In one of the very best episodes of TV this year, Brody and Carrie come to a surprising, satisfying understanding
I think, finally, maybe, perhaps, after Sunday night’s stellar episode, we’ve conceivably learned what the rest of Homeland‘s season 2 could possibly be about: Nicholas Brody becoming a double agent to help the CIA stop an attack on the United States by Abu Nazir.
That’s the thing about this show. At the end of last week’s episode, I was convinced Carrie had firebombed her chances of getting back into the CIA when she blew into Brody’s hotel room and blew her cover. Instead, by the end of this week’s episode, Carrie had stationed herself as Brody’s key contact running his new double agent mission for the CIA. So while it seems for now that Brody’s turned away from the dark side of the force, by next week he could be back killing younglings — who knows?
One thing is for certain: The episode revolved around an unbroken 16-minute scene between Carrie and Brody that will stand as one of the single best dramatic scenes ever presented on television — pay, basic, or broadcast. I could spend 5,000 words alone parsing just this scene’s bravura nuances (it’ll be more like 1,000, promise), but for now I’ll just note that it did what I thought was nigh impossible: Convince me that Brody still had a sliver of hope of being saved.
We opened with both Brody and Carrie stuck, alone, in a cold anonymous room, sweating their hotel room confrontation just hours before. Carrie, at least, wasn’t in chains, but she had to wait outside as Saul and Peter Quinn briefed Estes — who revealed himself to have terrible taste when it comes to keeping-it-casual oatmeal-colored sweater jackets — on what had just gone down. At every turn, a fed up Quinn tried to undermine and/or freeze out Carrie, and at every turn Saul stepped in to her defense, succeeding in keeping her in the room as Quinn ran Brody’s interrogation. “I should be in there, Saul,” Carrie said once everyone else had left. “You’re lucky you’re in the building,” Saul said with his trademark dry understatement.
With a 24-hour window before Brody’s absence caught Abu Nazir’s attention, Quinn wasted no time lining up Brody’s lies one by one. (I loved Quinn’s pointed response to Brody’s protest that a U.S. Congressman can’t just kidnapped and shackled to the floor: “Actually, we can; thanks to your colleagues in Congress, we have fairly broad powers to detain and interrogate.”) Brody lied about knowing who Issa was. (Not sure if this meant Carrie remembered his connection to Issa, though it certainly seems like she did.) Brody lied about having met Issa. Brody lied about knowing about the drone strike that killed him. Brody lied about having met Abu Nazir, about converting to Islam, about Tom Walker’s plan — and, most importantly, about wearing a bomb vest with the intent to blow up the vice president. And then, after getting all these lies on the record, Quinn opened up his laptop, and played Brody’s suicide tape back for him. Almost imperceptibly, Brody’s face dropped, as he began to realize the trap he’d just stepped into.
But the pressure was on the CIA as well. Despite Estes’ efforts to excuse away Brody’s absence as due to the flu, Jessica was understandably freaked out that her husband had gone missing — and their kids were too. (Thank jeebus for the rare moment of levity, when Jessica tried to placate her kids’ fears by reminding them, “It’s pizza night!”) She even brought soup for him at his hotel, only to find his room empty, and the previous day’s newspaper sitting unopened on the table. Quinn, Saul, and Carrie needed Brody to confess what he knew about Nazir’s operations soon, before Jessica began to ask too many questions.
NEXT PAGE: Quinn takes things too far
Quinn marched back into the interrogation room, and at first, Brody’s lack of sleep and time spent staring at his own suicide video appeared to have softened him up enough to play ball. He admitted he knew Issa, that he loved him as his own son, and that he knew Vice President Walden had ordered the top secret drone strike that had killed him. He even admitted that he’d intended to kill Walden when he arrived back from Iraq. But when Quinn asked him about the suicide vest, Brody balked. “I wasn’t wearing a vest,” he said, his voice weak and weary. “I made a tape. That’s all.”
That wasn’t the answer Quinn wanted to hear. He pressed Brody harder, dangling the prospect of his wife seeing the tape. Brody, with a voice so programmed and vacant that it gave me chills, already had an answer ready: “I think she’ll be glad I didn’t go through with it. I think she’ll understand that I was unhinged by everything that’s been done to me. Everything I’ve been through. She’s a very understanding woman.” It was such a thick lie — Jessica had already made abundantly clear she had no interest in “understanding” why Brody had converted to Islam, let alone become a prospective suicide bomber — that Brody sounded almost in pain as he let it escape his tightening throat.
Quinn tried again. What about Dana? Chris? (Remember Chris? Your son you barely acknowledge exists? The one so wrapped up in the notion of his father the hero that the mere idea that his parents need “breathing room” caused him to practically whimper with worry?) How would they deal with “my dad, the jihadist murderer”? Brody called Quinn’s bluff. “I’ll take my chances. Go ahead and show them.”
