Homeland Recap: Into the Woods

Damien Lewis as Nicholas
Photo: Kent Smith/Showtime

I’ve talked about this before in these recaps, but it’s a genuine concern with a show like Homeland that the viewer is going to be strung along and trust that the show is going to pay everything off at the end. Here, at the midpoint of season one, I think it’s safe to say that I’m a good bit less concerned about that. If this episode does nothing else, it advances the plot well beyond what was laid out in the pilot.

Let’s start with the domestic situation, the better to get it out of the way. Encouragingly, last week’s confrontation between Brody and Mike was confirmation that Brody knows about Mike’s affair with Jess. And with Brody off weekending with Carrie in their Log Cabin of Secrets, Jess and Mike are given plenty of time to sit around and wonder what’s to be done next. Which is thorny and heartbreaking and booooring, so it’s a good thing that Dana is there to be a giant bitch to her mom, get high with her friends while Jess is gone, and crash through a sliding glass door like she’s in an eighties after-school special. Don’t worry, Dana fans! She doesn’t die. She just gets stitches and then comes home and has a brief but surprisingly heartfelt interaction with Mike. “There’s no place for my dad when you’re here,” she tells him. It’s the kind of moment that reminds you that these two had a relationship before Brody came back, and it brings Dana ever so slightly back from the brink of being a typical bratty TV teen.

And while we’re on the subject of teen girls who will get far less sympathy than they might deserve, Saul managed to get to the heart of homegrown-terrorist Aileen by relating to her story as a teenager in love with a boy her father didn’t approve of. Sure, it’s a bit reductive to go the rebellious-teen route with Aileen, but seeing as I’m much more fascinated with Saul than I am with her, I welcomed an excuse for him to use his sotto voce manipulation techniques to get Aileen to cooperate. We saw a little bit of this last week, but something about Aileen and Fizel’s part in this terrorist plot really lit a fire under him. There wasn’t much trace of the man Carrie blasted for being a pussy when he was all up David Estes’s ass to let him get in the field and bring Aileen in himself. Maybe he knew he’d be uniquely suited to get to her with his stories of teenage isolation (as the only Jew in Indiana) and how much he correctly surmised about her past with Fizel. Ultimately, he had the skills to get her to cooperate and identify the man who came by her house by the airport to check out something on the roof. But more on that in a second.

The bulk of this episode, and 90 percent of the reason why it was one of the best episodes of what has already been a pretty great season, was taken up with Brody and Carrie’s weekend getaway. Picking up right where we left off last week, Brody needs to get his mind off of the polygraph he just took. If he’s taking the “Have you ever been unfaithful to your wife?” question personally, he’s not letting on. Similarly, Carrie’s playing it cool with how they both know that he stone-cold lied on that question and passed the poly anyway. So after getting into an altercation at some shitkicker bar, where Carrie tells off a local white supremacist by telling him, among other things, “I love sucking Nazi dick!” they end up at her family’s place in the woods.

Oh, did I mention Carrie’s running out of her anti-psychotics? That’s one of the things hanging in the air at the cabin, along with the boatloads of secrets the two are keeping from each other. Meanwhile, despite those secrets, what’s actually happening at the cabin is two people taking basic, uncomplicated comfort in each other. Carrie talks a brilliant casual game with Brody, even as, inside the cabin, she scrambles to find a gun and load it, you know, just in case. She tells him about losing a translator in Iraq — actually having to watch as he was hung from a bridge. Later, after the two have sober sex for the first time together, Carrie is there to talk him out of one of his waking nightmares. It’s unfair but unavoidable to compare this to Jess’s inability to deal with Brody’s PTSD. If you didn’t know everything else that was going on, you might even venture to say that Carrie and Brody are good for each other.

And then: that goddamned tea. First of all, how hilarious that Carrie’s entire house of cards would end up being brought down by something she keeps (or in this case doesn’t keep) in her cupboards? She mentions not having his favorite brand of tea, only he’s never mentioned that to her. Now, at this point, if I’m being honest, I had ZERO expectations that this would go anywhere but Carrie clumsily explaining her gaffe away, Brody getting suspicious but ultimately accepting said explanation, and then returning home and maybe finding some oblique evidence of Carrie’s surveillance. But no! Carrie’s unable to come up with a convincing lie, and Brody’s savvy enough that I’m not sure a lie would have worked on him anyway. So, backed into a corner, Carrie comes out with it all: the surveillance, the intel that an American POW has been turned, everything. Emotions are highly charged — oh, and Brody found her gun — but ultimately this isn’t some kind of action climax. The thrilling parts are what she’s willing to ask him outright, and what he’s willing to tell her. Which is pretty much everything short of admitting he’s a terrorist, which he vehemently denies. He tells her about praying in his garage. How his suspicious hand signals are him trying to pray without prayer beads. How he found Islam when everything was taken away from him. How he lied about Tom Walker’s death. How he killed Walker on kill-or-be-killed orders from Abu Nazir. How Nazir offered him comfort and he took it. “I was broken, living in the dark for years, and a man walked in and was kind to me, and I loved him.”

As sympathetic and bracingly honest (even if you think he’s only being honest to a point) as Brody is, I was equally struck by how frank Carrie was in this scene. “I’m working!” she says, “I’m always working!” She keeps going back to the intel she got in Iraq: an American POW has been turned, and Brody is the only person who fits that description. This isn’t personal. This isn’t a crusade. The way she tells it, she’s pretty much handcuffed by what makes sense. And then comes the wallop of a revelation, as Saul calls her with the news. That man that Aileen let up on her roof, whom she kindly sketched out for the Agency? Thomas Walker. The man Brody supposedly beat to death in Iraq. As mid-season turning-point revelations go, it’s not bad.

I guess we’ll leave it to next week, and beyond, to unravel how Walker is still alive. Was Brody ultimately a plant by Nazir to get Walker’s death confirmed back in the States, so no one would suspect him? Seems like a lot of work. But that’s logical fallout. This episode leaves us with emotional fallout, as Brody angrily leaves Carrie alone in the woods. As much as their relationship was based on bald-faced deception, they were still oases for each other. Now that safe space is gone, for the both of them.

Homeland Recap: Into the Woods