Homeland recap: Killer Service
And we’re off to the races! Abu Nazir kidnapped Carrie, let her go, and remains at large in the United States. Brody effectively murdered the vice president. Saul dug too deep in his investigation of Peter Quinn. Jessica is so over her husband. Dana is a shell of a human being. Chris suddenly realized his dad’s a jerk. Carrie really needs a shower. And, hey guys, Danny Galvez is back!
Meanwhile, the hour runnethed over with a string of remarkable two-hander scenes — Saul and Dar Adal, Jessica and Mike, Jessica and Brody, Brody and Carrie, Saul and Estes, Carrie and Abu Nazir, and Brody and Walden — not to mention several nail biting sequences and Jessica Brody’s best/only laugh-out-loud moment of the season. Everything felt keyed up into a new gear, as the show launched into the final few laps of what has been a two-season breakneck marathon between Brody, Carrie, and Abu Nazir. And because of the quickened pace and the nearing finish line, it was perhaps easier not to notice a few of the ungainly narrative leaps that have crept into the show. That is, if it wasn’t for Brody’s magic Skyping Blackberry.
I’ll get more into the gritty details behind this fabulously implausible device shortly. And granted, I didn’t know until Twitter told me that you can actually Skype on certain Blackberrys (provided you have Verizon in the U.S.) — so I can’t exactly fault the show for accuracy on that score. But more to the point: A) How did Abu Nazir get Brody’s Skype address? B) How did Abu Nazir get a good enough signal in the middle of nowhere to send streaming video to Brody’s phone? C) When did the CIA stop monitoring every moment of Brody’s phone calls — and if they did, why did they stop with Abu Nazir still at large? And D) Why didn’t anyone think to watch Brody like a hawk the moment Carrie went missing since everyone knows Carrie and Brody share a special rowdy sex bond, and Brody just very publicly betrayed the wanted terrorist who had kidnapped him via helicopter just days before?
Frustrating, nagging questions like these are what have kept the second half of this season from ever quite taking off as top-of-the-line drama like the second half of Homeland‘s first season — once you start pulling the dangling threads, things can begin to unravel quickly.
Still, there was much for me to love in this episode, and it started with the very first scene: Saul confronting Dar Adal* in the latter’s favorite Tuesday lunch spot: Walter’s Waffles. Setting aside for a moment that that kind of predictability is dangerous for a master spy (dangling thread #1), the setting provided F. Murray Abraham the opportunity to act while eating, which for a certain caliber of actor only makes the scene more delicious. To wit: “Little things I can count on mean more and more to me as I get older — you find that?” Is that a perfect opening line for a character, or what?
(*I feel compelled to use only Dar Adal’s full name; somehow just “Dar” or just “Adal” doesn’t carry the same spook-ish weight. I know, I’m weird.)
NEXT PAGE: Dar Adal and Saul don’t mince words.
Saul and Dar Adal started up with the kind of small talk only old CIA spooks could enjoy, reminiscing about the comforting tidiness of the Cold War, where one could live at a fixed address and not fear reprisals. “I miss the rules,” Dar Adal groused. “The Soviets didn’t shoot us; we didn’t shoot them. Boy, this bunch…” (This should have been your first warning, Saul, to keep an eye out on Carrie and Brody.) But soon enough, Saul charged into the purpose of his visit with his characteristic bull-headedness, asking Dar Adal point blank about Peter Quinn. Pissed off to be questioned like this, Dar Adal returned the favor, bluntly admitting Quinn was one of his, an off-the-books black ops “soldier” — a word that Saul knew immediately meant “killer” even after Dar Adal tried to back away from it with talk of soldiers fixing airplane engines and cooking bad food. (Yeah, I don’t think that’s what your black ops boys have been doing.) So Dar Adal tried a different tactic, pointing out that Quinn’s presence may be more about keeping an eye on Saul. “Why wouldn’t [Estes] trust me?” Saul asked with that leading tone of his. Instead of answering, Dar Adal turned back to his waffles, already tired of this conversation. “Still afraid to get your hands dirty, Saul?” he asked. “I still prefer to figure the problem out, not obliterate it,” Saul responded, matching patronizing tone for patronizing tone. “You’re too sensitive for this line of work,” sniffed Dar Adal. “You always have been. I’m amazed you’ve lasted this long.”
