Last week's episode shot Homeland's credibility and quality full of holes, but it turns out the desire to find out how the show will plug them up again is damn near irresistible.
Much to my surprise, following the series' second cockamamie climax in a row, I still found myself really curious as to how both the writers and the characters would move forward. After all, the Gettysburg attack had to have been the single largest mass-casualty terrorist incident among law enforcement officers on American soil since 9/11. Of course, other than a couple of terse conversations between Brody and Roya and Estes and Walden, no one reacted to it the way you'd expect in real life. As with the mole inside the CIA, the machine-gun attack on a Midwestern hotel to silence a terrorist on the run, the suicide bombing in downtown D.C., the sniper attack on the Vice President's entourage, the officially "unsolved" murder of the gunman and – last but not least – an Israeli military strike on Iran's nuclear facilities, here Homeland treats an incident that should be more than enough to change the entire political/military/intelligence landscape with a shrug of the shoulders.
That's understandable, in a way, if you think of Homeland as a sort of Marvel Comics universe with Abu Nazir instead of Loki. It needs to mine drama from dramatic attacks by its villains, but it also has to preserve the sense that its world is recognizably our own. Truly hashing out the effects that attacks by an al-Qaeda black-ops squad, or a vengeful Asgardian god, would have on the fabric of society is off the table. Of course, unlike Marvel, Homeland at least has the option of not constantly giving itself outrageously outlandish incidents to subsequently ignore.
I'm starting to suspect that the show's perceived need to go big on incident – when all any of us watching really want is to watch Carrie and Brody lie to other people, each other, and themselves – has screwed up the alignment of the whole thing, like an off-balance washing machine. Uncharacteristic moments of broadness crept into this episode's character work, a worrying sign for the future. In some cases – the stereotypically Southern martinet warden at Aileen's prison, the comically clueless one-percenters openly ogling Brody's scars at the fundraiser – this just involved bit parts, which have never been the show's strong suit in either writing or casting.
More troublingly, though, it also affected the depiction of the show's core character dynamics. The writing of Carrie's speech to Mike about Jessica made it abundantly clear that it was actually a speech to herself about Brody, in a way that was transparent yet uncommunicative of new information about the nature of that relationship. The mirroring of Dana and Finn with Brody and Jess in the backs of their respective limos, talking about whether or not to share their respective lethal secrets, was another too-easy parallel, particularly given how hard the show will have to work to justify that melodramatic vehicular homicide in the first place. Peter dropping trou and hyuk-hyuking about how Carrie has seen penises before… Saul's Les Miz tears and Nancy Kerrigan-esque "Why?"s upon discovering Aileen's suicide… You could even throw in the fact that despite all the Scarface-level carnage of last episode's climax, both of the agents we'd met before, Peter and Galvez, miraculously survived, but in that case I'm too tickled by how they stuntcast Carver from The Wire just to fake us out and kill him off to complain. (I guess the shitbirds do get to win, buddy.)
But most upsetting to me was Carrie and Brody's kiss in the clearing that gave this episode its title. For the first time I found myself laughing out loud at the idea that these two would still be unable to keep their hands off each other. Sexual chemistry, yadda yadda yadda, broken people looking for their missing pieces in one another, blah blah blah – these two aren't just bad for each other in some romantic star-crossed way, they've literally destroyed one another's lives, on purpose, as part of their jobs. I can see them caring about each other, but jumping each other's bones at the drop of a hat? I don't buy it, not anymore. The scene yielded some gems, sure – Carrie's admission that she honestly has no idea if sucking face with Brody is part of an attempt on her part to handle him; Brody ultimately rejecting the tryst precisely because it feels good, and he feels so bad about so much so often that he treats anything that makes him feel good with understandable suspicion – but the underlying premise of a clandestine make-out session at Camp Koch Brothers rang false.
But this is Homeland, and whatever its (increasing) faults, it's not junk. In a few cases, it handled its characters with the skill we'd been accustomed to. For starters, I was happy to get a little certainty, from the tone and tenor of Brody's conversation with Roya, that he really didn't have any idea of what was coming in Gettysburg – and to get an inkling of how the dopey car-accident storyline will play into the main plot, driving a wedge of distrust and disdain into Dana and her father's previously rock-solid relationship that will no doubt cause trouble for the CIA's best-laid plans in the future. And how great was Dana's reaction when Carrie reintroduced herself? "Uh, yeah, lady, I remember the woman who accosted us on our front lawn and accused my dad of being a terrorist. Good to see you again, I guess?" This kid's got both the morals and the moxie that have been systematically stripped from her father by both sides of the war.
Elsewhere, terrorist informant Aileen's melodramatic dying declaration may have laid it on thick, but it was worth it just to see those initial moments when she entered the room with the view: the clean and bold composition of the shot showing us the nondescript rectangular windows, framing the world outside like pictures in a gallery; Aileen's inability to peel her eyes away from her first glimpse of the outside world in months; her heartbreakingly simple praise of the sunlight as "nice." Her broken spirit is a quiet but unequivocal indictment of the cruel and unusual punishment that is solitary confinement – as with the cost of our drone war, this is a topic nearly no one else in Hollywood is talking about.
Homeland played that particular political plot point straight, but Brody's meeting with the ultra-rich macher Rex was almost satirical in its treatment of purse string-puppetmaster politics. No sooner did the pair bond over how their harrowing wartime experiences in no way made them heroes than Rex offered Brody the presidency of the United States – his sole qualification for which Brody had cited seconds earlier as getting captured and shoved in a hole, then managing not to die there. As a mordantly funny shot at the way our political system values symbols over substance and the macho excitement of war over the humane tedium of peace, that pretty much can't be topped. And it didn't cost the life of a single extra.
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