in the world of spies with these deeply personal, internal conflicts.

Like when Brody is being menaced by the tailor, we’re well aware that Carrie’s not going to kill herself. But here, the tension isn’t from what will happen to her but how she’s going to pull out of this spiral, how she’s going to find her way out of the “depressive” side of the manic-depressive equation. And the answer, of course, is that she’s not going to. This condition will always be with her, and it’s always going to keep her at arm’s length from her old life. Even if she’s accepted back into “the company,” even when she’s proved right about Brody at episode’s end, she’s held back from others by this wall. The show is so good at following her into this pit of despair that it almost feels superfluous when it cuts back to Brody digging that grave in the rain. Carrie’s been shattered by this day, and one video might be enough to make her feel briefly better, but who knows if it will be enough to put all of the pieces back together.

One of the best choices the episode makes is to put Saul on a plane for its entirety. Because we saw him find the video at the end of the last episode, we spend the whole hour waiting for him to land and drop the bombshell he’s holding. I like the sequence where the show lets you briefly worry that it will fall into the old TV trap of the incriminating evidence getting taken from those it would help most, then reveals that, no, Saul was smart enough to hide that data chip (or whatever the hell it is) somewhere else. It’s a nice reminder that, yes, these people are smart, and, no, you don’t have to start worrying that you’re watching a more typical action drama just yet. Then Saul sits out the rest of the episode, which ends up being the right choice. It heightens the anxiety and tension of both the Carrie and Brody storylines to know he’s out there with a bit of evidence that’s going to break the show wide open. The show can’t have episodes end with characters watching the Brody tape forever, but it works here because it’s the moment of clarity Carrie needed to keep pressing forward. Last week, it was a shock. This week, it’s a life raft.

If one of the main four is out-of-commission, then the C-plot falls to Jessica, who’s setting up the fundraiser and slowly watches the whole thing spiral out of control as Brody doesn’t show up. His excuses—a flat tire!—sound lamer and lamer, and it seems as if he’s completely bailed on her and left her to pick up the pieces. (What’s amusing is that if she knew what he was really doing, she’d be even more upset.) One of the things that’s working best about this season is the show using the tension of our knowledge about Brody to mess with both his political career and Jessica’s apparent and easy greatness at being a politician’s wife. Once Brody is torn down, it’s going to take down Jessica, too, and it’s no mistake that this episode contains her greatest moment of triumph—that speech about how returning veterans’ families need help from the government, too—with Brody’s new nadir, a nadir he doesn’t even know is the lowest he can go.

All of this returns us to the fact that this is an episode I respect more than love, outside of the Carrie stuff. It’s very elegantly constructed, but as with any script where things are so evidently built, it’s full of moments where the characters seem constrained by the walls the script that they’re in keeps putting up for them. It’s sometimes fun to create a situation where everybody seems trapped, and “State Of Independence” does a solid job of this more often than not, but it also keep pulling its characters around and making them behave in certain ways. I know for some of you the idea of Brody sending a text message from inside a Pentagon war room was a deal breaker to truly enjoy last week’s episode. Consider that, then, when I explain that watching that tailor pick up a rock and appear to menace Brody with it was that for me. Eventually, you have to roll your eyes, and say, “Oh, come on.”

Stray observations:

  • I know the timeline of this show makes no sense, particularly if you try to incorporate the presidency of Barack Obama into things, but I think you can make it make sense if you just assume Obama has never been president (as I don’t think he’s been mentioned within the show’s reality). The way you assume this is like this: The point of divergence for Homeland’s reality from our reality is the 2004 election, during which George W. Bush wasn’t reelected, and he was replaced, instead, by some hawkish Democrat, who stepped up drone warfare (under the guidance of his vice president, for some reason) and Middle East operations but otherwise behaved essentially like the second term of Bush and the first term of Obama. It’s a little clumsy, but I think it mostly works, and I’m going to assume that’s what the show’s reality is. In fact, let’s just assume the Homeland president is John Edwards, who picked his vice president to shore up his military credentials.
  • A new feature that I’m going to call Goddammit, Danny, is for every time Danny lets secretive intelligence slip to people he probably shouldn’t. This week, it’s Carrie, whom he fills in on what’s going on at CIA headquarters. This is understandable, thanks to her previous career there, but still. Goddammit, Danny!
  • Despite being in the opening credits now, Virgil continues to not appear. Here’s hoping he pops up next week, complete with van.
  • I don’t know precisely where Brody lives, but the “jaunt” from northern Virginia to Gettysburg, no matter how early he begins, seems like it’s something that should take him so long he’d have to miss the fundraiser anyway. Am I wrong about this?
  • Do you think Abu Nazir intends to eliminate the tailor once he gets to the safe house? I sort of feel that’s the case.
  • That long, wordless look between Dana and Brody at the end of the episode almost saves the whole storyline for me. But it doesn’t quite manage to do so.
  • I want a spinoff about Xander. Just hangin’ out. Smokin’ pot. Workin’ at the Best Buy (or whatever big box store he works at). Battlin’ terrorists.

 

 

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