This conversation prefaced an entire hour that explored just what getting one’s hands dirty can mean, but I think it was prophetic beyond this episode. Saul has always been mindful of snagging just enough of others’ dirty laundry to keep himself clean. But when he threatened Estes with the (entirely accurate) accusation that Quinn was meant to kill off Brody to keep the civilian drone strike that killed Issa secret, Saul very well may have pushed things too far. (Dangling thread #2: Do all CIA agents have highly sensitive conversations in the middle of huge empty hallways?) That polygraph test Saul took last season — the one meant to determine who allowed a captured terrorist to kill himself, the one Saul initially failed before taking it again and passing — has never been resolved. Regardless of whether Saul was actually lying or not, it’s a piece of suspiciously soiled laundry with his name on it, and as Saul was hauled “downstairs” for “questioning” by mysterious unnamed persons, I wondered if Estes had been holding onto it for just the right moment.
Dar Adal’s words may have carried another, more chilling prognostication: What if Nicholas Brody isn’t the only character to be 86’d this season?
NEXT PAGE: The Brody’s come together in mutual misery
Speaking of characters reaching their sell by date, I give you the Brody family. In one corner, we have Jessica Brody, still basking in the afterglow of her roll in the hay with her super-terrific man toy Mike Faber, and happy to get smoochie with him while her children procrastinated on their homework just a room away. When Brody walked in on their snogging, she barely cared that Brody picked up the sexual tension between them. “It’s good that Mike was here,” Brody said with not a small amount of smarm. Jessica just leveled him with an even stare: “Yeah. It helped.” (Morena Baccarin’s delivery here made me laugh out loud; next to her impromptu veteran families speech, it was my favorite Jessica moment so far this year. Yeah, I know, them’s slim pickings.) Even when Brody fielded a phone call right as Jessica told him she knew he was working with Carrie again, she just shrugged and shuffled away. This marriage has been over for weeks now anyway.
In another corner, we have Dana Brody, whose very soul has been pancaked by the crushing cynicism of “the way the world works,” Finn Walden’s euphemism for his father paying off the family of the woman he killed with his sweet BMW. Hopefully, the sight of the two of them laying like clinically depressed logs on anonymous pool chairs, contemplating the wreckage of their short lives, is the sad trombone coda to Homeland‘s least enjoyed subplot this season. But I doubt it; Dana’s father did just kill Finn’s father, so I’d say whatever is broken between them is about to be smashed further into smithereens.
And in the final corner, we have Chris Brody, whose only distinguishing characteristic has been his unwavering hero worship of his effed up father. Then again, that warm goodbye hug Chris gave Mike makes it seem as though Chris’s filial piety isn’t all that picky. Or maybe it’s just fickle; one cross word from his clearly stressed out father about not finishing their game of cards, and Chris was so heartbroken he appeared ready to renounce his pops on the spot. Just as well, really.
Brody’s curtness was due to a most inopportune phone call from his former brainwasher, Abu Nazir. I’ve noticed online already that the Abu Nazir-kidnaps-Carrie plotline has not been regarded as one of Homeland‘s strongest. I’m inclined to agree, but I don’t think it was a completely preposterous turn of events. We know Roya Hammad had been keeping Abu Nazir in the loop about Brody’s relationship with Carrie, and with so many players in his American terror cell either dead or in custody, it appears Nazir is something close to a one-man operation. So I buy that Nazir would know where Carrie lives, and would resort to the desperate act of capturing the one available person he knows he can leverage to get Brody to do his bidding. (Dangling thread #3: Still, why would he allow himself to be photographed by a convenience store surveillance camera, and park the car so his license plate could be seen through the window?)