And then something really odd happened. Brody’s stonewalling appeared to flip a switch in Quinn — heretofore a cool customer who prided in his reliability. With suddenly escalating anger, he pushed Brody for information on Nazir’s plans to retaliate for the Israeli nuclear bombings in Iran. Every question had the same answer: “I don’t know.” Then Quinn took out a switchblade, and plunged it into Brody’s left hand. Yeeeow!
Later, Quinn told Saul that his going all Jack Bauer on Brody was simply him playing (really really) bad cop to set up Carrie to play good cop. And that could very well be true. But it was just dangerous enough that it makes me wonder about how much further Quinn is willing to push things to get the results he wants.
But speaking of Jack Bauer, as I was watching this unfold, I began wondering if Quinn’s actions were meant as a pointed riposte to the criticism that befell the last Emmy-winning counterterrorism show from Homeland showrunner Howard Gordon: 24. That series was infamous for its hero using abuse and torture as a means of successful interrogation, but Quinn going all stabby-happy didn’t get Brody talking at all. Instead it took Carrie’s careful, measured, knowing dismantling of his defenses to get Brody to the place where he could, at long last, confess his sins.
As has so often been the case on Homeland, as she interrogated Brody, the line between Carrie’s professional interests and personal desires was all but invisible. Her first words to him had nothing to do with Abu Nazir or a bomb vest. Instead, she said to him, “You broke my heart, you know. Was that easy for you? Was that fun?” Just when things seemed like it was turning into My So-Called Life: The CIA Years, after Brody protested that he just told Estes the truth about her harassing his family, Carrie zigged right back to national security: “The truth?! Bulls—. You came this close to blowing him into a million pieces. Did you tell him that?”
NEXT PAGE: Brody keeps lying, and Carrie keeps trying
Brody clung tighter to the lie he told Quinn: “I didn’t wear a bomb,” he said, panting from exhaustion. Carrie clocked the lie, but instead of acknowledging it, she zagged the conversation back to her. “Did you even think about me when you went to Estes?” she demanded. “Go ahead. I’m a big girl. I can take it….Look me in the eye and tell me you felt nothing up in that cabin.” Brody kept evading the question, first saying they were playing each other, and then calling out her tactics: “I know what you’re doing, and it’s not going to work.”
Again, Carrie blew right past Brody’s prevarications as if they didn’t happen. “I’m just happy to be talking to you again,” she said with a bright smile. She got him water, and fed it to him, gently. But out of eyeshot of Brody, her expression wasn’t soft and loving. It was hard, alive with thought. She knew she needed to escalate things, fast, if she was going to get Brody to talk, so she walked over to each camera, made sure Brody saw her shut them off, and then whispered to him with an unnerving smile, “Alone at last.” Of course, they weren’t alone. Carrie had kept the audio running, so Quinn and Saul heard her take off his handcuffs. Then, with Brody clearly thrown off track, she sat back down and took a breath. Asking about her feelings hadn’t worked. Asking about the vest hadn’t worked. So Carrie decided to ask about his feelings.
“You said up at the cabin that you didn’t have anyone to talk to,” she said. “Did you ever find anybody? A friend? A therapist?” Of course he hadn’t. But it was enough of an opening for Carrie to remind Brody why they had connected in the first place — they both understood the soul-warping horror of going to war. “People always ask me about the war,” she said. “I never know what to tell them….No one survives intact.” And for the first time, Brody joined her line of inquiry with a simple agreement: “No.” She pushed further, asking what does he say when people ask about the war? “As little as possible,” he answered. “But if they insist?” Carrie insisted. Brody paused, and told her the first unvarnished truth he’d uttered since she’d sat in front of him. “I lie.” Bingo.
It was masterful, watching Carrie guide Brody to the surface, and once she got him to poke his head above water, even for a second, she set her hook and began to reel him in. “It’s the lies that undo us,” she said, speaking directly to the tightest knots of Brody’s snarled psyche. “It’s the lies we think we need to survive. When was the last time you told the truth?” Brody wasn’t going to make this easy. He lied again, saying he’d told the truth when he said he wasn’t wearing a vest.
But Carrie was on a roll. In a matter of a few simple questions and statements, she got Brody to pivot from the suicide tape, to Vice President Walden, to Abu Nazir. Before Brody knew what was happening, Carrie was verbally dismantling the man who had become Brody’s salvation. “I know that you think he was kind to you, that he saved you,” she told Brody, her eyes brimming with tears, his face slowly breaking. “But the truth is, he systematically pulled you apart, Brody. Piece by piece. Until there was nothing left but pain. And then he relieved the pain. And he put you back together again as someone else.”
