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Homeland Recap: What’s Left to Do Now?

Claire Danes as Carrie Mathison in Homeland (Season 2, Episode 11)

Where do we go from here?

I don’t know. In fact, I can’t imagine.

Abu Nazir is dead, and with it, I fear, most of Homeland’s reason for being. “In Memoriam” — an episode long titled “The Motherfucker with the Turban,” according to Wikipedia, until the producers changed it for whatever reason — nearly all of the show’s urgent ongoing business appeared to be settled.

For the umpteenth time, Carrie threw caution and direct orders to the wind and led a tactical unit back into the spooky building where she was convinced that her former captor Nazir was still hiding; after she and a soldier found his hidey-hole (and took their time in calling for backup), the terrorist mastermind slit the soldier’s throat, chased her through the gloom Freddy Krueger–style, knocked her around, then got cornered and essentially committed suicide-by-cop. Back at headquarters, David Estes had a polygraph expert build up a damaging dossier on his professional nemesis, Saul, which he could use to control or ruin him. (Though the needle-defying statement by Saul "not The Bear" Berenson that there was a plan to kill a congressman afoot did hint at some future leverage.) We confirmed that the black ops soldier Peter Quinn had indeed been brought in to assassinate Brody after Nazir’s death, presumably because he knew too much about the vice-president and Estes’s involvement in the drone strike that killed Nazir’s son and 82 other children.

The Brodys’ marriage crumbling marriage got wrapped up, too, in an affecting scene between Brody and Jessica in a car outside their home. Brody seemed as though he was about to tell his wife everything he’d kept secret from her, but she silenced him with, “I don’t have to know anymore. I just don’t want to know.”

The episode ended with Brody going over to Carrie’s house and presenting his big decision last week — agreeing to reveal the codes to the vice-president’s pacemaker as long as Nazir first let Carrie free — as proof that he really did love her.

It felt like the dramatic peak of a second season that towed the show’s story deeper into the Great Sea of Ludicrousness. I really don’t see how Brody can continue to be integral to Homeland now, except perhaps as a Hannibal Lecter–type expert dispensing advice to Carrie and Saul from inside a super-max prison. At least a half-dozen people at the CIA know that Brody is a triple-agent brainwashed by a Bin Laden–level terrorist, and it seems unlikely that his involvement in Walden’s murder can remain a secret, even if Carrie never talks. There’s surely already an investigation; it’s only a matter of time before the investigators check Brody’s cell, find the outgoing text message containing the serial number of Walden’s pacemaker (let alone the calls to and from Nazir), and slap the cuffs on Brody. As an active major character, Brody is toast, even if he doesn’t get killed next week at the hands of Quinn or somebody else. Any other scenario seems absurd even by Homeland’s standards.

So what are we left with? Three big questions, mainly.

1. Does Brody really love Carrie?
That might seem like an irrelevant side issue, given the magnitude of the political treachery that’s transpired this season, including Brody’s participation in the murder of a sitting vice-president. But it’s the question that’s driven a lot of the emotional action on the show, especially the parts related to Brody’s trustworthiness.

The depth of Carrie’s love of Brody was never in doubt; the show confirmed it yet again in the scene where Carrie interrogates Roya Hammad: Roya asks Carrie — by way of setting the groundwork to later insult her as an “idiot whore” — “Have you ever had someone who somehow takes over your life, pulls you in, gets you to do things that aren’t really you, that you knew were wrong, but you can’t help yourself?” Carrie answers, tearily, “Yes.” She used Brody in some ways, when it was expedient to do so, but she has always erred on the side of protecting his safety, and she never seemed as though she was just using him in a purely mercenary way. Brody’s love for Carrie was always slipperier and more mysterious. The question was never, “Does he love Carrie?” but something more like, “How much of Brody’s affection for Carrie is tactical, a means to an end in his conspiracy plot?” Now that Nazir is dead, that question doesn’t seem as pressing; it’s mainly a psychological loose end. But it’s interesting in light of the various conspiracy plots, because a lot of viewers — including a few of my fellow critics — have speculated that Brody was never truly, madly, deeply in love with Carrie, and that much of his affection for her might have been phony, a setup for one more twist.

My predecessor Emily Nussbaum advanced a theory that “Nicholas Brody is faking it. He plotted with Abu Nazir to have Carrie kidnapped, so that Brody could ‘save’ her, thus ensuring her loyalty and manipulating her into concealing their crimes (which she did, after all: she didn’t tell her bosses about the scheme to kill the Vice-President). All that face-acting Damian Lewis was doing, with the yelling and the screaming into Skype — a notable departure from the subtlety of Lewis’s earlier performance? He knew Carrie was listening. It was an act.”

I can’t buy this theory. Brody’s love for Carrie always struck me as the only pure, authentic, non-negotiable aspect of his personality, aside from his love of his family. Both loves were amended somewhat by the evil deeds that Nazir’s people pushed him to do, but I never got the sense that he could turn his love on and off at will, only shape and manage it a little when he really needed to. The terrorist Brody was superimposed over the “real” Brody, and at certain points you could see the “real” Brody peeking through, particularly with regard to Carrie. During the phone negotiations with Nazir last week, he kept up the fearful, furious screaming even after it was clear that Carrie had been turned loose.

