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'Homeland' Recap: Heart of Darkness

The show embraces its inner B movie in the pulpiest episode yet

Damian Lewis as Nicholas 'Nick' Brody in 'Homeland.'
Kent Smith/SHOWTIME
December 3, 2012 9:45 AM ET

Maybe it's time to give up on the Homeland that was and enjoy the Homeland that is. If the show is this determined to abandon its roots as a character study that examines the shifting allegiances and fractured identities of people broken by the paranoid pressure-cooker environment of the war on terror, and become a potboiler in which crazed kidnappers make demands with guns to people's heads over Skype in between blithely revealing their plans and trading "we're not so different, you and I" speeches with their prisoners, who am I to stop them? It's a free country, more or less. If Homeland wants to be a B movie with astonishing performances incongruously airdropped in the middle, fuck it, time to stand at the drop zone and wave to Abu Nazir's helicopter as it flies by.

'Homeland' Cheat Sheet: What You Need to Know for Season Two

Let's start with Nazir, or as I like to call him after getting a good long look at the guy in this episode (with the groan-worthy title "Broken Hearts"), the Pakistani Christopher Meloni. In a soapy storyline once again torn from the pages, or whatever, of the last few weeks of The Young and the Restless, a videophone-wielding bad guy kidnaps the love interest of a former, repentant partner in crime to force him into compliance. This entire segment of the show is a top-to-bottom failure. Let's put aside, for a moment, the odds of whether the world's most wanted terrorist could get away with t-boning and abducting a female CIA operative in broad daylight in the middle of the Washington D.C. area, which can charitably be described as "long."

The impact (no pun intended I swear) of the hit-and-run car crash that kicks off the scheme is diluted, of course, since this is the second time this season that the show has gone to the "out of nowhere car crash omg" well. The location where he holds her captive is hilariously cheesy, one of those big factory/warehouse things you only see in bad movies where the only product being manufactured and stored appears to be big giant pipes and slowly rotating backlit fans – I half expected Big McLargehuge to ride by in his space-age golf cart. The dialogue Nazir is given alternates between genre-villian cliché ("Did you think this would be easy?"), subtext clumsily dragged out and exposed to the unflattering light of text ("Who's the terrorist?") and a Westerner's masochistic fantasy version of Islamist ideology ("We will exterminate you."). SMH.

As the kidnapped Carrie, Claire Danes is never better than when she's fucked-up and distraught, so she aces the sequence. Navid Negahban brings a smiling menace to the silliness he's made to perform as Nazir, too. But there's only so far you can take a sinking ship. Even the previously unsinkable Damian Lewis as Brody – so fine elsewhere in the episode, his ability to lie and charm his way into and out of anything at a moment's notice reaching near screwball-comedy levels of manic intensity – is sunk by this storyline; there's really only so many times you can beg and plead and bark into a smartphone screen you're holding with both hands inches away from your face before it starts to look and sound hella goofy.

All this in service of what? A Boing Boing-style science-fact assassination in which the vice president is murdered by al Qaeda hacking into his pacemaker. C'mon, man. For starters, it's getting tough to swallow the idea that Nazir has assassination plots prepared one after the other like Russian nesting dolls, a new one ready to roll every time Brody inevitably ruins the last one. It also makes no sense given everything we know about Nazir, who's the embodiment of the real-world al Qaeda's penchant for spectacular public attacks. And instead of using Brody's final face-off with his frenemy Walden for genuine, heartrending catharsis over the death of Issa and all the other children whose murder the man ordered, or for coming to terms with the unhealable wounds and unshakeable violence inside Brody himself, all it gets us in the end is a cornball addition to the "you just don't get it, do you?" supercut.

 With Walden out of the picture, it looks like Dar Adal, Quinn's secret boss and an apparent old associate of Saul's, will be the new avatar of the Dark Side on Team America. The notion of an off-the-books black-ops squad secretly calling shots on operations involving a potential vice-presidential candidate is at least as B-movie as anything else going on here. But it's also, and this is key, kinda neat! You could get something really juicy out of Saul being bigfooted by elements of the Agency far less civilized than he, and it appears that's already where we're headed. The spin this has put on Quinn as a character has been worth it alone.

 It also seems like the long-dormant "mole in the CIA" storyline is back in a big way, if that is indeed what Saul's being questioned about/framed for. Once again I express my doubt that the reemergence of the wounded Agent Galvez at this point is a coincidence, and my wariness that the one Muslim character on the side of the angels is a prime suspect for treason, but the jury's still very much out on this one, obviously.

 You don't even necessarily need to look to these big potential future developments for highlights, as there were several in the here and now despite the episode's overall problems. I was genuinely shocked, in a good way, by Jessica's smiling confession that her one-night stand with Mike was "fun"; its refusal to make its women characters ashamed of enjoying sex even under emotionally difficult circumstances has emerged as one of Homeland's most admirable traits. The long steadicam tracking shot following Brody into and around the Naval Observatory was, like all steadicam long tracking shots, film-nerd crack. So was the final-girl imagery of a bloodied Carrie running on to the highway, flagging down a trucker for help, although this was a whole lot lighter in tone than the source material.

 And as I mentioned earlier, the black comedy of Brody's jittery interactions with all the guards and agents and soldiers he had to bullshit to get to the veep's office was a welcome light touch on the part of a show that's damn near devoid of a sense of humor, a must if you're going to traffic in the sort of heightened-reality thriller stuff they've been going for this season. A willingness to make absurdity work in their favor is a big part of what made this year's think-big seasons of Breaking Bad and Boardwalk Empire successful. Take that away, and all the "if you ever want to see her alive again you'll do as I say" business feels leaden, clumsy, lame. Like Carrie, Homeland's entering dark territory with that final fade to black. I wanna see them both come out alive.

Last episode: Hold Your Fire

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