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Homeland Recap: Nod If You Understand

Diego Klattenhoff as Mike Faber in Homeland (Season 2, Episode 6). - Photo: Kent Smith/SHOWTIME - Photo ID: Homeland_206_3404

Packed with new tidbits, muddy motivations, and unresolved subplots, “A Gettysburg Address” feels like a ramping-up episode, intended to propel Homeland toward its season-two finale. Written by Chip Johannessen and directed by Guy Ferland, the episode made us wonder whether Carrie is really channeling her feelings for Brody and using them for strategic ends, or if she’s kidding herself in thinking so and is doomed to make an even worse judgment call than when she ran off with Brody last season.

It showed Dana coping with massive guilt over last week’s hit-and-run, and acting more and more like somebody who would eventually come clean even if it meant dragging her family into an international scandal. It moved Brody’s frenemy (and Jessica’s ex-lover) Mike closer to the center of the narrative, advancing his investigation into Brody-as-bad-guy, then slamming him into an official stonewall in the scene where Saul and David warn him not to stick his nose where it doesn’t belong; by the end, he’d visited Brody’s home and told Jessica that it was her husband who killed Tom Walker. The episode made Abu Nazir seem nearly omnipotent by having a terrorist commando team disguised as a U.S. tactical unit kill a roomful of CIA agents (and gravely wound Peter) just as they were about to find what appeared to be a rocket launcher (or, you know, something else) hidden behind the tailor’s wall. And it backtracked on the catharsis of last week’s “Q&A,” making us question whether Brody had truly gone over to the CIA, and if so, to what extent.

What a piece of work is Brody! He has flipped. He hasn’t flipped. He has flipped, kind of. He’s conflicted. He’s playing everyone, including the audience. He’s a wreck. He’s a mystery. He reminds me of Kris Kristofferson’s “The Pilgrim, Chapter 33,” a song paraphrased in another great tale of a veteran turned assassin, Taxi Driver: “He's a walking contradiction, partly truth and partly fiction / Taking every wrong direction on his lonely way back home.”

In “A Gettysburg Address,” the former Marine turned Congressman has a hole in his hand thanks to Peter Quinn’s violent improvisation last week — and more figurative holes in his heart than he can count: his capture, his torture, his brainwashing, his participation in the (real, to him) “death” of Tom Walker, his actual murder of Tom Walker in the storm drain, the death of Issa, the death of his marriage. He still loves his wife and children, and he’s still in love with his deprogrammer/handler/cover story Carrie — to the extent that such a twisted-up man can love anyone. When Brody told Jessica, “I’m working for the CIA” at the end of last week’s episode, that was true, but only as of a few hours earlier, and only if you accepted that Brody had flipped and was working for the U.S. exclusively. As “A Gettysburg Address” unfolds, we realize that’s not the case.

“I’m glad you’re back,” Jessica tells him, bringing him coffee in bed, and it’s tempting to treat the words “You’re back” as an existential statement, not just a report on where Brody slept last night. But if indeed Brody is “back” — in the sense of “back to being the real Brody,” or just back to being a decent mate who’s honest with his wife — what does that mean? And whatever it does mean, can Jessica (and the viewer) trust Brody, or even get a handle on him?

“Ask me anything,” Brody says, “and I’ll tell you if I possibly can.” Jessica knows what she wants to ask him — if he’s working with his ex-lover Carrie — but she chokes and bolts the bedroom. When she gathers her nerve later that morning and poses the question, he lies, right after offering to show her his BlackBerry to prove that he really did get a call from Langley and not from “the nut.”  “I told you she had a nervous breakdown,” Brody tells Jessica. “They kicked her out. She’s not even at the CIA anymore.”

Each of those sentences is true, but they add up to one more lie. Brody rarely answers the questions put to him. He only seems to.

Ironically, now Carrie expects total commitment from Brody, too. It’s as if he’s got two spouses now: one at home, the other at work. The CIA teams tailing Brody aren’t just for his protection; they’re insurance against the possibility of him giving up classified information to the enemy — like detectives hired to tail a habitually philandering spouse.

Brody’s deal with David and Saul’s off-the-books counterterrorist team requires total transparency; unfortunately, huge sections of Brody are opaque to them, by Brody’s design. He fessed up to the bomb vest, but not to killing Tom Walker in the storm drain, or murdering the tailor in “New Car Smell.” He’s doling out honesty in pretty measured doses. Why? Because he’s a triple agent posing as a double agent, still loyal to Abu Nazir, or afraid of what Nazir might do to his family? Because if he confessed to every bad thing he’s done in the last eight years, he’d fall apart?

The episode starts with Carrie and Peter in a control room surveilling Roya Hammad, Brody’s Abu Nazir handler, while she meets with a man in a public plaza. Roya’s contact is a character we haven’t met before, and we’ll see him again at the end of the episode, leading a strike team that kills everyone involved in the Gettysburg operation and wounds Peter (maybe fatally?). This is a man so under the radar that the CIA has no idea who he is and can’t use facial recognition technology to find out. “This is it, this is the meet we’ve been waiting for!” Carrie exclaims, although this sounds more like a wish than a solid observation. White noise from a fountain drowns out the conversation, and Max and Virgil — CIA freelancers who work with Carrie regularly — are off their game from the start and can’t get close enough to get clean audio. The unknown man flees and Max loses him somewhere in a D.C. Metro station.

