Brody's difficulty handling his double agent life brings him closer to Carrie, while Saul revisits an old friend from season 1
“Things are going to move very quickly now,” Roya Hammad told Brody at the top of this week’s episode. I guess by “now” she meant “maybe next week,” because this week Homeland felt somehow both overstuffed and uncharacteristically slack. It would be unfair to expect the show to sustain the electric pace of its first five episodes. But much like Mad Men‘s most recent season, after a series of superlative hours, Homeland‘s midsection is looking a wee bit flabby to me.
It’s understandable. Not every episode can contain an epochal storytelling twist; sometimes writers need to use an episode just to get their characters closer physically and emotionally to the next epochal storytelling twist. (By contrast, last year’s seventh episode of Homeland was “The Weekend,” in which Carrie and Brody boinked at her cabin — pretty much the definition of “epochal storytelling twist.”) Still, it’s jarring, after racing at breakneck speed on a bullet train for five hours, to find yourself at a posh pool party with roughly seven different intertwining plot strands leisurely vying for your attention. But even though this week’s episode restlessly jumped from Brody to Dana to Saul to Carrie to Jessica to Quinn to Mike to Vice President Walden to Mrs. Walden to Estes, the episode was ultimately only interested in accomplishing two things: Squeezing Brody, and reviving Saul. Let’s start with Saul first.
Ever since his escapades at the Beirut field office — and getting kicked out of Lebanon — Saul has largely skulked the background. That’s not to say he’s been invisible, but with Peter Quinn running the show, he hasn’t had all that much to do other than stand up for Carrie, reprimand Mike, and reprovingly stare at TV monitors. But with Roya Hammad announcing that whatever Abu Nazir is planning is ramping up fast(ish), the urgent need for helpful intel pushed Saul to back to the spotlight and paying a visit to his old car trip buddy, Aileen Morgan (the fabulous Marin Ireland).
Life had not been kind to Aileen since we last saw her explaining to Saul how love had driven her into joining Abu Nazir’s cause. Months spent confined in a supermax prison — 23 hours a day spent in a spare, antiseptic cell, with just one hour designated for supervised indoor exercise — had hollowed her out, transforming her into what the guard called “a spitter, a hitter, and a s—ter.”
“That doesn’t sound like her,” said Saul.
“Then you don’t know her too well,” replied the guard. Oh, Saul, had you only heeded this man’s sage words, you could have spared yourself so much needless heartache.
NEXT PAGE: Saul’s “heaven-may-care grooming”
The sight of Aileen haggard and curled up on her cell room floor immediately sparked Saul’s protective instincts, and he granted her request for their interview to unfold upstairs, in a room with three, big windows, with warm bright sunlight pouring through them. She kept her head turned towards those windows as she told Saul about her failing eyesight, the sadistic warden, and that she knew the mysterious man who’d led the bloody raid in Gettysburg. (Until we learn his name — and probably even after we learn his name — I shall be calling this gentleman “Swarthy Boreanaz.” Rolls off the tongue, I know!) But when Saul pressed her further, Aileen was resolute: No actionable information would be spilling from her lips until she could be guaranteed “a cell with a view.”
“Can you trust me that I can get that for you, and help me now?” asked Saul.
“I don’t trust anyone,” Aileen replied. Saul should have realized that people who cannot trust anyone generally cannot themselves be trusted. Instead, he marched over the warden’s office to make the request in person, and ran smack into what happens when petty men are given their own domain to control. “In this domain,” said the warden to Saul, “a big shot from the big city, with his fine credentials and heaven-may-care grooming, just doesn’t have the kind of power he’s accustomed to.” (Saul blanched at the term “heaven-may-care grooming,” though I’m not sure if it was because it was a passive-aggressive anti-Semetic dig, or simply a kooky turn-of-phrase.)
While Saul waited for the Attorney General to smack the warden upside the head, he tried to get Aileen to start helping him out. She wouldn’t. “I’m not getting f—ed over on this,” she seethed. “You’re not,” said Saul. “You have my word.” He fixed her with a stare filled with as much meaning as he could muster, but she wouldn’t soften. “I’m sorry I’ve become this person,” she said. “But I have.” So Saul brought her contraband to further win her trust: Bread, cheese, and wine. “To your window,” said Saul as they toasted their paper cups, and the warm tone in his voice betrayed how sentimental he’d become about Aileen, how much he genuinely cared for her. I think Aileen picked up on this too, because their interrogation suddenly flipped. Aileen brought up their road trip, and asked Saul about his wife, getting him to reveal she was living in Mumbai. She had him so emotionally stirred up that by the time the Attorney General’s order arrived, Saul thought nothing of handing his reading glasses to Aileen for her to look over the document. And then, when she finally revealed that Swarthy Boreanaz was named Mohammad al Ghamdi, Saul was so relieved, he raced out of the room without taking his reading glasses with him.
