Carrie, Brody, and Jessica each face a crisis after unexpected bad news, but only one rises to the occasion
After last week’s humdinger of a cliffhanger, I was desperately curious to see how Homeland would handle the fact that Brody has been officially outed as an agent of Abu Nazir. Would his life continue to unravel at its heretofore rapid pace, or would the writers cool things off for a week (or two)? Turns out: Both!
We opened with Saul at the Beirut airport, carrying a diplomatic case of great interest to local government officials, who thought nothing of pulling Saul into a dark, windowless room and inspecting said case, even if it caused, as Saul warned, “a serious diplomatic incident.” With no elaborate CIA cover story about scouting for locations to shoot Argo 2: The Beardening, Saul had only his wits to manage this situation, and at first, it looked like he was handling it terribly. His feeble protestations and rising panic screamed, “I’ve got something secret in there that I don’t want you to see!” And indeed, feeling along its sides, the official quickly found and removed a flash disk. “Never come back to Lebanon,” he told Saul darkly, pocketing the disk and sending Saul on his way.
Just when Saul’s Jedi Master powers seemed in doubt, however, on the plane he pulled a second flash disk from what appeared to be a separate secret compartment on the case. It’s unclear if both disks held Brody’s confession and Saul was betting any inspectors would be satisfied with finding one and not search for the other — or if the first one was an obvious decoy and always meant to be discovered. This isn’t an idle curiosity: If it’s the former, then by the time Saul’s plane had landed, Hezbollah would’ve almost certainly learned that the CIA knows about Brody (and would likely have learned about Brody themselves). If it’s the latter, then the CIA would have the freedom to pursue Brody with at least a decent window before their new target learned his cover’s been blown. I could be over-thinking things, I grant you, but Homeland has also proven adept at revisiting dangling plot strands that seem relatively inconsequential at the time — it was done masterfully in this very episode, in fact.
In any event, we’ll have to wait until at least next week to learn how the CIA decides to handle the news about Brody, since Saul was MIA for the rest of the episode save its superb final scene. Instead, the writers spent the hour squeezing Brody and Carrie’s psychological weaknesses, pushing them both to their darkest moments yet. By the end, one seemed primed to plummet even further, while the other may have finally found a glimmer of light after slogging through so much darkness.
First, Brody. It turns out a piece of CIA intel from the failed assassination attempt on Abu Nazir did manage to come to Brody’s attention: The tailor in Gettysburg who had created Brody’s suicide vest. As Roya Hammad breathlessly explained to Brody while at some kind of private airport, the agency was close to discovering the tailor’s identity, so Brody had to go fetch him that day to take him to a safe house nearby. I loved the recall to a character we barely even saw last season, but his sudden presence raised a lot of questions. Why not a phone call? He had to be looked in the eye and reassured he’s safe. Why can’t Roya go? Because the only person he knows is Brody. Why does it have to be the same day as Brody’s speech at the wounded veterans fundraiser? Because the CIA are beginning to move in, and by the next day, it may be too late.
All decent answers, but I still feel that Roya Hammad remains by far the clumsiest element of the season. It’s fuzzy to me how she’s getting all this information — is it through Nazir’s contacts? the as-yet-unmentioned-this-season CIA mole? some combination of the two? — and at this point, she’s less of a character than an exposition bot. (Come to think of it, that was pretty much Zuleikha Robinson’s sad fate on Lost, too.) Thanks to the car she exited from at the top of this scene, we at least finally learned that Roya works for CNB News, Homeland‘s fictional cable news outlet. (Who else is imagining Roya locked in a ratings war with Will McAvoy’s ACN on The Newsroom?) (C’mon, there’s gotta be someone.)
