Homeland Recap: The Big Lie

Photo: Kent Smith/Copyright: 2013 Showtime
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Editor’s Rating

Homeland’s politics have gotten murkier since its first season focused on the collateral and psychological damage done by drone strikes on terrorist targets. This year, the show is tackling a thornier question and posing it in more ambiguous terms, asking whether the CIA’s attempts to keep its operations secret are justified and, by extension, what's fair for the agency to do to preserve that secrecy. So it’s fitting that this second episode is an extended, if uneven, meditation on the value of real talk, as practiced by Carrie; Fara Sherazi, a young analyst who’s been kicked up the ladder at the CIA in the wake of the explosion; and Dana, who’s clashing with her mother after her return from the hospital.

Carrie’s decision to go to the press to push back against the CIA’s narrative of her involvement with Congressman Brody comes in the midst of a heated real-world debate about the moral status of whistle-blowers, occasioned by the conviction of Pvt. Chelsea Manning for leaking classified documents to WikiLeaks as well as former CIA and NSA employee Edward Snowden’s release of a similar cache of data to journalists at the Guardian and the Washington Post. And Dar Adal’s contemptuous summary of what he believes Carrie might tell a reporter has the same tone of disgust as critics of those real-life whistle-blowers, though the news that “We knew Brody was a terrorist all along. He wore a suicide vest into a bunker with the vice-president. She tried to warn us but no one would listen” is more genuinely revealing than, say, the news that the U.S. spies on foreign countries or even the “Collateral Murder” video Manning released.

But the truth lies somewhere between Carrie’s version of events and the CIA’s. They’re right that she was sleeping with Brody. Carrie is correct that her early warnings about Brody were ignored. But Brody became a CIA asset in part because Carrie was convinced that she could run him successfully, a judgement that Saul affirmed. David Estes called off a planned killing of Brody so he could be of continued use to the CIA, a decision that leaves Brody alive to kill Vice-President Walden. Quinn made a personal call not to take a clear shot at Brody later. Carrie planned to give up her CIA career to be with Brody, a decision that didn’t exactly suggest that she was the clear, uncompromised thinker she portrays herself to be. And no one knows that Brody killed Vice-President Walden. Everyone’s narrative of events is biased, and everyone’s understanding is necessarily incomplete.

That flaw in Carrie’s status as a whistle-blower doesn’t necessarily make for an airtight case for committing her, nor does her disclosure of classified information, which presumably could be dealt with as a criminal matter, rather than by subjecting Carrie to the humiliation of a psychiatric hold. But once again, it’s not as if there’s a clear good choice here either. Carrie is right when she tells the reporter that “The CIA gave you that story to set me up.” There’s no question she’s right when she tells Dr. Harlan that having her committed is wickedly effective. And given that Peter Quinn goes out and threatens to kill a bank president’s family later in the episode, it’s not entirely unreasonable for Carrie to imagine that her agency might disavow her employment there if she became too much trouble, though Saul’s performance at the committee last week makes that unlikely.

But even given all this, Carrie is still acting profoundly mentally ill. There’s no question that she’s under enormous personal and professional stress. But she’s stopped taking her medication, she’s exhibiting extremely poor impulse control, and she’s not acting in a way that serves either her rational best interests or that makes her convincing in pursuing her principles. Even before the cops showed up with her psychiatric-hold paperwork, Carrie was already losing the reporter she’d approached, the woman growing more skeptical with every manic sentence. It may be in the CIA’s best interests to shut Carrie up. But that doesn’t mean that getting medical care is necessarily the wrong thing for her, however much she’s humiliated by it. In her manic states, Carrie may fetishize what seems like powerful clarity. But the part of her that consented to electroshock therapy at the end of the first season of Homeland recognized that ideas are no use if you can’t advocate for them.

Back at the CIA, Saul, who apparently can’t get enough of super-intense young women with a propensity to run their mouths at inopportune times, has a Carrie replacement in the form of Fara Sherazi, who’s called in to analyze Peter Quinn’s haul of documents and data from Caracas. Saul’s denunciation of her headscarf as “one big fuck-you to the people who would have been your co-workers, except they perished in the blast right out there,” seems dramatically out of character, even if he’s regretting his past sympathy for Aileen and has decided the fastest means of fitting in with the upper ranks of CIA brass is a nice, cheerful dose of Islamophobia.

But what’s really intriguing, plot-wise, is Saul’s suggestion that the only way for Fara to win acceptance at the agency and respect from him is to connect the money that was used to finance the attack on Langley to Iran. By the end of the episode, she’s managed to do that, but I’d be curious to see if the paper trail is for real, or if Fara’s manufacturing the evidence to give Saul what he wants to hear. Homeland’s always been interested in the gap between the truth and what people wish were so, and it would be nice to see someone other than Carrie fall victim to that predilection. I’d be doubly happy if this story line makes Homeland address the attack on Iran that happened in between the first and second seasons and was, mysteriously, never mentioned again, even though such a strike would have huge implications for the CIA’s work.

And beyond the question of confirmation bias, Fara gets a quick education in CIA culture when she tries to shame the bankers she’s chasing and gets shot down. She’s probably exactly right that “your bank, it’s been trafficking in human misery since the Opium Wars. That’s not an aberration. It’s not a mistake. It’s your business plan.” It doesn’t mean it useful for her to say it. It’s sickening that the way things work in Washington is that the people trying to stop terrorism have to be polite to the people who finance it (or that someone like Carrie is expected to politely take the fall for the good of an institution). But Peter Quinn’s threat, which, given that he’s already pledged to quit the CIA by the time he makes it, is probably a lie and is more effective that Fara’s attempt to speak the truth.

The only people who actually get something out of speaking frankly this episode are Jessica and Dana, though it’s unfortunate their breakthrough comes in the form of a speech that’s some of the worst-written dialogue Homeland’s ever put onscreen. I know Dana’s going through a lot of stock adolescent angst this season, what with the sexting (the current worst fear of adult television writers in between this and Ray Donovan) and the sneaking out and the getting rid of all her posters. She’s enough of an original that I resent her being given a monologue this cheesy. But the two sentences at the end — and Jessica’s reaction to them — at least did something to redeem the speech. “He was a psycho who did nothing but lie from the minute he set foot in this house, and he ruined our lives — that’s the truth,” Dana told her mother, finally giving Jessica permission to break down.

She’s right in a broad sense, and if the truth comes out that her father helped kill Vice-President Walden in a direct and personal way, Dana’s reality might be even worse, given her past relationship with Finn Walden. But in an episode that’s all about the difficulty of determining the exact contours of the truth, there’s something horrifying about the fact that Dana’s been driven to suicide over the widespread belief that “My dad blew up the CIA. He killed 300 people. They call it the second 9/11,” when it’s not actually true. The Big Lie can kill. But Carrie can’t see that she’s far from the worst-hurt victim of this particular misunderstanding.