Submitted for your perusal: a recap of Homeland, Season Two, Episode 3, “State of Independence,” wherein the author considers spending most of his space ridiculing the show for throwing plausibility to the wind, then decides to praise it because of a sequence near the end that made him laugh until his sides hurt.
I’m talking about the scene where a hounded, mud-spattered Brody throttles the bomb-maker in the woods while simultaneously feeding his wife Jessica bullshit excuses for why he’s not at the fund-raiser as scheduled. It is, on its face, a preposterous scene — stupid, really. Abu Nazir and his minions must be the dumbest terrorists on earth. They control a brainwashed sleeper agent who somehow managed to avoid being exposed even though he nearly set off a suicide bomb in a bunker containing the vice-president and the joint chiefs, and who then got elected to Congress and is being groomed as a vice-presidential candidate; as Brody said himself, he could be of infinitely more value as a political mole, subtly influencing foreign policy in ways that benefit Abu Nazir, and yet the bad guys treat him as the world’s most powerful intern, a gofer with top secret security clearance. In episode one, he stole secrets from the office of Saul’s boss David Estes, with the finesse of the Watergate plumbers. In episode two, he thwarted an operation against Nazir in Beirut by texting Nazir personally from inside the situation room! (You’d think they’d confiscate people’s personal phones in there, or at least tell them to turn them off, as they instruct at your local multiplex.)
In “State of Independence”, the terrorists achieve a new low (high?) in tactical brazenness. Nazir’s people call Brody on the very afternoon that Brody is getting ready to speak at the fund-raiser for neglected veterans and send him on an errand that, frankly, any yutz with a Chevette could probably do: get the tailor/bomb-maker and spirit him away to a safe house before the CIA can swoop him up. I don’t see any good reason why Brody has to perform this errand personally, but there he is, driving back from Gettysburg with the bomb-maker, changing a flat tire without a jack, chasing the escaped bomb-maker through the woods, staunching the flow of blood from the man’s stomach when he falls and accidentally pierces his own belly, then strangling him and snapping his neck a la Jason Bourne. You’d think maybe Nazir’s people would be worried that, oh, I don’t know, John or Jane Q. Public might see a Congressman driving around with a terrified-looking Middle Eastern man on the day that he was scheduled to speak at a fund-raiser for veterans. But no. They’ve got their own agenda, clearly. An agenda of stoooopid.
But damned if the bomb-maker’s murder wasn’t bleakly funny, like the woodland violence of the Sopranos episodes “College” and “Pine Barrens,” both of which “State of Independence” resembled. And the poker-faced solemnity of Homeland — a series that seems to unfold in a blue-grey fog of depression — made it funnier. (Damian Lewis should submit this episode for an Emmy; he played the entire road trip sequence perfectly, foregrounding Brody’s cigar-store Indian woodenness and relentless soldier’s focus on completing whatever mission he’s been handed, amplifying the suspense and teasing out the latent comedy.)
Some of my favorite film and TV-makers have the discombobulating quality showcased in this episode. You’re not quite sure how to take what you’re seeing — if it’s intentionally funny, unintentionally funny, or tuned into its own inscrutable wavelength and not really caring what anyone thinks. Whatever the intent, the scene pushed right up to the edge of parody, and I loved it.
The murder was followed by a long, unnerving sequence of Carrie — stung by David Estes’s rejection, and the realization that she wasn’t just going to waltz back into her old job as a conquering hero — swallowing a fistful of pills and two cups of wine, lying down to die, then leaping out of bed and puking. Claire Danes is, as I said last week, the best TV crier alive, rivaled only by Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul. But she’s not just aces at waterworks; she can play every note on the sadness spectrum, and her articulation of Carrie’s humiliation and despair was so exquisite that I could barely watch it. The episode’s director Lodge Kerrigan, whose work with Damian Lewis in 2005’s Keane supposedly helped land Lewis this plum part, held on Carrie in bed for a long time, from medium distance, with no cuts. The camera’s withering gaze succeeded in making me wonder, for a few fleeting seconds, if she was going to die. (Well, duh, of course she wasn’t — she’s played by Claire Danes! — but good filmmaking and acting can make you wonder.)
These three episodes have been less about plot advancement than devising situations wherein the show’s lead actors can shine. The woodland sequence did that for Lewis. The attempted suicide (and the earlier scene where David bursts her bubble) did it for Danes. Mandy Patinkin had his moment at the start of this episode, in the sequence where Saul gets waylaid by a Lebanese customs agent (probably working for Hezbollah) and we believe the card containing Brody’s incriminating video has been confiscated. (The confiscated video is a fake. Saul hid the real one in a secret compartment on the outside of his briefcase.) Morena Baccarin’s acting held the whole episode together; between Jessica’s increasing discomfort and desperation at Brody’s absence, her moving speech about her husband’s combat trauma (which turned disaster into victory), and her climactic scene with Brody (“You’re hiding something … I can see it in your eyes”) this might have been the actress’s strongest work to date.
That this chapter, more so than most Homeland episodes, was performance-driven reminded us that the series is very much about the idea that life itself is a performance — that we create and nurture public personas that might be different from our private selves.
Saul acts the role of a man whose secret has been discovered in order to protect that same secret; Carrie acts the role of the tough professional who doesn’t take things personally (and acts it unconvincingly) then weeps as soon as the elevator doors close behind her; Jessica swallows her humiliation and anger and plays the role of supporting, loving, resilient wife, and because those parts of her are authentic, her speech moves hearts and opens wallets; Brody, this show’s Don Draper, acts the part of the patriotic veteran-turned-Congressman and the good husband called away from a dinner obligation by his duty to constituents; but he’s under so much pressure that his lies have a Fletch-y transparency, and by the end of the chapter, his wife has decided that she’s had enough of his malarkey, his mysterious disappearances, his cheating, and his unearned belief that he owns every part of her. (See: the hateful undertone in Brody’s voice when he sees Jessica with Mike at the end and says, “She’s quite the hostess.”) Jessica doesn’t know what her husband’s true self looks like, and by this point she’s so worn down that she doesn’t want to know; she just wants to bring the curtain down on this marriage and move on.
Odds and ends
- I love the interrupted sex scene between Jessica and Brody in the kitchen — especially her saying, “Slow down … Look at me.” Lots of pay cable shows do frank sex scenes; very few capture the subtle emotional undercurrents of sex as deftly as this one.
- Could Carrie just walk into a top secret debriefing like that? I know she was invited to be on that floor, in that department, but still; for a national security state, they seem to run a pretty loose ship sometimes.
- I like how the show is using Mike as a conduit for exposition by having him link Jessica, Brody and his and Brody’s fellow vets. “He was with that CIA woman, the crazy one. Let me be crystal clear, he was fucking the bitch,” Jessica tells him in the car. That cat’s out of the bag now; what will Mike do with it?
- Very crafty of Homeland to end the last episode with a cliffhanger (Saul discovering Brody’s artfully truncated video) then keep Saul and the video offscreen for almost the whole episode, and basically resume the same cliffhanger in the last scene and move it forward just one dramatic half-step. All TV shows have to find inventive ways to let the string play out. It’s always a bit obvious, but Homeland makes it go down easy.
- Carrie’s astonished, grateful “I was right” was a beautiful moment.