Homeland: “The Vest”
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Homeland: “The Vest”

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Homeland

“The Vest”

Season 1, Episode 11

Let’s start with what I didn’t quite buy about this episode: I don’t really know that the CIA would have missed a long period when Abu Nazir was inactive or that it was perhaps driven by personal tragedy. And if the organization had cottoned on to the latter (as Saul seems to suggest when he agrees with Carrie about the long absence being suspicious), I’m not sure what, exactly, Carrie found that led her to her new conclusion she doesn’t yet know is right. (I am glad this episode lays those “Isa wasn’t really Abu Nazir’s son, and he coordinated the drone strike to turn Brody” theories to rest. A down-to-Earth Abu Nazir is better than a Bond villain.) I love the visual device of the timeline. I love the way that Saul assembles it and then steps back to have a look. I love the way that Carrie is only able to put it together when she’s in one of her manias—knocked into it by the bomb blast and a lack of her pills. But I’m not sure I buy that everybody would have missed this one crucial detail.

Maybe I’m wrong. (I’m sure I’m wrong.) Every time I read about the intelligence failures leading into 9/11, I’m horrified anew at the ways that our intelligence community can miss simple bits of information, even as I realize that if I had been in the same situation, I probably would have missed them, too. It’s really easy to ignore the thing you should be looking for when you’re looking for something else, and it’s really easy to claim people should have noticed the suspicious behavior of the 9/11 terrorists after the fact, when we already know what they did. It’s a different thing entirely to be on the ground, and even when you’re in pursuit of the big picture, it’s easy to get caught up in a sea of details.

Other than that quibble, though, I thought this was quite a solid episode of Homeland, one that got everything nicely on track for the season finale. The scene of the clothing maker assembling the explosive vest Brody will wear to take out the vice president was a nicely chilling prologue to what came. The idea of this bomb builder hanging out in the back of a clothing store in small-town Pennsylvania is such a ridiculous one, yet somehow still plausible—where else would a terrorist bomb builder be hiding himself?—that I kind of loved it. We get a good sense of what Abu Nazir’s plan is, and it’s not so complicated as to beggar belief. (It still involves turning two American POWs against their country, so it’s a little heightened, but there’s nothing here that hurts suspension of disbelief.) I also loved the final twist, which wasn’t based on any new plot revelations, but, rather, on a completely character-based moment, in which something we always knew would happen to Carrie—but probably didn’t expect to happen now—happens.

But what I most like about this episode is that it’s assembling a situation where a whole bunch of people know stuff that could stop the Abu Nazir plot, but it’s highly unlikely that that information will ever come together to stop it in time. Indeed, the only hope anybody has of stopping this thing is Brody turning against Abu Nazir and going to Carrie with what he knows—a distinct possibility, since I assume that the producers want to keep Damian Lewis on the show next year (though I wouldn’t put it past them to kill him). Carrie and Saul know about the timeline, but don’t have the tragedy to stick in the center. Brody knows about the tragedy, but is a part of the plot himself and ultimately loyal to Abu Nazir. Dana knows her dad’s been acting weird and knows he’s got a suspicious package out in the car. Her boyfriend also knows something’s up. There are any number of people who could stop this if they called the right people. But because they’ve been sidelined, or aren’t quite sure what they’re looking at, or are working for the terrorists (ha!), they’re unlikely to. It’s sort of the ultimate object lesson in, “If you see something, say something,” as Dana’s tip about the package is the one loose end here that could bring Abu Nazir’s whole plot down around his ears.

I suspect the problem a lot of people will have with this episode is Claire Danes’ performance, but I have to say that it worked for me. At first, I wasn’t sure about how she was playing Carrie’s mania as all twitching and talking rapidly. I have a natural aversion to those moments when an actor plays a big, showy condition or disease or something, in an attempt to win an award of some sort, usually, and I didn’t see a lot of the Carrie I already knew—the character who already seemed just on the edge of completely falling apart—in her. Yes, she was still the same woman on the outside, but she seemed to be someone completely different on the inside. (And, yes, I know this is how a mental disorder often seems to present itself to the people who most love the person who has it.)

