Jessica Brody has just spent nearly a week trapped in a luxurious CIA penthouse making do with semi-decent wine, making time with her extramarital action figure, seeing her daughter freak out over spilled milk, and watching her husband choke back tears over the death of the man who tortured him for close to a decade. Rather than pique her curiosity, all of this has, in fact, shut it down entirely. “For the longest time, all I wanted was for you to tell me the truth,” she tells Brody in the parked car that is their relationship. “I don’t have to know anymore. I just don’t want to.”
It seems both convenient and counterproductive for Jess to take comfort in ignorance, especially to those of us impatiently waiting for next week’s finale and its promise of either redemption or ruin for a sophomore season that’s flirting with the edge. But if the episode briefly known as “The Motherfucker With a Turban” was about anything — and, let’s be clear, at times it was hard to tell if it was — it was about Homeland’s particularly cynical view of truth: that, contra the black and white dogma of the Nazirs and Waldens of the world (RIP x2!) truth is entirely subjective, just another weapon to be used and abused, depending on who’s doing the asking. Saul fights off the polygraph for the second time in a year — not because he’s a mole, but because he knows the score: No matter his noble intentions, anything he says can and will be used against him by an even more dangerous motherfucker, this one in a slick suit. “The test is a goddamn farce,” he barks. Sometimes it’s better to keep the answers to yourself or, like Jess, just not know anything at all.
Can I admit to feeling more than a little sympathy for that sort of sweet, sweet cluelessness? Despite a few remarkable scenes, last night didn’t do much to assuage my concerns about where we’re headed. In fact, it may have exacerbated them. A week ago, I argued that the key to Homeland wasn’t its stumbles but the surprising ways it always managed to pick itself back up. But whereas “Broken Hearts” base-jumped right off the top of Mount Nutso, “In Memoriam” lacked the crazy of its own convictions. Instead, it tethered a number of extremely strong emotional scenes (Jess/Brody, Roya/Carrie, Chris/Cap’n Crunch) to the same sort of ill-advised action that had many fans reaching for the shark repellant just seven days ago. The result was an episode that felt very out of character for such a frantic, fearless show; it was less diving into the unknown and more treading water.
To be clear, I can forgive a bunch of sneaking around in the dark and even some of Carrie’s witless horror-movie-victim behavior, but it needed to be bolstered by something earned and true. Instead, Nazir’s elaborate Inside Man-ing of the CIA struck me as too clever by half. We know by now that the man, bearded or not, is a brilliant and calculating schemer. (And, it appears, a hardy camper. His depressing sleeping bag setup suggests he really hasn’t seen the best of what the Great Satan has to offer!) However, it beggars belief that Nazir didn’t have a larger plan in motion outside of playing hide and seek with the Feds, one that accepted his death in exchange for something truly devastating. (Sending the vice-president a heart attack via Paperless Post hardly seems to count because it’s uncredited. Terrorists aren’t known for their subtlety or lack of ego.) Knowing all of this — or, more specifically, the show’s insistence on having us not know — made Carrie’s gutpunching triumph over her sworn enemy seem even more ambiguous than I think the writers intended, transforming what should’ve been a major milestone in the war on terror into what felt like a mid-game boss battle in Chris Brody’s beloved “Kuma War.”
I’ve written at length about how this sort of having it both ways has severely hamstrung the character of Brody in the second season; how the need to have him remain a wild card is at odds with Carrie’s dedicated, apparently successful attempt to open him up. (To his credit, Damian Lewis was uniformly strong this week, primarily because, regardless of his true intentions, there was no denying the effect of losing his family and his father figure in a single day. The devastation was written all over his still, unflinching face.) But at the moment, I’m more concerned about Carrie. The singular brilliance of Homeland’s first season, to me, hinged on the revelation that Carrie Mathison — this singular, briliant creation — was unquestionably right about everything but nobody, except the audience, knew it. Thanks to Brody’s change of heart, the reckless slashings of her mind wound up doing damage only to herself. This season began with a redemption, of sorts, with the revelation of the suicide video. But since then, hasn’t Carrie been exactly wrong about everything that’s crossed her path? She’s consistently been a step slow, jumping out of vans at inopportune moments, and noticing clues far too late. The red herring of Galvez was both a supremely clever wink on the part of Gansa and Gordon — c’mon, the mole isn’t going to be the Muslim you all expect it to be — and another worrying example of how blinkered the usually bright-eyed Carrie’s become. It’s like she’s no longer able to see what’s going on through the constant flood of tears.
When, after escaping Nazir’s warehouse/dungeon for the first time, Carrie reached Brody by cell phone, I was struck by how their dynamic seemed to have utterly flipped. He was untouched, high above the city, and she was his field agent. “All that matters to me right now is that you’re safe,” he purred, which sounded, in true manipulative fashion, exactly like the sort of thing a concussed Carrie would want to hear. The two have quite literally been in bed together, but now they’re coupled in a deeper sense: They’ve colluded over the death of the vice-president of the United States! So it’s worth asking: Back at Langley, when Carrie stares at her battered reflection in the mirror, what does she see, exactly? What are her priorities now, and what does she love? Is it America — or one occasionally traitorous American? It seems to me Homeland’s protagonist has fallen prey to the same sticky morality that has long bedeviled its lesser characters: What’s the difference between an idea and an ideology? Between a romantic and a fanatic? The show’s most compelling theme has been showing how everything, even baggy concepts like good and evil, can be reduced to personal relationships. Aileen didn’t hate her country as much as she loathed what it did to the man she adored. Brody cared more for the dead son of his enemy than his own living child. Those stories didn’t end well, and I wonder what that portends for Carrie.
