Homeland Recap: Breakdown Takedown

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When it comes to the War on Terror, probably the rudest act is the terrorism itself. Pretty hard to deny the ultimate rudeness of terrorism. But, as with any social situation, the War on Terror comes with an array of other potential rude scenarios, and this week's episode of Homeland addressed many of them. For example: Discussing religion at the dinner table with your terrorist captor? Rude. Forcing your hostage to watch as you make sensual love to your wife? Also rude. Breaking into a CIA agent's apartment and switching her medication out with fake pills that force her into a psychotic breakdown? Very rude. And, perhaps rudest of all, presenting the viewer with "a special appearance" by a beloved character only to reveal it was a dream sequence? How dare you, Homeland! (But in a good way.)

One might think with all these rude gestures that "Redux" was not a great hour of television, but this straw man would be incorrect! Yes, a Carrie Mathison meltdown is one of Homeland's most predictable tropes by this point, but for the first time, Homeland visually and aurally represented what Carrie experiences when her bipolar symptoms kicks in. Paranoia, sensitivity to lights and sounds, and, most upsetting, her inability to distinguish strangers from trusted friends. A sequence in which an ordinary walk through the streets of Islamabad turned into a frightening, emotional gauntlet (complete with an imagined shootout) was as harrowing as anything Homeland's presented so far. That it culminated in Carrie's incarceration was no surprise, but her subsequent mistaking of the ISI general for Sergeant Brody was the episode's true, heartbreaking highlight. That image of Carrie curled up, sobbing in "Brody's" arms was some grade-A pathos, but for us longtime viewers, it felt like something of a sucker-punch: unannounced and unexpectedly painful. But also needed. Brody was hugely important to the show's dynamic, just as he continues to be important to Carrie herself.

It made sense that Carrie's break with reality coincided with extremely high stakes. No less than CIA director Lockhart had arrived on the scene to negotiate with the Pakistani government for Saul's safe return, and this led to a tense meeting during which he directly accused the ISI of working with Haqqani and threatened to cut off U.S. aid to Pakistan as punishment. It was a moment of political badassery that rendered a typically unpleasant character into something of a hero. Carrie's shocked but impressed side-eye during the meeting's most heated moments really said it all: Who was this guy? How'd he suddenly get so likable? But his behavior rankled the U.S. ambassador, who proceeded to write a letter of resignation until her husband talked her out of it. I mean, sure, nobody likes to be undermined, but get over it? Your ex-boyfriend is currently having shoes thrown at him in Afghanistan. A little urgency might be appropriate here.

Until "Redux," Haqqani was more phantom than character, but we finally got to see what makes him tick. Aside from some glib, Jihad 101–type speak, his character seemed to be primarily motivated just to spend some chill time with his family, something he could do now that he had a human shield in Saul Berenson. To his credit, Haqqani behaved civilly and borderline respectfully toward Saul, treating him as a sort of guest of honor during a family dinner, but considering we'd just seen him put a bullet in the skull of his beloved nephew, the threat of Saul's imminent demise never dissipated. After Carrie had been overruled in her attempt to bomb Haqqani (and Saul), Haqqani now knew he was more or less safe from U.S. assassination attempts. Despite a chilling moment when Haqqani described Afghanistan as a "graveyard of empires," he remains a somewhat by-the-numbers terrorist leader, but his reasonability and general kindness toward Saul lent him a creepily inscrutable vibe. To what extent is this phantom actually a rude poltergeist? We'll find out!

Elsewhere, Quinn and Fara attempted to track down that one nurse who'd sold Aayan drugs only to discover that she had disappeared entirely. But this was just one of several leads that Carrie personally jeopardized when her brain started to betray her. As a decided nonexpert when it comes to mental health, I wasn't sure how closely Homeland was adhering to the timeline of a bipolar episode — were the ISI's replacement pills a simple placebo, or were they drugs that actively hastened Carrie's symptoms? — but the sudden onslaught of credibility-ruining tics amped up the episode's tension considerably. Again, this seems to happen once a season, but now the question is, what will it take for Carrie's actual job to be in jeopardy? It's hard to believe she'll be keeping that top post as Drone Queen for much longer.

Even the title of "Redux" admitted that these were themes and scenarios that Homeland has trafficked in before, but the change of setting and stakes rendered everything freshly terrifying. Although Brody was a figment of Carrie's imagination, the welcome sight of Damian Lewis proved something of a steadying force for us. This season of Homeland has proved that it can indeed remain strong and compelling without Brody, but his "special appearance" reminded us that perhaps it's Carrie who can't. Are dream sequence fake-outs one of the rudest things a TV show can do? Sure. But was it effective? Absolutely. "Redux" was another terrific episode in a season filled to the brim with them.