NEXT PAGE: Nicholas Brody and the Case of the Convenient (Plot) Device
It’s the mission Nazir gave Brody that doesn’t quite stand up to scrutiny for me. I buy that Nazir read in The New York Times that Walden has a pacemaker and a treadmill in his office (the character’s most overt Cheneyesque quality), and I buy that when backed into a corner, Nazir would try for a hail mary pass to at least take out the best high profile target he can. But somehow I doubt even the most aggressive reporter would know about the plastic case containing the tiny serial number that controls the vice president’s pacemaker. Nor for that matter do I think that a device that keeps the heart beating of the man who himself his a heartbeat away from the presidency would be susceptible to any kind of enemy hacking. (Those were dangling threads #4 & #5, for the none of you still keeping track.)
The entire thing screamed “PLOT DEVICE! PLOT DEVICE!” in the most obvious way to me: The writers just wanted the scene where Brody got to watch Walden die in front of him without Brody having to physically kill him. They didn’t appear to mind that it meant Brody would be wandering willy nilly through the vice president’s residence, with nary a secret service agent in sight. To keep this from becoming an all out rant, though, I do want to single out a few choice details during this sequence: I loved Brody tying his tie en route to the veep’s home, and mindlessly requesting a “double shot of your best bourbon” from one of Walden’s aides. And the decision by director Guy Ferland to shoot Brody’s from entrance into the residence up through his departure to the “bathroom” in what seemed like a single take was a masterstroke in building tension.
Indeed, the taut direction and Damian Lewis’ jittery performance helped sell the sequence beyond its seeming limitations, including the bit where Brody swore on Issa’s immortal soul that he would give Nazir the serial number so long as he let Carrie go first, and Nazir totally bought it. And when Brody told Walden he was withdrawing his name from consideration, Jamey Sheridan finally got some meat of his own to chew, even if it was for a few brief moments. “It’s for my family,” said the man Walden had hand picked and groomed in his own image, challenging Walden’s core reason for being — the constant pursuit and consolidation of power. Walden did not hesitate to respond. “F— your family,” he barked. “We’re talking about the second highest office in this land. The possibility some day of the highest office in this land. You don’t walk away from that.”
And that’s when the only apparent survivor in Abu Nazir’s U.S. cell — i.e. the Kirsten Vangsness/Pauley Perrette/Barrett Foa of terrorism — entered the “exterminate” code for Walden’s pacemaker. The moment Walden clutched his chest, Brody knew he’d won, and for the first time since he’d returned home with someone who wasn’t Carrie, he revealed his true self. And it was ugly. “I want to feel clean again,” he sneered at the vice president. “And I pretty much disagree with everything you say and do.” Walden begged for a doctor; Brody refused. Walden lunged for the phone; Brody pulled it away. With his last breath, Walden growled “What are you doing?!” before collapsing into Brody’s arms. Brody leaned in close. “You don’t get it, do you?” he whispered, lowering Walden to the floor. “I’m killing you.” Nevermind that Walden’s death throes would have probably been heard by the secret service (dangling thread #6). Nevermind that the moment Estes hears Brody was present for Walden’s demise, Brody will be a piece of asphalt black toast (possible dangling thread #6a, pending further evidence). Because, honestly, even with the far-fetched build up, even with how sketchily drawn the vice president has been as a character, I found this final confrontation to be completely satisfying. Brody’s final sigh, standing over Walden’s body, had a profound feeling of catharsis and closure. Now I can only hope the writers have the stones to end Brody’s story the way they should.
NEXT PAGE: “That’s what you did to Brody, isn’t it? A lot of pain, a little love?”
