'Homeland' Recap: Dark Shadows

Shocking ending reveals the terrible truth: the show is losing the battle of smart vs. silly

homeland
Kent Smith/SHOWTIME
Zuleikha Robinson as Roya Hammad and Damian Lewis as Nicholas 'Nick' Brody in 'Homeland'
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Episodes of Homeland shoot themselves in the foot with their final scenes so regularly you could set your watch to them by now. Even so, I've got to hand it to them: The end of this episode was sillier than I ever saw coming.

Sure, by the time you realize that Roya is dragging Nick to the middle of nowhere for a double secret meet-up, and factor in all that "something important's gonna happen soon!" handheld-camera jiggling in this ep, you could predict that final reveal with Nate Silver-level accuracy. But before that jaunt into the countryside, I have to admit that "Mr. Nazir Goes to Washington" was so goofy it wasn't even on my fucking radar.

The episode-ending reveal of the suddenly Stateside Nazir – emerging from the shadows to purr "Nee-ko-lass" at Brody like a terrorist Bela Lugosi – was the purest supervillain cheese no matter how you slice it. As filmmaking it was literally laughable: If you were to keep the staging, lighting and scoring the same and simply replace everyone involved with attractive twentysomethings playing attractive teenagers and/or attractive undead bloodsuckers, you'd have the final scene of about a dozen episodes of The Vampire Diaries. In TVD's defense, however, not even arch-vampire Klaus has a clandestine helicopter landing spot outside Mystic Falls. How did Hezbollah Airlines pull that one off, anyway?

And as a part of the cloak-and-dagger terrorism and espionage framework on which the show is based, it's equally ridiculous. What is the tactical advantage of the world's most wanted terrorist actually traveling to the world's most heavily surveilled city to facilitate an attack? What could possibly be worth that risk? Has anything like this ever happened in the history of terrorism? I presume he's going to reveal his presence in some kind of spectacular way – AMERICA, I AM IN YOU! HI HATERS! – the propaganda impact of which will cripple the country's confidence in its ability to protect itself. You know, kinda like that time in the Captain America comic book where the secretary of defense ripped off his facemask to reveal he was the Red Skull all along. Jesus Christ Marie, what kind of show is this?

If I'm sounding like a broken record, so is the show, which is starting to bake more and more of its writing's weakest ingredients into the mix on a regular basis. We get the bog-standard "CIA Character X says they should do one thing, CIA Character Y says no, CIA Character X insists, CIA Characters X and Y silently stand there for 10 seconds glowering, CIA Character Y reluctantly relents" set-up not once but twice between Peter and Saul alone. Like something out of that funny but weirdly personal and mean-spirited SNL parody, we get Peter and Saul permitting Carrie to tail Brody if she promises to "stay the fuck back," even though it's screamingly obvious she has no intention to stay the fuck back, that indeed she wants to go along for the express purpose of not staying the fuck back – otherwise what would be the point of her of all people going along in the first place. On a related note, we get Virgil and Max dumbly acquiescing to every direct-order defiance Carrie pulls, with no consequences to them; they might as well be highly trained service dogs for all the agency they show. We get one-dimensional Mata Hari cliché Roya spouting Styrofoam-packing-peanut genre dialogue like "quitting is not an option" in lieu of anything that would make her into an actual character rather than a B-movie plot device. And we get yet another are-you-kidding-me Carrie/Brody tryst, although this week I only groaned at it instead of laughing at it, which is a step in the right direction, I guess.

The frustrating thing about mid-Season-Two Homeland is that it isn't all like this. For instance, despite its shoddy initial deployment, Dana's hit-and-run incident has been paying dramatic dividends, most notably this week in that remarkable bottom-drops-out moment when she realizes the daughter of the woman Finn ran over has been paid off. Watching her confusion give way to awful certainty as she realizes that some of the highest forces in the land have aligned for the express purpose of preventing her from doing the right thing was gut-wrenching, even frightening. It's a fine, icky little parable about corruption and the relative value of human lives, a micro version of the macro stuff in which the show otherwise traffics.

It also feeds into the parallel storyline of Brody's increasingly rapid dissolution, which wouldn't have happened without the hit-and-run, and Dana's subsequent plight, speeding it along. This yielded some of Damian Lewis's best work: That tortured shout of "I CAN'T, I CAN'T, I CAN'T!" may well become his signature line from the series, and nobody on TV right now does "completely emotionally spent" better than he does.

Even that Carrie/Brody hook-up wasn't all dopey. Yes, their inability to keep their respective its in their respective pants is as tough to believe as Carrie's ludicrously ham-handed spiel that catching Nazir will enable them to live happily ever after. But A., the cut to poor exasperated Saul, who can't believe his ears any more than we can, was absolutely priceless; B., Carrie's ability to allow herself a few seconds' embarrassment over her peers' listening in, then shrug it off and move on, marks a refreshing refusal to be slut-shamed; and C., in the words of Tenacious D, we should talk about the hard fucking, though.

Whatever else it was, that sex scene was hot – an exceedingly rare-on-TV example of two people who truly do care for each other eschewing the soft-focus romance and going to fucking town on each other. It happens! Just like Mad Men, Homeland could give sexylessons to shows that outrank it nudity-wise by an order of magnitude, or that save the real zesty humping for strictly transactional no-strings hook-ups. (Game of Thrones, I'm looking in your direction . . . ) Nudity's nice, but desire's where the rubber hits the road, so to speak. You'd think a show that could handle an emotionally fraught matter like this with such sophistication and intelligence could also come up with a plot that doesn't involve asking themselves "What would Cobra Commander do?"

Last Episode: Kiss and Tell