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Homeland Recap: Pace Yourself

David Harewood as David Estes and Mandy Patink as Saul Berenson in Homeland (season 2, episode 10). - Photo:  Kent Smith/SHOWTIME - Photo ID: A Saul-versus-Estes grudge match on Homeland.

When did Ryan Murphy start writing for Homeland? I kid, I kid ... but only a little. 

Vice-President Walden’s death by remote-controlled-pacemaker sabotage in “Broken Hearts” (groan) felt like an especially juicy moment from an as-yet-unwritten season of American Horror Story. It was the show’s most grimly hilarious scene yet — even more absurd/ghastly than the scene in “State of Independence” when Brody strangles the tailor in the woods while feeding his wife Jessica sub-Fletch excuses for why he isn’t at the fund-raiser. I love that Brody, who shares Abu Nazir’s lust for vengeance against the veep, stuck around to watch. His motivation was both practical (to be sure Walden actually perished) and personal (Die, infidel, for what your drones did to Issa and 82 other innocent children!). It was the best illustration of a quality I’ve been talking about in these recaps: Homeland’s very dry sense of humor. It pretends it doesn’t have one — everybody seems so unhappy, and there are very few jokes — and yet its seeming lack of a sense of humor is integral to its hilarity. The show knows what it’s doing. Filmmakers can’t stage a scene like Walden’s death without expecting viewers to laugh at their audacity. (Apparently that remote-controlled-pacemaker thing isn’t as farfetched as you might think. For details, click here and here.)

At the same time, though, even though Walden’s death was great TV, I had misgivings about it, and about the episode as a whole — which isn’t the same thing as disapproving of it. The show is changing and has been changing for two years. Whatever it’s becoming is whatever it’s becoming, but it’s absolutely not the same show it was when it started out. Homeland was never, strictly speaking, a realistic drama, though it was slightly more plausible in the first half of season one, before Brody started being groomed as a politician and, eventually, Nazir’s personal terrorist gofer within the executive branch. But as soon as Brody and Carrie ended up in the backseat of that car in episode six, “The Good Soldier,” Homeland veered into controlled chaos, and from that point forward, the series has become increasingly surreal: part military-espionage thriller, part soap. “Broken Hearts” might have been the most melodrama-packed episode yet, and parts of it had a Saturday-morning-serial quality, just one damned thing after another. Like a more intimate version of executive producer Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa’s last series, 24, actually.

•  Walden died of cardiac arrest, thanks to Brody filching the serial number of his pacemaker and providing it to one of Abu Nazir’s techies.

•  Quinn was confirmed as an “off-the books black ops” agent, a “soldier” working for Estes and Dar Adul (new recurring cast member F. Murray Abraham). Their alliance seems to be part of a violent fail-safe mechanism intended to kill Brody, and perhaps everyone else supporting his double- or triple-agentry, to keep the public from finding out about the drone strike that killed those kids. (Quinn is explicitly described as “an insurance policy against that information ever becoming public.”) Estes, previously depicted as a chilly careerist, now seems like a straight-up bad guy, a malevolent schemer.

•  Carrie told Brody he’d need to withdraw his possible vice-presidential candidacy. This would have been a big deal if he hadn’t co-murdered Walden and made that decision moot.

•  Carrie’s car got struck in a hit-and-run accident mere moments after her phone conversation telling Brody he needed to withdraw. From surveillance footage revealed later, I guess Nazir himself was driving the vehicle? The terrorist mastermind binds Carrie in a factory/warehouse/generic-place-where-action-movie-bad-guys-hang-out and threatens to kill her if Brody doesn’t do his bidding, in reference to killing the veep. Brody gets the serial numbers from Walden’s office — keying them in himself rather than sending a picture seems risky, but apparently he didn’t make any typos — but refuses to forward the info unless Nazir releases Carrie. Nazir releases Carrie. Carrie grabs a cell phone from a trucker and calls the office to report her whereabouts, then GOES BACK AFTER NAZIR. WTF? I know she’s one of those reckless/impulsive/won’t-follow-orders action heroine types, but man, that just seems really dumb and contrived to me. All the Carrie stuff was very Perils of Pauline. I was surprised Nazir didn’t lash her to railroad tracks. But hey, at least we got definitive confirmation that Brody truly loves Carrie.

•  Saul and co-workers leave the office right after Carrie calls from the highway, but two burly dudes intercept him and take him into custody. I’d be surprised if next week’s episode didn’t begin with Dar Adul getting up in Saul’s grill in a cell somewhere. Abraham is channeling his Scarface mojo in this part. Whatever the character does next will not be pretty.

•  Finn Walden stops by the safe house to tell Dana he feels sorry about the hit-and-run, but the dialogue in the scene only confirms him as a little sociopath. He sounds like a person expressing guilt because he knows that’s what society expects, not because he’s truly wracked with guilt and remorse. Dana conveys disgust that the Walden family’s first impulse was to pay off the victims to ensure their silence. “It’s how the world works,” Finn tells her. “I didn’t know that, I guess,” Dana says. I know everybody else hates this character, but I feel for her, even though her Teenage Girl–ness is off-putting. She’s a good person who wants to do the right thing, but is surrounded by characters that reflexively take the selfish way out. 

So, here’s our story to date: A bin Laden–level evildoer just murdered the vice-president of the United States as revenge for killing his son in an illegal drone strike. The terrorist’s instrument of vengeance was a newly elected congressman and former war hero who was secretly a sleeper agent — one who the CIA knew about at the time of the murder. This congressman was having an affair with a bipolar CIA agent. The agent was the terrorist’s prisoner when the congressman helped murder the veep, and he saved her life but not the veep’s. The vice-president’s family paid hush money to the family of a woman that his son killed in a hit-and-run accident. The congressman’s daughter was in the passenger seat at the time. The congressman’s wife is having an affair with the congressman’s best friend, a Marine who was investigating the mysterious death of the congressman’s war buddy turned assassin, Tom Walker.

Where do we go from here? I’m eager to find out. I thought the show had painted itself into a corner at the end of season one, but in retrospect, that predicament feels pretty airy compared to this one. All they have to do to link Brody to the murder is check his cell phone and see the text message containing the serial number of Walden’s pacemaker. There will be an investigation, maybe congressional hearings, and the eyes of the world will be on the U.S. security establishment. Estes’s links to the veep will be discovered, and through him, Brody’s affair with Carrie, an unbalanced security risk who technically isn’t employed by the agency.

Spoiler for next week: Brody is secretly a cyborg.

This show is insane. I’ll go wherever it takes me.

Photo: null/Copyright: Showtime 2012