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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Homeland: "Good Night"

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"Bullshit. Everyone remembers."

I should start out by saying that I've been a stubborn Homeland apologist this season—grudgingly admitting that the season isn't nearly as well put-together as the last two, while also drawn to the show's unconventional storytelling, which by turns cuts corners to make things simpler for the show and then takes risks to make things harder than ever.

I don't even know why I care about this show anymore. Homeland has the upper hand on me, here: It's a show that did such a great job creating characters I could get invested in over the last two seasons that here I am, stuck in the third, unsure of how everything is going, but also totally on the edge of my seat. "Good Night" is a very tense episode of Homeland—not as tense as last season's greatest episodes, but probably the most suspenseful episode of this season. It takes place on a deserted swath of open land between Iran and Iraq, and in a command room in Langley, occupied by a few rows of uncomfortable-looking chairs and several neurotic agents. Most of the action takes place either in that fluorescent-lit room or under the cover of darkness in Iraq.

Here's my general argument about Homeland: All the critiques of this third season are accurate. But the show still manages to be made of stuff that is potent and unique. Even when the plot twists themselves are questionable, the tone of the show stays very true to its characters.

"Good Night" is not the season-redeeming episode I'd hoped for. It returns to the basic, electric appeal of the show, but it can't undo what's already been done for Homeland's third season. Any way you slice it, the first half of this season fell flat. It might have been resonant and nuanced, but the fever-pitch of the show, which made it addictive and powerful, fell apart. Homeland has come close to being that powerful, compelling show again, but it's going to take a lot of work from 60 slim minutes to justify a lackluster five episodes.

But: All that aside, "Good Night" is a great episode on its own. A lot of that is just seeing Brody on screen again—Damian Lewis can sell anything. So much of the strength of Homeland's first season rested on the idea of Brody somehow living, himself, all of the facets of war. Like the war on terror is being waged on his very own body. This is the one theme of the show that has stayed consistent over three seasons—Brody's embodiment of violence, through torture, imprisonment, addiction, and now, rehabilitation.


The problem is that this made a lot more sense back when Homeland was willing to kill Brody. If war is waged on someone's person, and that person is willing to strap on a suicide vest, then it's really strange when—as happens in "Good Night"—somehow that person manages to escape death and destruction even as practically every other person around them is killed, maimed, or wounded. Brody has become a mythical hero for the show—the lead character who can't be killed because he symbolizes something for the audience. And while that's not terrible, that's not Homeland. This didn't start as a show about the hero's journey.

It seems like Homeland hasn't quite figured out how to be a television show. Because the flaws in the show aren't the episode-to-episode construction, or even, really, the plot twists. "Good Night" feels like a serious, gripping action-movie made by an auteur—something like Tony Scott's Spygame or Kathryn Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty. The way this episode is shot does justice to its characters—especially Brody, who is having his moment now. Lewis sells Brody's arc even just in the episode, from terrified to bold to exuberant, all in a matter of minutes. There's more than enough there to read into: the insane smile on Brody's face as he's running over the border; Carrie's look of pride when he tells her he's going despite her orders. Saul and Peter round out the cast as gruff but lovable sidekicks.


And the twist is absolutely cinematic: The hero running into hell, with no hope of success. Brody's late-stage decision to go rogue is definitionally going off the reservation; he and Carrie really are two peas in a pod. But even despite the contrivance of the plot, Brody telling Carrie that she'd get him back if anyone could was really affecting to me personally. It hits the right tone of camaraderie that keeps shows about violence together—it shows the melodramatic but real sensibility of staying alive for each other that soldiers have to live with daily. There's a world of subtext in this episode, and the subtext is gorgeous. In many ways, Homeland is still doing the best work out there on the American narrative of war and security. It's just not a great show right now.

Stray observations:

  • I actually did love the nameless operatives who get Brody to the border—the first, who loses a leg in trying to get Brody to talk about his childhood, and the second, executed without fanfare in an Iranian cell.
  • Everything nuanced aside, I was rather happy that Carrie got a chance to give Lockhart a (tiny) sick burn. "In my field, we call that recruiting."
  • I love Peter Quinn, and I sort of want him and Carrie and Brody run away to a house in North Carolina and live happily ever after, but dude, that conversation where he confronts Carrie about being pregnant is instant soap-opera cliché.
  • I like Fara. And I am also convinced that Carrie and Brody and Saul will destroy her family, just as they've destroyed everything else.
  • Thanks to Todd for letting me drop in tonight. He'll be back next week!