NEXT PAGE: Nicholas Brody’s no good, very bad day
So off Brody went, on the roughly two hour drive up to Gettysburg, clad in dark clothes and a dark red baseball cap, entering the tailor’s shop through the back door as he’d done before. Unfortunately, pretty much from the get go, Brody fouled things up. Rather than reassure the tailor as he’d been told, he barked orders at the man: Pack a bag. The CIA knows who you are. We’re going to a safe house, now. “How do you know it’s safe?” asked the tailor, already terrified. “Hey, all I know is that you’re not safe here anymore.” You know, for a congressman, Brody’s people skills aren’t exactly stellar.
After spotting what looked like a surveillance van parked outside, Brody got spooked himself, and practically dragged the tailor to his car, only raising the man’s panic even more. In the car, the tailor’s questions were met with speculation from Brody, whose own frustration at the situation he’d found himself in blinded him to the task at hand: Keep. This. Man. Calm. Instead, Brody’s shifty answers and agitated demeanor managed to exacerbate the tailor’s worst fears: He was being driven to his death.
Then: Whoops! Flat tire! And no jack in the car, either, so Brody had to improvise one using stray logs of perfectly cut fire wood that just happened to be awaiting him in the forest. During this sequence, we witnessed the tailor, whose name we learned is Bessel, consider several opportunities to incapacitate Brody make a break for it on his own — first with the tire iron, then at the wheel of Brody’s car, and finally with a good old fashioned rock — only to lose his nerve each time. The tension here was ripe but never overplayed, and it made Bessel’s ultimate decision to make a run for it at a gas station all the more frantic and desperate.
Brody, meanwhile, found himself falling into a nightmare cocktail of terrible decisions and horrific luck. When his wife called after he first got the flat, instead of telling her he had a flat tire, he lied about meeting with union members in his district. Later, Brody pulled up to a gas station without the ability to pay at the pump, giving Bessel the opportunity to escape. And when Brody chased Bessel into the forest, he managed to tackle the older man right on top of a sharp stump of wood sticking out from the ground, impaling him.
Then came the coup de grace of Brody’s no good very bad day: With night beginning to fall and Bessel begging to be taken to a hospital, Jessica called Brody, and Brody answered the phone.
Nicholas Brody, I know you’d missed most of the 2000s, but there’s this thing called voice mail, which really comes in handy when you’ve got a suicide bomb-maker dying at your feet and your wife calls asking where the hell you are. Sure, it may piss off said wife that you haven’t answered since you’ve got a speech to give in front of the vice president in less than an hour, but it would definitely keep you from having to explain why someone is moaning “help” in the background, forcing you to muffle him until you realize there’s no helping this man and you decide to snap his neck with your wife still on the other end of the phone.
This isn’t to say that I thought Brody’s actions were due to bad writing; Brody’s lack of a moral compass has left him to drift further and further into the wilderness, and Damian Lewis gave these scenes exactly the unmoored recklessness they needed. Brody buried Bessel in a shallow grave in the rain, and then tried desperately to scrub himself down at a self-serve car wash. But there’s no soap, no water that can wash Brody’s sins clean; thanks to Saul’s revelation, we know now more than ever that he’s a likely dead man walking. That grave he’d dug for Bessel could also be his own.
NEXT: “If after eight years of loneliness, eight years of not seeing each other, someone had warned me how he’d look at me, as if he didn’t know me any more…”
We’d already gotten a window into Brody’s lost soul at the start of the episode, when Jessica discovered his speech for the wounded vets event sitting on the kitchen table. Its words took her breath away. “By my third year in captivity, I knew that this is where I was gonna die, that I had to accept that, make peace with it, so that’s what I did. I prepared to die.” She read the speech aloud to her husband, gobsmacked both by their honesty and that she’d had no idea that he’d felt this way. “Somehow, I got to come home, to a wife and two kids I talked myself into believing would be just fine — no, better off — without me. I mean, how could they really know me anymore?”