As the episode went on, however, I was impressed with how Danes was able to modulate it, how she was able to play various levels of Carrie’s mania. Here’s Carrie’s mania after being cooped up in a hospital for a week without her pills. Here’s her mania after having medication for a day. Here’s her mania as she tries to pull herself together—as she knows she must—and figure out what lies at the center of Abu Nazir’s plot. It’s a really impressive piece of work from Danes, whom I already thought was award-worthy in the role. I don’t know that it’s my favorite episode for her this season, but I’m glad that the performance ultimately wasn’t a gimmick. It really did tell us a lot about just how much Carrie stands to lose—and ultimately does lose when Brody calls in Estes and he sees her at her worst, with classified documents lining her wall. (I love the little moment where we see just how problematic this is, as her dad comes over and starts squinting at something she’s pinned up.)

For me, the real acting hero in this episode is Damian Lewis, however. He plays a man who knows he’s about to die—and kudos to this episode for skipping over Carrie’s recovery week and having the confidence in us to figure out that Brody’s part in the plot is already unfolding, and we’re going to have to catch up—and he plays all of the angles very well. He tries to explain to his kids why he’s going to do what he’s about to do, even though they don’t realize what he’s doing. He’s finally able to make love to his wife. He takes a family trip to Gettysburg and just stands in the middle of the observation area, looking out at the hill that the schoolteacher from Maine held via unconventional strategy. Lewis has done a fantastic job of making an opaque person, someone we can’t really know by the show’s very design, warm and believable. He may be plotting to blow up the vice president—and who knows how many bystanders—but he’s also an all-American dad. Lewis plays both halves so well that he makes you feel as if they belong in the same person, even when logic would suggest they shouldn’t. In some ways, I suspect this storyline has gotten away with some stuff that just shouldn’t make any sense, solely because Lewis is so good, and this episode is no exception. He’s a man tortured by what he’s about to do, but sure that he—like that Maine schoolteacher—is doing what’s right.

Stray observations:

  • Okay, just how willing do we think Brody is to kill a bunch of bystanders? Killing the vice president? Absolutely. I’ll buy that. But my problem with buying Brody as a “terrorist” is that he seems so singularly goal-oriented, and the vice president is his target here. Then again, his initial anger at the United States is driven by collateral damage, so maybe he doesn’t care.
  • I’m feeling relatively certain Saul’s not the mole, now (which is why he’ll probably end up being the mole, right?), particularly after he goes to all of that work to assemble Carrie’s timeline for her. The scenes where he learns about her condition and realizes what he has to do are really tender and loving. Mandy Patinkin continues to be great at this very subtle performance, which is something I never thought I’d be typing.
  • I loved everything about the Brody family’s trip to Gettysburg, but I especially loved that scene between Brody and the bomb maker, where he talked about how his head would be severed from the body and mostly left intact. What a chilling thought to have! I like when this show puts us in the head of these men who are about to die for a cause—any cause—and I like how we’re slowly getting a sense of how Brody could turn against a land that he obviously loved at one time.
  • The real cliffhanger here: Will Carrie’s dad ever finish that puzzle?
  • Todd’s crazy theory corner: I know that everybody thinks Abu Nazir’s real plan is something he’s trying to distract from by killing the president and vice president, but I wonder if Estes isn’t right. This would be a major psychological blow to the nation—imagine it happening in our world, regardless of your feelings about the current president and vice president!—particularly if it arrived via a Marine war hero and Congressional candidate blowing himself up to accomplish the goal. That’s something of what the scene talking about the head staying intact is getting into, I think. If the ultimate goal of terrorism is to provoke fear and disorder, well, that would do it. 

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