In my mind, the most important scene last night — not to mention the best — was Carrie’s botched interrogation of Roya. More than running back into the apartment in Beirut, or into the warehouse in Virginia, or into Brody’s pale and freckled arms, this was the most devastating of Carrie’s unforced errors. It’s not so much that she’s lost her fastball; it’s that she’s currently only capable of serving up gopherballs to one particular batter. And so after she seems to have connected with the same weepy intimacy that worked so well with Brody — “Have you ever had someone who somehow takes over your life, pulls you in, gets you to do things that aren’t really you?” — Roya drops the hammer: “Well, I’ve never been that stupid. You idiot whore! … You think this is some fucking game?!?” With her furious outburst, Roya not only shakes something within Carrie but within the show itself. If, for some, the increasing soap-operatics are threatening to overwhelm Homeland, this explosion suggests an antidote. The message hidden within Roya’s hysterics wasn’t just Nazir’s true intentions; in fact, the main takeaway didn’t require a translator at all: Carrie is acting like an idiot! This isn’t the opinion of a prisoner; it’s demonstrably true! Off, like Don Draper before her, on “love leave,” Carrie’s been duped, gamed, and broken. The big question mark dangling over the finale is whether she’ll snap out of it in time.
I guess this is the point where I admit it: I’ve hunkered down pretty completely in Emily Nussbaum’s Brody conspiracy spider-hole. Not because I look rakish in tinfoil hats or tap my toes to the whirring of the black helicopters above my apartment (though I certainly do!), but because I simply don’t see any other acceptable endgame here. It goes against every storyteller-respecting bone in my body to grasp at straws like this, but there seem to be only two potential resolutions to the season. And the far more preferable option hews closely to the Nussbaum model.
Consider: Everything that’s happened thus far, from Nazir’s suicide-by-cop to the bright red hearts Carrie is doodling on her inner tackboard, is part of the real master plan. Nicholas Brody is still a terrorist, and still intends to attack America. (Even the near-confession to Jessica in that remarkable scene in front of their house fits: One way or another, he knows he’s gone; admitting even a hint of his motivations to Jess would serve the same purpose as the now-discovered suicide tape.) He cares for Carrie, yes, but he also resents her manipulations nearly as much as he resented Nazir’s. Nothing could be more brutal than Carrie discovering she was as wrong about Brody as she once was right. And I can think of no finer conclusion to the Brody portion of Homeland — because, come on, the page has to be turned, right? F. Murray Abraham didn’t fly to Charlotte just to eat breakfast! — than having Carrie forced to break her own heart by defeating him.
Pros for this theory: the missing time in the Brody/Nazir powwow and their fervent praying together; Brody’s sad acceptance that his family is gone for good; the fact that Carrie has been allowed to run ragged over everything, bullying any good ideas — including Saul’s — in pursuit of her own happy ending.
Cons: With both Walden and Nazir off the board and no scheduled giant events to disrupt (Chris’s karate practice doesn’t count), what could Brody’s surprise plan even be?
The other, lesser possibility involves me accepting the one thing about Homeland that still sticks in my craw: that Brody, like Color Me Badd before him, did it all for love. In this version, the twisted soulmates go on the run from a pistol-packing Peter Quinn, bonding over the murkiness of loyalty and the fog of war before — I assume — Brody sacrifices himself not for jihad but to save the life of his bipolar belle. (There is also a third way that involves me admitting I have no idea what I’m talking about. But this is part of Homeland’s sick genius, that it has us spinning out, touching the rope burns where this crazy narrative has bound us, and reaching for our meds, even if we don’t have any handy.)
As I said, it’s a stark choice and I have absolutely no idea in which direction Abu Gansa and his minions will choose to go. But when you think about it for a moment, there’s really only one acceptable outcome. It’s sort of like the decision Brody presented to Carrie in the (artificially?) tender conclusion: “It was you or Walden, Carrie. It wasn’t even close.” Nice words, but dude: outside of a Woody Allen movie, who would ever choose his arch-enemy over his lover? No, I want Brody to be fooling with Carrie, and I want Homeland to be fooling with us. In the long term, it’s not really tenable to build a series on the back of surprises, but this season has had too many of them to quit now. Last week, Carrie called Abu Nazir a terrorist for his callous disregard for any human life. But Homeland is all about moving from the macro to the micro, from the impersonal to the impossibly intimate. So nothing could be more appropriate for this show than to have Brody revealed to be a terrorist, as well, but this time because of his cruel treatment of a single human heart.
To paraphrase Robert Frost: Two roads diverged in a Guantanamo hood. And I sincerely hope they take the one less traveled by! Because, with time running out and skepticism soaring, that would truly make all the difference.