Though it was in a speech he’d intended to give to a roomful of strangers, it was the most vulnerable and honest Brody had ever let himself be with his wife. She kissed him, tenderly. Things turned passionate. He balked, at first, but instead of stopping, Brody pulled Jessica on top the kitchen counter, the coffee mug Brody’s presumably still alive son Chris had made for him smashing to the floor. Brody ramped things up in his usual fashion with Jessica, but instead of going along with it, she slowed thing down, gently guiding her husband to take his time, enjoy the moment. And just as things were getting really interesting, in walked Dana and her doofus buddy Xander, providing pretty much the only laugh of the episode. (Is it just me, or was Brody sporting a husband’s bulge?)
Their interlude may have been interrupted, but it was the first good moment the couple’d had in weeks. So it was easy for Jessica to get swept up in Cynthia Walden’s pronouncement to her before the veterans event: “You’re a beautiful woman. Nick is so charismatic. You’re a great American story that’s just beginning.” Just as quickly, that story turned sour when Brody failed to show to give his speech. Sitting there as the vice president and his wife put on their best placid smiles, Jessica tried in vain to hide her own rising panic. It was interesting that Mrs. Walden, so eager to pull Jessica under her wing, had no words of advice or encouragement when the going got rough, but no matter. Jessica Brody, who’d spent so much of the last decade letting her life get batted about by outside circumstances, rose to the dais and, her voice shaky, eyes wide, and hands trembling, took command of the evening.
She apologized to the crowd, explaining that Brody had had “car trouble” and wouldn’t be speaking. And then, with a reassuring nod from her onetime lover Mike, she went on. “Car trouble! Pretty sure when he was a prisoner in Iraq, he never thought he’d have to deal with something so humdrum as a flat tire again.” The crowd chuckled politely, and Jessica began forging ahead, pivoting to talk about supporting the families of wounded veterans. And it was from here — spurred on by her husband’s confessional speech and awful absences, both physical and emotional — that Jessica found herself making some unexpected confessions herself. She said she wished she’d been more ready to support her husband. She spoke of his violent nightmares, and how hard it was for him to speak to his kids. “How hard intimacy of any kind would be for him.”
She trailed off. The room was dead silent. “What I’m saying is, what if, with some of this money, we could set up a place where families could get ready for their veterans coming, an actual place, where they could learn from other families who’d been through — who are still going through it? Because in the end, we’re all fighting this war together.” The vice president and his wife were stunned. The crowd took to its feet. It wasn’t just a triumph for Jessica, either; it was easily Morena Baccarin’s best performance ever on the show, halting and truthful and exposed and powerful all at once. For the first time, I felt like Jessica may actually weather the storm gathering darkly above her husband.
When Brody did make it home, he’d caught Mike escorting Jessica to the door (after she told him Brody’d had an affair with Carrie Something from the CIA). I’m not sure what it says about me, but I was less turned off by the fact that Brody had just killed a man than by the fact that he responded to Mike’s praise of Jessica’s heroic actions that night with this snotty rejoinder: “I don’t doubt it. She’s quite the hostess.” Right, Brody, you’re the one who has the moral high ground here. Jessica, too, had had enough of his easy lies and walled-off heart. “You’re hiding something,” she told him after Mike had left. “I can see it in your eyes. Now, you either tell me what is going on, or I suggest you start looking for a hotel room. And while you’re at it, you give this marriage some serious thought. Because I don’t think I can do this anymore.”
And that wasn’t even the worst of it. Dana had been listening in. She emerged from her room just long enough for Brody to see her, then turned around and went back in, shooting her father a devastating look of disappointment. All Brody needs to do now is locate his son long enough to irrevocably disappoint him, and that alienation from his family that he’d spoken of so eloquently in the speech he’d never given will be complete.
NEXT: And it’s not like Carrie’s day was all that great, either
While Brody was all action, Carrie actually did very little in this episode, and that’s the problem: She isn’t alienated from her family and friends so much as she’s alienated from herself. With her life’s purpose so suddenly yanked from her and then just as abruptly dangled back in her face, Carrie also allowed herself to drift and tumble into a pitch-black pit. We started with Carrie hard at work on her 18-page final report about her time in Beirut, late into the wee hours, despite her father’s scolding. “I’m okay,” she assured him, her smile beaming. “In fact, I feel pretty great.” Her dad knew better. “Wired is what you are,” he said, with a worried stare. “There’s a difference.”
