“If you keep yelling,” Carrie Mathison says to her lover/nemesis Nicholas Brody, “this conversation is over.” If the makers of Homeland had adopted that policy themselves, this would have been a very short episode. Actor Damian Lewis chewed so much scenery during his scenes of heroin withdrawal, hallucinations, suicide attempts, and painful father-daughter reunions that I half suspect he mistook the set for the craft services table. Watching Lewis’s once-surefooted performance careen sloppily around the screen was the strongest indication yet that the show’s once and future leading man is now its weakest link.
After a series of solid episodes following the season’s shocking-twist turnaround, during which time Brody was nowhere to be found, it’s saddening in the extreme to discover that Brody’s back in such a big way, given how little he really has to offer the show at this point. The tightly controlled performance that made his infrequent slip-ups and outbursts so harrowing, the romantic chemistry with Carrie that had Showtime and showrunners alike laboring under the misapprehension that it was the reason the show existed, the thematic weight of Brody’s attempts to be loyal and moral during a conflict that made a mockery of those words – all of that has more or less evaporated, joining the long-vanished plausibility of Brody’s continued existence.
So naturally, Homeland decides to make the guy the pointman for its third season’s complex and climactic attempt to assassinate an Iranian bigwig and remake the entire Middle East. For God’s sake, Virgil and Max would be better candidates for this job, in terms of both whom it makes sense for the goddamn CIA director to trust with the most high-stakes mission in the Agency’s history and whom I’d like to spend an hour a week watching. (Seriously, they found that mouse-mic that Mira’s fake-French Mossad-agent boyfriend placed in Saul’s home without ever once singing the Marines’ Hymn with a dead man in the process. Sign ’em up!)
Which is not to say the ep had nothing to recommend it, or even that Brody’s reemergence into the spotlight didn’t have its shining moments. Lewis’s near-constant spitting and yowling got old by the time he finally gave up on it and got back in shape, but at first it was refreshingly sad in tone, with his early pleas for heroin sounding less like the ravings of a furious junkie and more like truly desperate, whining cries for help. The reminders, first from Saul and then from Carrie, that Brody’s crimes run deeper than being the poor little wrongfully accused Langley bomber were most welcome windows into the fact that those crimes still matter to these people. (Except for Brody’s assassination of Vice President Walden, of course, which Carrie has ignored ever since it happened. Water under the bridge, I guess!) And while the hallucination sequence involving the posthumous reappearances of his old partner Walker and their mutual mentor Abu Nazir were disappointingly predictable, you sure can’t say that about the spec-ops team’s attempt to prove Brody still had the will to live by bringing him out to the middle of the ocean and dumping him in the water. That’s as mordantly funny as the show’s been (on purpose, anyway) in a long time.
Elsewhere, though on some level the rapid resolution to the Saul/Mira/Alain Bernard love triangle/honeypot storyline felt too quickly executed, there was something enormously satisfying in watching Saul and his crew of cool characters – Virgil, Max, Dar Adal, and Peter Quinn – unravel Senator Lockhart’s clumsy collusion with Israeli intelligence in approximately fifteen seconds. Lockhart’s cartoonish asshole-antagonist status, normally a weakness, is precisely what made Saul’s handling of the incident so interesting. Genuinely baffled by Saul’s refusal to go for the jugular, since that’s undoubtedly what he’d do were the shoe on the other foot, the Senator discovers that for Saul, some things are more important than who gets to call the shots at the CIA.
But it’s all but impossible to swallow the grade-A cheese of a “Nicholas Brody gets one last shot at redemption” training montage, or another ABC Family drama moment with Dana Brody, or casual “we used to have a thing” banter between absolute emotional horrorshows Brody and Carrie, or the idea that so many high-ranking intelligence officials would sign off on using an admitted traitor turned Congressman turned CIA asset turned framed world’s-most-wanted-man to lead a mission that could easily trigger World War III if it goes tits-up. And the mission itself, of course, requires our belief that the only thing that could get America and Iran talking again is some nine-dimensional chess played by covert CIA operatives, even though such talks have been happening in the real world for weeks with (as best we can tell) nary a Marine-al Qaeda Congressman-assassin in sight.
In typical Homeland fashion, it acknowledges the craziness of all this before unconvincingly insisting “It’s so crazy it just might work.” Carrie is understandably skeptical about the practicality of using Brody to access and assassinate the head of the Revolutionary Guard. Saul’s response – “Brody’s got a knack for getting into tight places. He’s done it before” – is convincing only if you read it as a bawdy joke about Carrie and Brody’s sex life. Even then, I can’t help but feel that it’s we viewers who are at risk of getting screwed.
Last Week: Hey Man, Nice Shot