Goddamn it, Homeland. For a moment there, I actually thought you were the show I loved again, a show that had sad, wise insights into the age of the War on Terror and our relationship with Iran, and where characters sometimes got important things wrong in ways that mattered because that’s what humans do. But no, this week’s episode, in which Brody’s plan to kill General Akbari goes wrong and he appears to defect to Iran for real before knocking the General out and smothering him with a rather nice green velvet throw pillow, turned out to be just as invested in the idea of Brody As Superhero and Brody and Carrie As One True Pairing as any message board.
Part of the reason Brody’s cover works is that every word he speaks to his interrogators is essentially true. When he tells Javadi, “I just want asylum. I just want to rest,” it’s harder to imagine that anyone could possibly want to stop moving more than Nicholas Brody. When he explains to Nasrin, “We crawl out of the rubble and we gather up the bodies,” she reads it as an acknowledgement that they’re survivors, even though he means it as an expression of mutual guilt. “I had nowhere else.” Check. “I want to stop running.” Check.
And when Brody insists to Carrie that he can’t “Leave, leave, leave. Where? I have nowhere to go, Carrie. I can’t go back to the States ... and do what? Hide out? So they’re hunting us both?... I’ve been through that already, Carrie. I won’t do it again. I won’t do it to you,” he’s writing a check the show could have cashed this episode, but that it’s hoarding like birthday money from Grandma.
It would have been both remarkable and topical for Homeland to do something even darker than killing Brody: have him live out his life in increasingly miserable exile in Tehran. The sequence in which Brody is released from Nasrin’s house to the street, where he’s greeted by an excited crowd wielding up Allahu Akbars and smartphones is sick and effective (putting aside the fact that no one seemed to notice him just ten minutes earlier); it's one of the best things Homeland’s done this year. And it almost prompted me to up this review’s rating by a star.
What a nightmare this would prove to be for Brody in the long term: living far from a family whose hate for him steadily deepens with his every appearance on television, worshiped as the author of a heinous act he actually had nothing to do with, and rotting with the secret knowledge that he did murder Vice-President Walden. When we first met Brody, he was planning a suicide bombing, and he has less to live for now. Killing him would almost be an act of mercy for Homeland. It would be far crueler to exile him in these circumstances, denied any chance to rehabilitate his reputation, or to act in any other meaningful way. Homeland has largely punted its early attention to the ways in which real congressional oversight has withered in favor of scandal-mongering, and it’s grating how the show keeps making Senator Lockhart wrong about everything, instead of developing him as a credible critic within the show. But it could have taken the opportunity to show the kind of fate that so often awaits terrorists and spies who take refuge abroad.
Brody isn’t exactly analogous to NSA leaker Edward Snowden — he did, after all, intend to kill a whole bunch of people. But he bears some resemblance to Roger Holder, a disgruntled soldier angry at the U.S. military who hijacked a plane, initially hoping to get Angela Davis freed. Instead, Holder and his girlfriend ended up in Algiers, and then France, where Holder found himself out of vogue as the fashion for radical chic faded. Mashing up Holder’s story with experiences like those of Kim Philby, the British spy for the Soviet Union who found that his adopted country wasn’t as kind to him as he had expected, might have been a powerful way to end Brody’s story not with a bullet, but with a slow burnout.
Sometimes, you don’t get to go out in a blaze of violence that saves you from having to experience the consequences of your actions. Sometimes, you don’t get to redeem yourself and get a semblance of a life back — even if that life consists of a mentally ill CIA agent and a baby that might be yours. Sometimes, you have to live with what you’ve done. But that, and everything else that’s seemed like the best possible dramatic option at any given moment for Homeland this season, are in conflict with show's basic mandate to keep on going.
Because, really, what is going to happen to Brody now? Is Carrie going to extract him and they’re going to go live at the lake house, with the proviso that Brody can never leave the property again because he’s the most wanted man in the world? Is Homeland going to cross over with Arrow, where Abu Nazir, or at least Navid Negahban, the actor who plays him, is repping the League of Assassins? Brody’s resilience and ability to get out of seemingly impossible situations would be more at home there, though he’d have competition from Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) in the scarred-and-stubbly department. Is Carrie going to become a precog and start reading the minds of other CIA assets from a cozy vat, since apparently she has the ability to mind-meld with people who can’t openly discuss their plans on the phone?
I would watch the heck out of any of those shows. And Homeland can still pull off a tense fake-out, though it’s getting old to see those genuinely compelling scenarios end in the same place over and over again. But if Homeland continues to want credit for being an emotionally and logistically realistic show, it’s going to have to face up to where that realism leads.