With only one more episode before what promises to be a crackler of a season finale (here's where we all recite Veena Sud's name and spit on the ground because HEAVEN FORBID), Homeland took time that could have been spent frantically plotting and instead jumped down a couple of dark wells in terms of Carrie's psyche and Brody putting his house in order. Not to invent a straw man here, but can't you imagine a version of this episode with a tight focus on the hunt for the mole, and with Brody having to jump through more intense hoops than a snooping daughter to get his bomb vest into place? We've already become conditioned to prestige dramas dropping giant bombshells in their penultimate episodes. But I love Homeland for the ways it works with and against the tendencies of political thrillers, and this episode is a prime example.
I always like the Carrie scenes better than the Brody ones, but this week especially I'd be shocked if that weren't true for everybody. Claire Danes is thrilling as she walks the high wire of Playing Crazy, and she never falls off. Starting with terrorizing the poor hospital employees with her demands for a green pen, Carrie is obviously suffering the effects of her hospitalization, and in particular her being off her meds for so long. Saul is legitimately freaked out at the state Carrie is in (more brilliant, near-silent work from Mandy Patinkin), and after he takes her home, he rings up her sister, who comes by with emergency downers. (Of course, you do have to wonder what kept Maggie from thinking ahead on this issue and paying a damn hospital visit to her sister who got 'sploded by a highly publicized suicide bomb?)
A lot of the Crazy Carrie scenes are what you'd expect. She's like she normally is, only SO MUCH MORE. Her usual stone-cold certainty in her theories is cranked to the max, only now there are just so many more directions her brain is moving. Also, as you might expect if you've watched a little TV before, Carrie's right about a lot. She discounts the single-sniper theory the CIA has been developing for Tom Walker because it's not Abu Nazir's style. They should be expecting something bigger, flashier, and with a higher body count. And despite all her ravings about colored pens, there is clearly something to her color-coding. It's a shocking reflection of her fragmented mind when Saul sees her entire living room strewn with what looks to be every piece of intel Carrie has ever encountered. It says a lot about Saul, and his working relationship with Carrie, that he was able to dive into her swirling madness and make sense of it.
Danes and Patinkin have been an amazing acting duo all season, but this episode felt like what they'd been building to. The scene where Saul explains to her how crazy she's coming across to him is utterly heartbreaking, and the wounded glimmer of self-awareness on Carrie's face keeps Claire Danes's performance from tipping into that Stock Crazy Lady place. So Carrie's meds finally kick in (a liiiiittle bit, at least) long enough for her and Saul to look at the newly ordered intel and get to the heart of it: It's a timeline that shows a period (coded in yellow) where Nazir's activity was notably quiet. Carrie — her instincts as sharp as ever — theorizes that it was a mourning period, particularly since it was followed by what she calls a vengeful period. That "fallow yellow" period coincides directly with Brody's time with Nazir, as it happens.
Unfortunately, Carrie's manic tendencies rebound, and with Saul at work (trying to fend off Estes, who's under orders from an ornery VP to make a scapegoat for the Farragut bombing), she decides to dial up Brody directly and ask him what he knows about this period in Nazir's life. It's a screamingly bad idea to us, given what we know about Brody, and indeed Brody blows her in to Estes for her "harassment" of him ever since he's been back. So while Carrie rages helplessly, Estes and his agents dismantle the work it took so long to sort out. It's a crushing blow.
As for Brody, he and the family take a trip to Gettysburg, which takes care of a few things, both within the story and outside of it. For one thing, Brody ducks into a clothing shop to pick up what will be his weapon in Nazir's attack: a bomb vest, loaded up with enough shrapnel to make exactly the kind of horrific impact Carrie figures Nazir wants. Dana catches him loading the dark parcel into the car, but Brody's able to keep her prying eyes away. For now.
At the same time, the show allows us to see just how far the Brody family has come since episode one. Brody and Jess are closer than ever — and able to have sex without any kind of traumatic masturbation rituals or anything. And despite Dana's increasing suspicions of her dad's weirdness, there's still a sense that the family is banding together. The dark undercurrent of this trip, knowing what we know, is that Brody is essentially saying good-bye to his kids. He wants Dana to take care of the family. He wants Chris to know something of the values of standing up for what one believes in. Not sure if Brody is delusional enough to think this lesson will sink in if he goes through with this suicide bombing, but there doesn't seem to be any sinister motive to Brody beyond an honest desire to leave his kids with something good from himself, before he carries out the worst thing he'll ever do.
Carrie's Fridge Update: Maggie addresses the problem of Carrie's barren fridge head-on, and she eventually goes food shopping for her sister. Spotted in grocery bags: cereal and a bag of either apples or tomatoes. It's a start.
Mathison Family Diagnosis Update: A really fantastic appearance by James Rebhorn as Carrie's dad. Last time we saw him he felt a little marginalized — the cautionary tale for Carrie to be wary of. This week, he seemed far more pulled together, and he was able to give her some great advice. He's been down in the hole she's in, and he knows the seductive certainty that these manic episodes provide. Loved the talk about "Good Gut" vs. "Bad Gut," and the pained look on dad's face when he knew he wasn't going to dissuade Carrie from making a very bad decision.
Family Game Time Update — Educational Division: So a Brody family car trip involves lots of quizzing about historical subjects, then? Maybe Dana's sullen disposition is a bit more understandable. That whole car trip felt layered a bit thickly, to be honest. From the spinning steering-wheel cam to Dana's on-the-nose observation that "dad's scars are so faded." We get it! Metaphors are a thing!
Mole Hunt Update: The search for the mole within the Agency certainly did get some play, as Saul and Estes have it pretty high on their priority lists. Interesting that Agent Galvez has reentered the picture just as the mole discussion is ramping up, hmmm?
Doogie Memorial Medical Fellowship Update: Carrie was being treated by "Dr. Jeremy"? Not very confidence-inspiring. Obviously, he drew the Saul Disapproving Scowl of the Week.