Photo: Kent Smith/Showtime
How much do you need to like Nicholas Brody in order to stay invested in Homeland? It’s not a question I’ve considered much, both because since episode one I’ve been hoping that the story would ultimately lead to Brody in fact being a terrorist, and also because I really don’t need to like Brody to stay invested in the show. But if this week’s episode is any indication, the folks behind the scenes at Homeland are quite concerned about viewers being able to like Nick Brody, even if he’s a terrorist. And so we got an episode’s worth of youth soccer, adorable moppets, and one hell of an emotionally bulletproof justification for turning on one’s own country.
With Jess and Dana at home trying to wrap their heads around the idea of Tom Walker still being alive, Brody heads to the grocery store for a seminar on the ascendance of Vitaminwater in American consumption since 2003. It’s doubtful he’ll remember anything he learned about our favorite source of Dragonfruit, though, since he gets assaulted in the parking garage and abducted to some kind of sleeper-cell safe house. And that’s where the episode takes a turn for the gauzy. Via an extended series of flashbacks to three years prior, we get to see the first meeting between Brody and Abu Nazir. Just as the earlier flashbacks had alluded to, Nazir showed Brody kindness, cleaned him up, and introduced him to Islam. What we didn’t know was that Nazir’s method of emotional manipulation involved him entrusting his adorable little son — Issa — to Brody’s mentorship. Issa teaches Brody Muslim prayer rituals; Brody helps Issa learn English and practice soccer in the yard. By the time Brody’s teaching the boy the words to “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” it’s painfully obvious that the kid isn’t going to survive the hour. And it comes at the hands of U.S. forces, in a bombing intended to take out Nazir. Is Brody the one to pull Issa’s lifeless body from the rubble, cradle him in his arms, and cry out to the heavens? Oh, you bet!
If this isn’t supposed to feel like we’re getting the hard sell on why we can’t blame Nick Brody for defecting to Al Qaeda, it probably shouldn’t have come right on the heels of last week’s revelation that Brody was indeed everything that Carrie suspected he was. I couldn’t help feeling like I was being bullied into sympathizing for the guy, when up until now I was perfectly happy with my ambivalence. Brody’s explanation to Carrie out at the cabin — that after years in captivity, he was offered kindness and faith and he latched onto it — felt honest and satisfyingly complicated. This new motivation feels like the show is double-bagging it for an audience they don’t fully trust.
It’s not a fatal development. Thus far, the show has done enough things right that I’m perfectly happy to barrel on forward. After Brody wakes up in the safe house, he teleconferences with Nazir and vents his spleen about being kept in the dark about Walker. Nazir is able to leverage the memory of Issa’s death to rope Brody back into the fold, and in doing so reveals the next phases of the plan: Brody is to get in close with the vice-president and agree to run for Congress. We learn a bit more about our Veep this week — he’s a heavy favorite to take the White House in the upcoming election, and he went on American TV and blatantly lied about the air strikes that killed Body’s li’l buddy. And for this, it looks like Brody’s going to make sure he goes down.
Elsewhere, the Muslim community in D.C. is justifiably up in arms over last week’s FBI shooting that left two innocent men dead. Carrie is tasked with getting whatever information she can from the Imam about how often Walker may have been at the mosque previous to the chase. Once again, it’s a pleasure to watch Carrie do business. She hops from one foot to the other, strong-arming the FBI one minute, donning velvet gloves with the Imam the next. And she manages not to look like a phony in the process.
I loved the moment in the diner — after Carrie tracked poor Agent Hall down — when he tried to pull the high hat with her, asking if she’d ever been in a firefight. Her deadpan “yes” pretty satisfyingly put him in his place. And then she recorded the whole conversation for possible leverage. Here’s a moment where David Estes’s supervisory caution is probably a good thing, as Carrie going off half-cocked, blackmailing other agencies would probably not end well.
But while Carrie’s recklessness — which earned her yet another disapproving look from Saul — was curbed in that respect, it was her shrewdness that got her the intel she needed. She paid a house call to the Imam, where she knew that his wife would be culture-bound not to leave them alone, thus giving her an audience of two for the price of one. The Imam’s wife ends up tracking Carrie down and telling her what she needs to know about Walker — that he’d been in the mosque several times previously, meeting with a man with Saudi diplomatic license plates — but I don’t think Carrie’s plea to the Imam’s conscience should be brushed aside. After establishing that they’re basically on the same side — they want a better world, and a better America — Carrie basically appeals to the Imam’s pragmatism. If there’s another attack, America will turn on itself. “We’re halfway there already,” she says. Wouldn’t he want to help prevent such an attack that would put such a big target on his community? Carrie is essentially wielding the ignorance of (a portion of) America as a club against the Imam in order to get the intel she wants, all in the guise of their shared idealism. That’s some chewy morality right there, and SO much more satisfying than kicking a soccer ball around in the backyard.
Carrie’s Fridge Update: Another week where the contents of Carrie’s refrigerator remain frustratingly off limits.
Mandy Patinkin Weird-for-the-Sake-of-Weird Update: Why is Saul lying on his back in his office as he takes phone calls from Carrie? Is he despondent? Does his back hurt? Is this an acting choice? Just part of the puzzle that is Saul.
Bad Shit Happens in the Woods Update: Tom Walker’s been hiding out in the woods ever since the chase through the mosque, taking target practice with his shiny new gun. Pity poor Dan, the Git Er Dun redneck who has the misfortune of running across Tom and his sick sniper skills in the wild.
Worse Shit Happens in the Suburbs Update: Turns out that Saudi diplomat who had been meeting with Walker lives in the very house where Brody gets taken for recommitment to the cause. Either diplomacy pays or international terrorism does because DANG IT, that’s a nice house.