Ibogaine — the wonder drug that Saul and his CIA doctor and Marine trainers use to detox Brody, leaving him temporarily singing the Marine’s Hymn in a duet with a resurrected Tom Walker — is, as it turns out, as real as the technology that Brody and Abu Nazir used to hack Vice-President Walden’s pacemaker. And there’s apparently a CIA connection to the drug that explains why Dar Adal is recommending alternative therapies to Saul and to Brody’s doctor. The agency apparently sponsored ibogaine clinical trials back in the fifties, though the results of those trials have never been disclosed. A University of Miami study of the drug fell apart when its funding didn’t come through, and clinical trials in Amsterdam were cancelled after a research subject died from an ibogaine overdose. But even if ibogaine is just a small tool, employed to let Homeland run through a series of events it doesn’t want to linger on in the space of an hour, it’s a good way to understand the strange place Homeland finds itself in right now.
Last season’s pacemaker hack and the ibogaine reference seem to serve the same purpose in Homeland’s positioning of itself. They’re little bits of trivia that the show drops in to prove how much the writers and producer knows about terrorists’ ambitions and CIA history, and that the show then uses in a relatively anticlimactic way to prove how serious Homeland really is, and how different from its flashier peers.
Sure, Brody does actually kill Vice-President Walden, and takes a lot of sick, vengeful pleasure in doing it. But Homeland spends just enough time showing us how difficult the plot was that it’s clear the show would never succumb to some scheme in which a mastermind takes out the entire aging leadership of the U.S. government at once.
Similarly, the ibogaine works on Brody, but at tremendous cost. He has horrible hallucinations of his former sniper partner. He smashes a chair and goes to town on his wrists in a sequence that is a contender for one of the more upsetting of the week. And he falls on a run with his group of Marine handlers, a crew of guys who either don’t follow the news or are remarkably chill about getting assigned to rehabilitate the man who is supposed to have blown up the CIA. And it’s pretty amazing that sixteen days later, he’s reassembling rifles, recognizing fragments of Portuguese on the fly, and reciting call signals for Maputo, Mozambique. But Homeland is careful to emphasize the hardship and the work, rather than the wonder-druginess of it all. Brody doesn’t exactly Hulk out. Instead, he’s like one of those Magic Animal Growing Capsules, unfurling back to his true size after being stuffed in a pellet once he’s returned to the right environment.
The problem with this particular attempt to both be awesome and serious is that Brody’s detox is in service of a totally bonkers plan. God love Saul and his beard, but you can’t soberly ask me to believe that it’s actually going to work to have Brody defect to Iran, somehow get an audience with the top intelligence and security official in the country, kill the guy, and get successfully extracted — and that all of this will lead us to a place where, as Saul puts it to Brody, “two countries who haven’t communicated for 30 years, except through terrorist actions and threats, can sit down and talk.” That is bananas. That is crazytown.
And it grieves me to have to do so, but I can’t just suspend disbelief and go along with Saul’s wacky plan. In the world of Homeland, after all, Israel’s bombed Iran’s nuclear facilities. A defector from the United States, even one who’s supposed to have bombed the CIA, would probably be treated with extreme suspicion. And Brody would be extremely suspicious because of the his relationship both with Carrie and with the CIA more broadly, which Senator Lockhart and Saul have made very, very public. The idea that he’d be welcomed as some sort of ideological exile, rather than viewed as crazed or an opportunist, seems awfully optimistic.
None of this is to mention that if Iran did take Brody in, the regime might be inviting further sanctions at minimum if it refused to extradite Brody to the United States. Saul would be powerless to stop Congress from taking action, and if he managed to do so, a reversal would make Brody look even more suspicious. Instead, sending Brody to Iran is basically handing the country to someone they can extradite as part of negotiations. That’s a far more logical way to kickstart a conversation between the two nations than having Brody kill Javadi’s superior. And even if Saul’s plan works, and Brody’s welcomed as a defector because Iran’s in a mood to seriously tweak the West, are we seriously supposed to believe he’s going to be trusted enough to murder one of the country’s leaders and then skip town? It’s one thing for a television show to make me think, and quite another for its obsession with realism to invite me to poke more holes in its big plans than Brody can in his own wrists.
It’s telling, though, that one of the least justifiable things Homeland does this episode also reaps the biggest emotional payoff. It’s incredibly reckless for Carrie to bring Brody to see Dana, who is living and working at a rural motel — he could be spotted, she could get hysterical, she could tell. But the show doesn’t really try to justify her actions with any trickery, or with any explanation to Saul other than retroactive relief that Carrie’s strategic call kept Brody onboard without exposing them.
And the dramatic payoff is huge. I know a lot of Homeland viewers don’t like Dana, with her rotten romantic choices and her sullenness. But she’s always been an entirely believable teenage girl, living a huge amount of her life inside her own head, and emerging from it only when she’s powerfully drawn to someone else.
And watching the arc of her relationship with her father over three seasons has often been the most devastating, grounded, and sensitively observed element of Homeland, which tends to try to obscure or deny its more feverish tendencies. Dana was the first person to get Brody talking again when he returned home. She was the only person in the family who understood and respected his conversion to Islam. When Carrie suggested that Brody could be a terrorist, Dana wanted to believe him, but ultimately, she knew the man who’d returned home enough to risk reaching out to him. It was her father who went to the police station with Dana when she tried to turn herself in after the hit-and-run. And Brody’s betrayal of Dana when she was trying to do the right thing was a terrible dereliction of his duty as a father and as a decent human being.
When Dana gave up her last name and left home, it was a sensible act of self-preservation and moral clarity. And watching her stick to that terribly difficult choice even after her father tracked her down, called her “my baby,” and professed his innocence was one of the bravest things anyone’s done on Homeland, especially since it was most motivated by Carrie-like obsession.
“Did you ever, for one second, think about whether I wanted to see you?” Dana asked. “What do you want to hear? That you were a good dad? That despite everything it’s all okay? What do you want me to say? Look. Look here. Just write it down. Just write it down and I will say it to you as long as you promise that I will never have to see you again.”
Brody may have detoxed in a hurry, but Dana’s an important reminder that just because her father is well doesn’t mean the rest of her family is even close to okay. And that’s Homeland’s problem. It can’t turn into a crazier, less-plausible show, because it’s already done so much to focus on the kinds of emotional damage that sort of fun causes. We can’t pop the ibogaine without the nasty, but revealing, hallucinations that follow.