This seems like a great excuse to bring Brody into the operation and see how useful he can be. “The deal we talked about,” Carrie tells Brody when he reports to Langley, “You helping us get Nazir in exchange for total immunity … If you’re still willing, it starts now.” She asks him to I.D. the mysterious man, and he says he doesn’t know him — a lucky break for Brody, because it means he doesn’t have to lie to Abu Nazir or the CIA. But it leads to a wonderful moment of agonizing silence: Brody sitting at the table, glancing nervously backwards at Carrie by the bulletin board and Peter glowering in front of him. “You know, I think I should get going, I have a busy day ahead of me,” he says lamely.

“You’re absolutely sure you don’t know anything that could help us?” Peter presses him.

“Yeah, like I said, I’ve never seen him before,” Brody says.

“That’s not what I asked, though, is it?” Peter says coldly, nailing Brody’s M.O. in one sentence.

On the way out, Brody blurts out that he was supposed to take the tailor to a safe house, but “he died on the way.”

“He … died?” Peter says skeptically.

“Yeah, he thought I was trying to kill him, and he bolted, and he fell,” Brody says, another statement that’s true yet a lie.

“The deal is full fucking disclosure, not pick and choose what you say!” Peter yells, with a rage that made me think that his knife stunt last episode wasn’t just theater.

Carrie, meanwhile, is headed deeper into her own ethical swamp. By instructing Brody to use a reignited affair as his cover story and to call her regularly, she risks compromising the very same time-sensitive, top-secret mission that their romantic bond made possible.

“That guy is a pathological liar,” Peter tells her after exploding at Brody. Carrie apologies — “I never pressed him on the debrief” — and Peter’s response suggests that he think she’s brought a useless, maybe dangerous person into their midst because she’s infatuated with him.

“You told him in the interrogation room you wanted him to leave his wife and run away with you?” Peter says.

“And you put a knife through his hand,” she says. “The difference is, what I did worked. Don’t worry about my objectivity, worry about your own.” Then she puts a best-case-scenario spin on Brody’s statement, saying that at least now they know the tailor is dead and can adjust their operations accordingly.

All of which is disquietingly Brody-esque. Carrie’s response to Peter makes it sound as if her “leave your wife” statement was coolly strategic rather than emotional (it was both). And it evades Peter’s insinuations by changing the subject.

Brody lies to almost everybody. Carrie lies to herself, and that turns her sincere, honest efforts at work into something tainted and unstable.

“I saw his suicide tape, my eyes are open,” she tells Saul later in the episode. “How could they not be?” But they aren’t. Not really.

When Carrie barges into Brody’s office and confronts him about the seven casualties at Gettysburg, the scene’s near-hysterical edge reminded me of Jessica confronting Brody over his affair with Carrie. “Don’t you touch me!” she yells. “Don’t you fucking dare!” “I don’t know anything about any of that,” he says, adding a liar’s, “Really.”

Brody and Carrie don’t just need each other and understand each other. On some level I think they deserve each other.

Odds and ends

  • I’m not sure what to make of that conversation between Brody and Roya in that hallway. I don’t think there’s any hard visual evidence to confirm that Brody tipped her off. But something about their sudden silence, and the odd appearance of that guy down the hall checking his text messages, makes me wonder; ditto Carrie’s immediate assumption that Brody did say or do something that led to the Gettsyburg massacre. Roya says, “What happened to your hand,” and Brody replies, “A little home improvement — it hurts like a motherfucker.” Then she looks screen left — offscreen — and a cut reveals the guy with the phone. Did Roya notice him stepping into the hallway, or was he already there? We don’t see him appear, we just see her looking in his direction. And that closeup of Brody watching the guy go back into his office is … well, suspicious. As if there’s a prearranged signal, or some kind of sub-verbal code happening.
  • Lauder Wakefield (Mike Menchaca) is a perfect character to suspect Brody — a conspiracy-thriller fringe-dweller, wild-eyed, hairy, profane, habitually drunk; someone whose hunches can be taken seriously by Mike (and Brody), but who can be dismissed and ultimately murdered in a way that makes it seem like an “accident,” because everybody knows that’s how guys like him go out. If he and Carrie ever went on a military intelligence version of OK Cupid, they’d end up on a date, probably at a repertory showing of The Conversation
  • Speaking of conspiracy-thriller bits: I like the moment in the storm drain where Lauder pushes Mike to use his CIA contacts, and Mike replies that the person he knows won’t give him classified information, but “he might nod if we’re on the right track, though.” He is on the right track, but the track is closed, and it’s Mike who ends up nodding.
  • Mike’s conversation with Jessica at the end of the episode reminded me of Carrie and Brody in the interrogation room last week. He’s investigating Brody not just because he’s a threat to national security, but because he wants to get back together with Jessica. “I know he’s not who he was,” Jessica says, adding, “He’s working for the CIA.” “It’s not that simple,” Mike says. “There’s gotta be some kind of a cover-up.”
  • The stuff with Dana and Finn and the hit-and-run needs to get wrapped up, pronto. If it’s just a means of drawing out the satanic rottenness of the vice-president, I’ll forgive it pretty quickly, but compared to the Carrie-Brody stuff, the Jessica-Brody stuff, hell, everything else, it feels cheap. The scene between Dana and the victim’s daughter in the hospital played like an outtake from a not-very-good episode of E.R. I don’t fault the actors; they’re doing fine work under the circumstances. But it all just feels like a placeholder plot that was supposed to be filled in with something original and interesting, but wasn’t.
  • Thanks to Homeland, how many cheating Washington mates are going to use, “I’m working for the CIA” as an all-purpose alibi? It sounds so much better than “I’m working late at the office.” And you can’t press too hard because of “national security.”
  • The scene where Saul and David warn Mike away from the investigation gave me a chill. Neither is particularly cuddly, but I never thought of them as sinister people until this scene.
Photo: null/Copyright: 2012 Showtime