There was something about the simplicity of Carrie’s explanation of what had happened to Brody, and the emotional clarity of Claire Danes’ delivery, that deeply moved me, and reaffirmed my emotional attachment to Brody as a character that had been sorely waning all season. Carrie further guided Brody to the salvation of telling the truth by confessing that she wants him to leave his family to be with her. (Nice cutaway to Saul’s subtly shocked reaction.) “You’re a good man, Brody,” she told him, “because you didn’t explode the vest you were wearing, right?” But when Brody still could not let go of the lie that he wasn’t wearing a vest, I gasped. It wasn’t from frustration or anger; it was sadness. I cared that Brody was so twisted with denial of what he had become that he still could not admit to himself what he had almost done.
Carrie, though, did not give up. She flipped the equation, pointing out that Brody hadn’t gone through with it, and reminding him that Dana had called him that day, that hearing her voice had changed his mind. “She asked you to come home, and you did,” she said. “Why?” Before he could answer, though, Carrie listed reasons for him: He didn’t want to ruin Dana’s life. He knew killing himself and Walden wouldn’t bring Issa back. He was just sick of death. “That’s the Brody I’m talking to,” she said. “That’s the Brody that knows the difference between warfare and terrorism. That’s the Brody I met up in that cabin. That’s the Brody I fell in love with.”
NEXT PAGE: Carrie closes the deal
Carrie gave Brody the gift of seeing himself as she saw him, and he took it, by taking Carrie’s hand. She had reeled him in, and he was ready to talk. He did not know about Abu Nazir’s plan, but, when she asked if there was a plan, he answered, with an agonizing whisper, “Yes.”
It was such a massive watershed moment for Brody that he answered Carrie’s follow-up question — who does know the plan? — with a bracing offhandedness: “Roya Hammad maybe, I’m not sure.” And then finally, when Carrie asked him who had made his suicide vest, Brody confessed to wearing one by proxy when he told her, “A tailor in Gettysburg.” (His confession was far from complete, of course; I don’t doubt that Brody neglecting to tell Carrie that he’d also murdered that tailor will come back to haunt them both.)
By the time it was all over — after Saul had Brody call Jessica to reassure her that he would be coming home that night, Carrie wincing at Brody’s intimacy with his wife on the phone — Brody was so exhausted, so emptied out, that he collapsed to the floor and passed out in the fetal position. Watching Danes and Damian Lewis navigate the complicated waters churning underneath this quiet tête-a-tête, I knew how he felt.
The following scene completed the hairpin turn of the episode, transforming Brody from a terrorist to a double agent, after Carrie explained that his inevitable trial and national dishonor could be wiped away so long as he cooperated with the U.S. government in thwarting Nazir. As Carrie drove Brody home, she established an affair between them (fake, for now) as their cover. “If you need me for whatever reason, just call and say you miss me,” she said, once more mixing the professional and the personal until they were one and the same. He sealed their union by taking her hand with his bloodied, bandaged one — a potent visual metaphor — but he was resigned to Nazir discovering his betrayal, and taking it out on his family. “We’ll protect your family,” said Carrie. But I don’t think even she believed it.
With Virgil standing watch, Brody shuffled home, to his wife, selling a story of a bender, and placating her demands for answers with a truth he could finally deliver her without fear: “I’m working for the CIA.”
And then in walked Dana, home from her own deadly misadventure, equally adept at lying about it as her father. It seems her date with Finn Walden — a kid savvy enough to know Sergio Leone is “a great Italian filmmaker who specializes in widescreen agony” — had taken its own unexpected hairpin turns. She’d encouraged him to have “fun,” which meant racing his BMW through the streets of D.C. in an effort to shake his Secret Service detail — until he hit a pedestrian, and drove off in panic. Moment to moment, there was nothing about this turn of events that I didn’t buy — I was especially anxious that their fast and furious escapade would end with a car wreck and Dana in the hospital. But piled onto the other events of this episode, it felt to me like the show’s aggressive storytelling style had finally pushed things too fast and furious.
That said, I get the intention here: To give Dana the experience of having a terrible, shameful secret so she may better relate to her father. It was heartbreaking to her Dana’s normally hard-edged voice become so childlike when she told her mother, “Dad changed over there. They did something to him.”
The question hanging over the rest of the season: Can Nicholas Brody change back?
Your turn: What did you make of “Q&A”? Do you think Brody can sustain his cover as a double agent? Do you think he and Carrie are destined (doomed?) to rekindle their romance for real? And what fallout do you think will befall Dana and Finn from their hit-and-run?