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Homeland Recap: Like a Cockroach

Damian Lewis as Nicholas "Nick" Brody in Homeland (Season 3). - Photo:  Kent Smith/Homeland - Photo ID:  homeland_303_4882.R

There’s a scene maybe a quarter of the way through this week’s episode of Homeland that’s meant to introduce Brody — and us — to his new home in a Caracas office building that, thanks to the financial collapse, was never completed and has been taken over by squatters and criminals. For a show with a standard palette of institutional grey, Ann Taylor navy, and Marine olive green, it’s a strikingly bright sequence. And given how preoccupied Homeland  is with death, it’s beautifully alive. 

Kids make faces at Brody and his very pretty escort. An older woman gets her hair done in a beauty parlor that’s been rigged up in one of the unfinished rooms. A younger woman rises from her knees after giving a man — it’s not clear whether he’s a boyfriend or a client — a blow job. And a man sells drinks from a tiny stall that might have once been intended as a supply closet, surrounded by the cheerful wrappers of his wares. Given that he’s been gut-shot by Colombians, carted to the ministrations of a slum doctor in the back of a truck, and recuperating in a bare concrete room open to the sky, it’s no wonder Brody seems dazed and happy by what he discovers in his surroundings. 

And for a moment, so are we, given that “Tower of David” momentarily suggests another direction for Homeland, a story where Brody gets a chance to live and to be decent, rather than to die in a way that only serves to feed a dirty war. But by the end of the episode, he’s back in a box, and so is Homeland. It’s true that the show is continuing with what appears to be a season-long reckoning with what kind of people Carrie and Brody actually are. But that Homeland is still stuck on Carrie and Brody as a central dynamic, an obsessive crush that appears to be outlasting the characters' actual attachments to each other, feels exhausting.

When this season premiered, I appreciated the way it was playing with its own choice of main character — even if it meant some moderate political and narrative schizophrenia — by turning on Carrie. This week, the show does something similar to Brody. 

For a program that sometimes seems allergic to pure fun, Homeland does something twisty and juicy in delivering the message through Dr. Graham (Erik Todd Dellums, who played The Wire’s terrific medical examiner Dr. Randall Frazier), the slum physician who works for Brody’s criminal facilitators, keeps Brody dosed on heroin, and pretty clearly seems to be a pedophile. Graham’s got a certain panache — he’s the sort of guy who lectures a criminal gang when they don’t rig the electricity well enough in his makeshift operating theater. But there’s a real chill to his character, and Homeland does a nice, subtle job of making clear that the boy who accompanies Graham everywhere isn’t just some sort of apprentice. “That’s a dangerous question. Why am I here leads to why are you here, you see?” Graham asks Brody, and stroking the boy’s hand while he explains. “We’re here because the world outside can be judgmental and cruel. We’re here because this is the place that accepts us. We’re here because we belong here.” He’s such an upsetting, specific creation that I was almost tempted to up my rating of this episode by a star.

Given how much time Homeland has invested in the idea that Brody is a basically decent person who was made tremendously vulnerable by a terrible experience, I don’t know how many viewers are comfortable with the argument this episode is making. Graham isn’t necessarily saying that Brody’s his equivalent. But he’s suggesting that they’re equally trapped by their choices, Graham not to suppress his attraction to children, Brody to pursue terrorism as a response to Issa Nazir’s death. “I’m sure you’ll find a way. Everywhere you go, other people die. But you always manage to survive. Ever noticed that?” Graham asks Brody after he’s thrown in a cell after his escape attempt, bringing him heroin to help him avoid the pain of captivity. “You’re like a cockroach. Still alive after the last nuclear bombs go off. You belong here. Am I right?” Brody doesn’t really answer him, leaving us with the question.

It’s true that Brody didn’t blow up the CIA. But he did kill the vice president. And the imam who turns him in to Venezuelan security forces isn’t necessarily wrong when he tells Brody, “You’re not a Muslim. You are a terrorist,” even if he’s not correct for the reasons that he thinks he is.

Meditating on Brody’s moral state is a powerful thing to do. And it’s even more effective to explore the idea that this is what Carrie saved Brody for: so he could sucuumb to a drug addiction in a Caracas high-rise. Some things are irrevocable. If the story of Carrie and Brody ended on this note — and with Carrie tunneling into her own madness in a facility in Washington — it would be grim and decisive in a way that would make Walter White’s death on Breaking Bad look like cotton candy.

But this is the third episode of the season, and keeping Brody out of the first two episodes is about as much restraint as Homeland seems able to exercise about a character it couldn’t kill. I might have even felt better about “Tower of David” if it had done something with the non-Brody parts of the episode other than continuing to establish the parallels between Brody and Carrie. 

There’s something moderately poignant about the fact that Brody continues to believe that Carrie is somehow overseeing his flight from the United States government, even as she’s begging her doctor, “Will you please tell Saul that I’m better?” Brody's clearly gone from her concerns. But what else can we say about these characters other than that they’re miserable? Is there a better outcome other than death for Brody and intensive psychiatric treatment and departure from the CIA for Carrie that wouldn’t be wildly, show-breakingly delusional? 

I used to think that Homeland could fix itself by jettisoning Brody alone and continuing to follow Carrie. Now, I wonder if it might be better off leaving both of them alone in their cells, living out the delusion of their love affair, and carrying on with characters like Saul, Jessica, and Dana, who actually have to go on living in the wider world changed by Carrie and Brody’s toxic romance.

Photo: Kent Smith/Showtime