2.  Is there a mole, and if so, who is it?
Carrie figured Galvez as the mole, but this seems like a red herring for two reasons. First, Nazir wasn’t actually “allowed” to escape; he was secretly in the building the whole time. Second, Carrie cited Galvez’s Muslim faith as a possible reason why he’d be in cahoots with Nazir, and for all its multicultural fumblings, Homeland isn’t the sort of show that would present that as a reason for a CIA agent to sell out his country. Even executive producers Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa’s previous series 24 didn’t play that card very often, and that was a much more politically reactionary show than Homeland. (The reveal that Galvez wasn’t escaping, he was simply dashing to a hospital because his stitches ripped, made for a ridiculously manufactured red herring. What kind of CIA agent in the middle of a major operation doesn’t let anyone know that he’s leaving for an emergency? Is he just super-polite and didn’t want to bother his coworkers when they’re busy? And why didn’t he pull over when a trail of sirens followed him, and instead just speeded up guiltily? Perhaps he was just cranking his “Stuck Pig” playlist on the car stereo and didn’t hear them coming up behind.)

I don’t think Saul is the mole. Everything he’s done since season one has seemed essentially above-board, even though he made some bad choices and harbored personal secrets, and we didn’t know his private motivation for every single decision. Revealing him as a secret traitor this late in the game would seem very Scooby-Doo. I had my worries about Quinn because he always seemed a bit squirrely, but I’m starting to think that his squirreliness is a tactical fake-out by the writers — an element meant to keep us off-balance with regard to the “Who’s the mole?” question. It doesn’t make sense that it would be Carrie — or Estes, who colluded with Walden in the drone strike that killed Nazir’s son.

I hope the “mole” business turns out to be a fake-out, a bit of spice in the show’s paranoia stew. The alternatives — assigning mole-hood to a character that can’t plausibly bear it, or sloughing it onto a minor character or one we haven’t even met yet — would all seem rather silly now.

3. How can Homeland continue after this?
I don’t think it can — not in a satisfying way, anyhow.

A couple of weeks ago I half-joked to a friend that Homeland should pull an American Horror Story–style fake-out and end the show after next week, and reveal that the season three order was part of an elaborate plot to fool the viewers.

That’s not going to happen, obviously, but I wish it would. The beauty of Homeland was always its intimacy. It wasn’t a story about CIA agents trying to catch terrorists — by which I mean an “institutional” show, like the CSI or NCIS franchises, or even 24 — but a story about a couple of complicated, strong-willed people on opposite sides of the War on Terror who fell in love, complicating an ongoing investigation. I like how season two amped up the black comedy, to the point where certain scenes made it seem as though we were watching a daytime soap with helicopters and polygraph tests. (Sons of Anarchy — a.k.a. Biker Days of Our Lives — went in a similar direction.) Unfortunately, this mode is not inexhaustible, and Homeland has made both a virtue and a fault of burning through plot at an astounding rate. Season two was audacious, but was it wise? I’m still pleasantly surprised that they pulled Brody into the interrogation room so early in the season, spilled most of his important secrets and locked him into a double-agent role, but in retrospect it feels like a strategic error by the writers. To invoke one of my favorite metaphors, taken from the climax of the Marx Bros. movie Go West, it’s as if the show is a runaway locomotive that ran out of coal, and the writers had to start chopping up pieces of the train to feed the engine. After two frenzied seasons, there isn’t much train left to chop up. How much longer before Homeland grinds to a halt?

Other thoughts:

- I liked the scene where Dana loses it and starts yelling at Brody, except for the spilled milk closeup, which was either a way-too-subtle shout-out to The Manchurian Candidate or just a clunky visual metaphor. The scene confirmed that Brody's domestic situation is broken beyond repair, and set up a key line that Jessica later says to Brody in the car: "Carrie knows, right? She knows everything about you. She accepts it. You must love her a lot." It also confirmed what the last couple of episodes have made clear, that Mike is an instinctually better husband and father than Brody. As I wrote my recap of "Two Hats," "I wonder if Brody loves Jessica but isn’t in love with her, as he clearly is with Carrie, and that while he’s a decent man underneath all that perverted conditioning, he’s not a great husband or father, and certainly not as instinctively good at filling those roles as Mike?"

- Related: I didn't like the moment in the Jessica-Brody car scene where Jessica blames most of their troubles on Brody's war experience. That surely explains part of their domestic distress, but the sheer scale and complexity of Brody's dishonesty suggests that his capture and brainwashing didn't implant social awkwardness, furtiveness, and a tendency to cheat, but perhaps drew out qualities that were always there but which, for whatever reason, had stayed hidden. I wrote in my "Two Hats" recap, "I’m starting to think that there were always very deep problems in Brody's and Jessica’s marriage. Maybe Brody’s eight-year disappearance, brainwashing, and traumatic return weren't what sparked their marriage problems, but were an interruption that prevented them from facing the reality that they weren’t well-matched." I don't know if Jessica and Brody's car conversation invalidates that reading. Maybe at this point it doesn't matter anyway. But I'm throwing it out there to see what you all think.

- I was unpleasantly surprised when Carrie had a chance to spill the beans about Brody's involvement in Walden's murder but didn't take it. Sure, she loves the guy, but she's still a CIA agent, and she's suffered greatly at the hands of Brody and his various puppet masters. You'd think that at some point she'd realize that the weirdness can't continue, that there are bigger issues at stake. Or maybe not, since this is Homeland.

Photo: Kent Smith/Showtime