Carrie, meanwhile, had her own up-close-and-personal encounter with her sworn enemy, but her experience was far from resolved. The sight of her bound and bloodied on the floor of a random empty factory was much more unsettling than I would have expected — I did not like seeing Carrie that helpless, and not just because it was a damsel-in-distress cliché. The last time she went through a major physical trauma, it jarred her psyche so badly that she fell into a life-demolishing bipolar episode. Instead, Carrie demonstrated a remarkable grit, keeping her sanity and refusing to deal with Abu Nazir on his terms.
First, she struggled to snag a lose strip of sharp metal near her on the floor, but the writers at least proved they’re above the old “my captor has conveniently left me alone to plot my escape” gambit, and Nazir caught her and tied her feet together to keep her immobile. (Watching a clearly pregnant Claire Danes contort her body into every manner of uncomfortable position: another reason this sequence left me all squingy.) Then she refused to drink the water Nazir provided her, spitting his tactics back in his face. “That’s what you did to Brody, isn’t it? A lot of pain, a little love?” (Literal dangling thread #1: The piece of bloody make-up hanging from Danes’ wrist during this scene.)
Nazir blew off Carrie’s taunt, but with her gag removed, she began pressing her captor further, claiming Brody couldn’t and wouldn’t go through with his mission, especially since he knows Nazir will kill her anyway. “A man gambles with what he has,” Nazir assured her. “[Brody] will try.” Carrie was undeterred: “Don’t be so sure. He’s smarter than you think.” Nazir just smiled, and replied with the most menacing thing he could say to Carrie at that moment: “You love him too. Perhaps we have that in common.” Not only did Nazir respect Carrie enough to share the “emotional transference” he experienced with Brody while breaking him down, but he actually bothered to sit and debate the geo-politics of the war on terrorism with her. Their discussion didn’t cover a great deal of new ground on this topic — Is a man who uses a drone to take out a defenseless community from afar a solider, or a terrorist? If the survivors of that attack retaliate with whatever indiscriminately violent means they have at their disposal, does that make them terrorists? — but it was still fascinating to watch these two share a scene together after playing cat and, well, cat for two seasons. Nazir’s final point — that the tenacity of his faith and the faith of his brethren will outlive easy Western decadence, even if it takes centuries — still felt like boilerplate Islamofascism 101, though. It may ultimately be a realistic dramatization of what a guy like Nazir would say at this moment, but I just wished his philosophical outlook was a bit more unpredictable.
Eventually, Nazir struck his bargain with Brody to let Carrie go. She managed to flag down a trucker long enough to steal his cell phone to call the CIA. She called in the cavalry to capture Abu Nazir at their position, but neglected to tell anyone that, oh right, Nazir is about to give the vice president a killer heart attack. Given that Homeland‘s opening credits feature Carrie stating emphatically that she can’t let the U.S. get “hit” again, this was something of a surprising development. Was her faith in Brody so unshakable that she believed he would go back on his word and not give Nazir the pacemaker code? Did she secretly agree with Brody that Walden was an unrepentant war criminal and deserved to die? Was she just trying to protect Brody from getting caught? I have no idea. But I do hope the show has a mighty good explanation for her sin of omission.
At least she nerve to go back to the factory to try to, I guess, whack Nazir with a random pipe and hope he didn’t shoot her? I kid, but I totally bought that Carrie would be just that determined — this is the same woman who raced into a random Beirut apartment deep in Hezbollah territory on the off chance she would score some intelligence. The cliffhanger of her stepping into a black void after Nazir was immediately resolved with the teaser for next week’s episode, but it still got me screaming at my TV all the same. And again, it got me wondering about what lies ahead for the show: Should we expect more uncertain darkness in Carrie’s future?
Your turn! What did you make of “Broken Hearts”? Were you bothered by Brody’s magic Blackberry? Did you buy Carrie’s kidnapping? Now that David Galvez has mended enough from his wounds that he’s back at work, do you think he’s obviously the CIA mole? Or would that just be way too obvious? (For one, it would spoil one of the most purely sentimental moments ever on Homeland, with Danny pulling himself out of the hospital the moment he heard Carrie was in peril.) And what do you think awaits Saul in the bowels of the CIA?