When Quinn led the team that charged into al Ghamdi’s home, however, instead of an international terrorist who could pass for a smoldering vampire with a soul, they found a doofy grad student musician who though of himself as the second coming of Coldplay — “Half an idiot,” as Quinn put it. He did know Aileen, but because his dad ran her family’s security when they lived in Saudi Arabia. Bottom line: Aileen had played Saul. “Why would she do that?” Saul asked, genuinely surprised and hurt. And then it hit him. He raced back into the interrogation room, but it was too late; she’d smashed his glasses, and used the shards to kill herself. “You missed the sunset,” she told Saul weakly as he wept over her body. She had weighed the options in front of her, the prospect of a life spent in a tiny concrete hole, and decided that was no life at all. “I just spent the day by the window. Light. Sun. The view. Best last day I could have.” And then she was gone.
As narrative, this was a dead-end — they where still, frustratingly nowhere. I think Saul, though, has turned a corner. “I got emotional,” he told Quinn back at their HQ. “I wanted to believe her.” He stood up and went to the bulletin board. “It was sloppy,” he said with self-contempt, moving Aileen’s face from the “alive” part of the board to the “dead” part. “I know better.” Since Saul had basically sanctioned Carrie to be nothing but emotional when it came to Brody, this was perhaps a long overdue insight. But I also hope that it means Saul’s been awakened from the periphery into a more critical role in the coming weeks. I’m liking Peter Quinn the more I see of him — and boy did we see a lot of him this week — but Homeland is at its best when Saul is standing at the front lines.
NEXT: “This thing is on, I’m at the center of it, and I’m in the f—ing dark!”
Brody, meanwhile, was facing down the opposite problem — he’s Homeland‘s indispensable man, the person central to everyone else’s plans and hopes and desires. And when you had little to no hand in getting yourself in that position — when everyone else’s priorities subsume your own until you don’t even know who you are or what you want anymore — well, you’d be pretty testy too. An anxious-seeming Roya told him his role had increased after Gettysburg since Danny had popped one of their guys, but she wouldn’t tell him what that role would be, or where, or why — just, as I said before, that it would be very soon. (She also mentioned that she wanted Brody to meet someone — likely Swarthy Boreanaz — at some point and some time, but that apparently is for some other episode.)
That day, Brody and his family were set to accompany the Walden family to a major fundraiser weekend held at the posh home and palatial pool of a major political bigwig. En route, Brody asked Jessica about Mike’s visit — seems Chris spilled the beans to his pops about it. (Aside: With each week, I’ve been tickled by how little everyone seems to think about Chris Brody — Jessica appeared mildly surprised in this scene that she even has a son. Given Homeland‘s track record, this probably means Chris’ll turn out to be the linchpin character of the entire series. Unless that’s what they want us to think. Oh, Homeland — even your audience is paranoid. End of aside.)
Jessica, who couldn’t very well lie to Brody after making such a stink about getting the truth from him, told her husband that Mike had stopped by to accuse Brody of killing Tom Walker. Brody, who couldn’t very well lie to Jessica after she’d made such stink about getting the truth from him, just kinda lied to her. “The CIA knew we were close and they used me to reach him,” he said. “And it got messy. Like, dangerous. Yeah. I had a part in, uh, stopping him.” Bravo, Brody! Spoken like a real politician!
Jessica flipped out, and after everyone had arrived for the fundraiser, so did Brody, who rang up Carrie for an understandable “WTF” conversation. Carrie, blindsided that Mike had ignored his wrist slapping from Saul and Estes, had no real answers for Brody. “Great,” Brody fumed. “So you’re hedging. Roya’s hedging. This thing is on, I’m at the center of it, and I’m in the f—ing dark!”
Back at HQ, Carrie demonstrated once more her quickly identified the core issue. “He’s still with us, but he needs to feel a sense of control; power,” she told Quinn. Since Quinn had just flashed his empirically impressive keister to Carrie in his hospital room — which seemed like his version of the fifth grader who throws mud at the girl he likes — his directive to Carrie to “empower” Brody was a telling one. Methinks our bullet riddled Mr. Quinn has a bit of a crush.
NEXT: “It’s hard wanting something, or someone, that you just can’t have.”
Before Carrie could meet up with Brody, though, she decided to empower Mike Faber — by kneecapping his investigation into Brody and Tom Walker. She told him of an impending terrorist attack, told him to “cease and f—ing desist,” and then switched on the empathy. “You’re emotional about Brody because you’re in love with his wife,” she said, cutting to the chase as only Carrie can. Mike, being a handsome loaf of generic white bread, put up a feeble protest, but eventually folded. “That was a long time ago,” he mumbled. “Not really,” Carrie said. “Not when you’ve chosen someone. Look Mike, it’s hard wanting something, or someone, that you just can’t have.” Indeed, Carrie. Indeed. “I hope you get what you want,” Carrie said as she was leaving — because if Mike gets what he wants, of course, maybe she can get what she wants too.