The next morning, she delivered her report to Danny in person. He spoke of some sort of ominous emergency threat level briefing with all the top brass (foreshadowing?), which had likely pushed Carrie’s debrief to 6 p.m. “Hey,” he added, “can I say, what you just did in the field? It’s pretty damn impressive.” It was a kindness with an unintentional poison of false hope tucked inside it, giving Carrie one more reason to think she may get her job back.
Danny promised to confirm the debrief time, but by 5 p.m., she hadn’t heard, so she drove over to Langley anyway. Carrie had scarcely waited outside Estes’ office for 30 seconds before her restlessness, her need to get back in the game, got the better of her. She excused herself to use the bathroom, and walked right over to the main bullpen briefing room. Where they were doing the debrief. Without her.
“Carrie, you can’t be in here,” Estes said, walking her from the room. She was furious. It wasn’t just an insult; it was bad procedure, debriefing without the person who was on the ground. Estes gave Carrie a line that her report’s detail was simply so good he didn’t need her, but that he wanted to see her in person to thank her for her service. The writing between the lines, however, was in bright red ink: You’re a liability, Carrie. You don’t belong here. And yet Carrie refused to see it. “He’s still out there, David,” she said of Abu Nazir. “We let him get away. We need to be doing everything possible—”
“That’s not your concern any more.” Estes said it as gently as possible, but the words were a dagger to Carrie’s heart, and then Estes twisted it further. “Carrie, you didn’t come here today expecting to get reinstated, right?” She tried to protest to the contrary, but of course that’s exactly what she’d expected would happen. Carrie finally realized she had to move on, that her convalescence at her sister’s was stagnating her progress. So she grabbed a bag, packed up some stuff, and went home.
Then followed the saddest sequence on the show yet: Carrie walking through her empty house; putting on a sleek, spangly cocktail dress and some make-up; and heading out for a night on the town, only to be stopped cold after a final check in the mirror. Wordlessly, Claire Danes communicated with her falling face and slumping gait that Carrie saw the life she was trying to shellac onto her psyche and decided it was no life at all. She dumped all her pills on the kitchen counter, downed them with a giant glass of white wine, and curled up on her bed, waiting to be taken under.
Now, I knew she wouldn’t actually, you know, die, but I was still stricken by how swiftly Carrie had turned to attempting suicide. Carrie seemed to be too — her head was on the pillow for all of 40 seconds before she snapped awake, raced to the toilet, and forced her fingers down her throat. Were it not for the unadorned direction and Danes’ uncluttered acting choices, I would have found the entire development too manipulative, a writer’s trick of bringing the protagonist to her lowest point possible before salvation pierced the horizon.
Because salvation did arrive, right on Carrie’s doorstop, in the form of Saul, bearing flash disks and glad tidings of validation. (It was a nice grace note, having Carrie clean up the evidence of her suicide attempt before letting Saul inside.) “Before the Beirut trip, I really thought I’d finally found a way to cope with being out of the company,” she told her old mentor. “Before you dig that hole any deeper,” said Saul with a glint in his eye, “I have to show you something.” He produced the flash disk, and told her she deserved to see its contents before anyone else did. Carrie plugged it in. And there was Nicholas Brody, speaking his confession directly to the only person who ever believed the words he was speaking were even possible. As Brody said “terrorist” and “domestic enemies” and “war criminals,” the realization of what they meant poured over Carrie’s face. “I was right,” she said, her voice not triumphant, but childlike, soft. And just like that, Danes won her second Emmy in the third episode of the season.
What did you make of “State of Independence”? Do you think Carrie would have turned to suicide? Has Brody stepped irrevocably over to the dark side? Or is there good in him yet?