Beirut Is Back
Photo: Ronen Akerman/Showtime
Brody’s secret is out.
At least, it’s out to Saul, who in the final scene found what would have been Brody’s videotaped post-suicide bomb statement. Saul’s discovery leaves the show with a tough creative choice to make: push the main narrative on decisively toward its logical conclusion (Brody is tracked, exposed, and neutralized by Carrie and company), or drag it out with contrivances and delaying tactics for season after season, making the national security establishment seem like dunderheads in the process. I wish I could say that I trusted Homeland to go with option number one, but the first couple episodes of season two have got me worried.
Brody’s transition from secret terrorist sleeper agent to congressman and possible VP candidate was supposed to have altered his plot function, making him a puppet-master as well as a puppet. But Abu Nazir and his minions seem to prefer hands-on skullduggery so simple that it would feel like sitcom shenanigans were it not for the show’s somber tone. In the season premiere, Brody used his security clearance to steal secrets from Saul’s (and Carrie’s former) boss, David Estes, and nearly gave himself away by leaving his notebook atop Estes’s desk. In “Beirut is Back” (written by Chip Johannessen, directed by Michael Cuesta), Brody sabotaged an operation that would have captured or killed Nazir and one of his top lieutenants, a Hezbollah district commander in Beirut, by texting Nazir mid-operation. “I am a congressman!” Brody protested to his contact and handler, the reporter Roya Hammad. “I cannot be texting messages while I am surrounded by the fucking Joint Chiefs!” True, but it still sounded like the show trying to preempt criticism that it was treating season two Brody as if he were still season one Brody. I sort of wish Homeland would take a cue from the more knowingly preposterous Breaking Bad, which at least had the grace to play scenes of Walter White mucking about in his DEA agent brother-in-law’s office with a wink that said, “We know this is a couple of steps up from a Pink Panther movie, but what the hell, it’s fun.”
For now, though: Wow. The moment when Saul plays Brody’s video was chilling and moving, whatever long-term misgivings I have about it, because it bracketed an earlier scene so beautifully: Carrie’s confession to Saul on that Beirut rooftop.
Carrie’s monologue capped an attack of paranoia (and maybe med withdrawal?) brought on by hearing Saul and David discuss how psychologically ill-suited she was for the Beirut mission. (David: “Keep her on a short leash, that was the plan.” Saul: “Well, as long as we’re covering our asses, I didn’t want her here in the first place.”) Claire Danes cries more eloquently than anyone on TV except Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul — I wish they’d do a film set entirely at an AA meeting or in a tear gas factory; get on that, someone — and she was in rare form here. “It fucked me up, Saul, being wrong about Brody,” she said. “It really fucked me up. Because I’ve never been so sure, and so wrong. And it’s that fact that I still can’t get my head around. It makes me unable to trust my own thoughts. Every time I think I think I see something clear now, it just disappears.”
I liked seeing Carrie vindicated. It was about damn time. She always knew the truth. She put the pieces together through hard work and her profiler’s instinct. Her impulsive disclosure to Brody’s daughter Dana drove the girl to call her dad in the bunker and stop him from detonating a bomb that would have killed the vice-president and most of the Joint Chiefs, though of course Carrie had no way of knowing that; she thought she called it wrong, that Walker was the real threat all along, and the Brody threat was a figment of her bipolar, traumatized imagination.
And now Saul knows Carrie was right.
What will he do with this knowledge? Will he make it back to the U.S. with the video?
Whether he does or not, will David and the rest of the military intelligence apparatus believe him, or will he get pooh-poohed for having spent so many years defending a woman known be brilliant but stubborn, arrogant and unstable, and prone to improvisations that put her colleagues’ lives in danger?
That Carrie’s irresponsible flourishes nearly always yield useful information links her to a long tradition of damaged genius heroes. Were it not for Homeland’s mostly smart characterizations and Danes’s deeply felt performance, we’d recognize Carrie for what she is: a CBS crime show heroine, a self-destructive pain-in-the-ass who’s nonetheless touched by genius.
“It’s not lost on me why people don’t trust my judgment,” she tells Saul on the roof — but it’s not lost on us why they should. Whether she’s infiltrating Brody’s veterans’ group and then sleeping with him, visiting his house and ranting like a crazy lady, or going back into the Hezbollah commander’s apartment while Saul and Fatima are being surrounded by an angry mob, Carrie always gets useful data, stuff that will help build the case and save lives, even though it will surely hurt her professionally.
Odds and ends
- Jessica Brody is being positioned as a high-powered political wife, a protean power broker being introduced by the veep’s wife to “the junta that really runs D.C.” This puts her at odds with her husband, who’s already at odds with himself: a patriotic former Marine and P.O.W. turned congressman, and a secret agent working for this show’s equivalent of Bin Laden.
- Mike — Brody’s ex-best friend and Jessica’s former lover — is investigating the terrorist attack that ended last season, and pushing Brody to help him solve lingering questions. Chief among them: How could the sniper Walker, one of the best shots alive, miss his ostensible main target, the vice-president, three times, and kill a woman who was apparently of no strategic value? It’s the sort of oddity that conspiracy theories are built on, and that’s where Homeland is going with it. I like this; it has X-Files and 24 anti-logic, and it ties in with real-world conspiracies, from the umbrella man at the grassy knoll through the collapse of 7 World Trade Center.
- Speaking of 24, I get the feeling that Homeland is setting up some kind of follow-the-money conspiracy that will link the veep, who keeps trash-talking the Commander-in-Chief for being too much of a dove, and the defense contractors who make the bunker-buster bombs that would help Israel take out surviving Iranian nuclear facilities and “get the job done.”
- Fatima’s plot function seems to be over, mostly, but I’m still wondering if she’s really what she seemed to be, a defector looking to get revenge on her abusive terrorist husband by helping the U.S. in exchange for asylum. We’ll see.
- Why would a Beirut district commander for Hezbollah have a copy of Brody’s suicide video? And wasn’t it convenient that Carrie just happened to pick up the bag that just happened to contain it, and that Saul just happened to find it hidden in the seam after one of his men missed it? Suspension of disbelief, thy name is television.