For a fleeting moment, in the sexiest scene yet in this rather unsexy season, she did. She met Brody in the woods outside the fundraiser (nevermind that the perimeter would’ve been covered by the Secret Service — Carrie is pretty squirrelly), and just let him talk. She listened to him talk about the uncomfortable conversation he’d just had with his host; how the man had seen a greatness and grace in Brody that Brody knew for a certainty was not there; how the man had actually served as a soldier in Vietnam instead of disappear into a hole for eight years and reemerge as a terrorist. “He didn’t lose himself,” Brody said, his eyes wide and brimming as he spoke more honestly about who he’d become than he had in ages. “Worst part of it is, he believes I’m like him. That guy is the man I could have been, if I hadn’t…” He trailed off. Carrie took his hand. And they kissed, passionately.
But if Carrie found what she wanted in that moment, Brody did not. “Is this for real?” he asked, pulling away. Carrie was as honest as she could be: “I don’t know, and I don’t want you to feel used.” He tried kissing her again, and then, his lips still on hers, he confessed: “You know what? I do feel used. And played. And lied to. But I also feel good.” Carrie grinned with pleasure and relief, like an addict who’d rediscovered a long-lost stash. But Brody wasn’t done. “Two minutes with you, and I feel good. How do you pull that off?” He couldn’t trust his own happiness anymore. He left, and to Carrie’s credit, she merely looked put out — no lip-quivering breakdowns ripe for SNL parody this week! (Kudos to director John Dahl for finding a way to shoot around Claire Danes’ pregnancy while still giving this scene some palpable heat.)
Brody returned to the pool, this time devoid of people and grotesque emotional vultures pissed they missed they cut for Real Housewives of D.C. He was alone, finally, and thus followed a brief and melancholic underwater scene of Brody swimming, his scars exposed as he hovered underneath the surface, the world finally, fleetingly shut out. It was an affecting sequence, as close to visual beauty as this show allows itself. Alas, it was also as short-lived for Brody as it was for us. He’d barely resurfaced when he was confronted with yet another nagging yank at his attention: Dana. And that’s when things began to go off the rails for me.
NEXT PAGE: “It’s not okay, but we should not be benched because of it.”
After wanly pestering Finn to come clean clearly wasn’t going to work, Dana did what she does best and blurted the truth at one of the least opportune moments possible — in public, at the party, in front of Jessica and Mrs. Walden. Woof, did this plotline bring out the worst of Homeland‘s hamhanded handling of American national politics. Jessica galloped forward on her honesty hobby horse, never once flinching at the idea of going to the police or even aware of what that would mean for her husband’s political career. This is the same woman who refused to acknowledge that her husband had converted to Islam, let alone speak openly about it, lest it damage his place as U.S. Congressman and prospective vice presidential candidate. The Waldens, meanwhile, embraced their venal politician stereotype and presumed everything would be swept under the rug with all the urgency of a paper cut. “It’s not okay,” the vice president growled of the hit-and-run, “but we should not be benched because of it.” Mrs. Walden WASP-ishly flicked at the idea that Finn is scared of his father, while Finn himself disappeared into a depressive cynicism and was sent home. And Dana seemed utterly befuddled by it all.
The next morning, Brody was resolved to do the right thing by his daughter, and scooped her up to take her to the D.C. police — though, since everyone was driven to the fundraiser in government limos, I’m not entirely sure where Brody’s car came from. When Estes saw them leaving, he justified his presence in the episode by calling Carrie and alerting her as to what was about to go down. Why didn’t he call Quinn or Saul as well? Why didn’t he chase Brody down himself and explain right then and there why Brody couldn’t risk alienating the Waldens at this critical moment in their effort to thwart an imminent terrorist attack? Because, if he had, we wouldn’t have ended the episode with Carrie uncomfortably standing in front of the police station, blocking Brody from entering, in full view of Dana.
At the very least, Carrie’s presence rekindled the inner brat in Dana that had been trammeled into submission in the wake of Finn’s hit-and-run. She walked up to Brody and Carrie looking ready to punch someone, and after Carrie awkwardly introduced herself, Dana cut her short. “Yeah, I remember,” Dana said peevishly. “What are you doing here?” (I had no idea how much I missed bratty Dana, but heaven help me, I did.) With Finn’s words about knowing “how it goes” still ringing in her ears, she assumed it all had to do with the campaign — “what could be more important?” — and stormed off after calling her father “bulls—.”
As Homeland climaxes go, Brody screaming at Carrie that “none of this is f—ing okay” before running after his daughter doesn’t rate too high. The overwrought score especially overplayed the dramatic hand here. But, I mean, I get it. The show needed to turn the screws ever tighter around Brody’s high-strung psyche, pushing him to the breakdown he appears to have in next week’s episode. I just hope the Waldens are nowhere near it.
Finally, a mea culpa: I was too quick to pronounce Danny Galvez dead in last week’s recap. It would appear he’s still clinging to life in a D.C. ICU. It’s a curious choice, letting Danny linger off camera — clearly, the show isn’t done with him yet. Will his recovery (or death) become a rally cry for the CIA? Could he turn out to be the mole after all? Will I ever let that storyline go?
Okay, your turn, and more questions: What did you think of “The Clearing”? Do you think Quinn’s pain pill popping is suggesting an unhappy ending? Were you satisfied with how the hit-and-run revelation was handled? And are you hoping to see more from Max the mute?