Faith in Homeland: restored.
Just when I started to worry that the show had written itself into a corner in the season finale, that it would have been better off as a one-season wonder, and that it would break faith with viewers by extruding the Brody-as-sleeper-agent string until the show stopped being agreeably farfetched but gripping and became pathetic, wham! We got “New Car Smell,” written by series co-producer Meredith Stiehm (who scripted the show’s finest episode to date, “The Weekend”) and directed by David Semel. And now it’s a different show — and a better one, I hope.
Brody as double agent? That’s where we seem to be going. Fingers crossed, because that would be unbearably tense, and tons of fun to watch. This poor guy has enough trouble keeping up one false front — and Damian Lewis is never more appealing than when Brody is trying to hide his poker hand and failing.
Here’s how it went down: The Congressman, booted from his home by his wife Jessica, took a room at a hotel and met with Carrie, whom he’d not-at-all-coincidentally run into earlier (she stopped just short of crashing into him and dropping an armload of textbooks, Glee-style) at the CIA. There was chatter, she said, amongst spooks about an impending attack on America — potentially another 9/11, the operation Carrie (like so many intelligence agents) blamed herself for not stopping. “By the way, this is not a booty call,” Brody told her, his grin saying that if it went that way, he wouldn’t object. It was a set-up — an attempt to draw out Brody, who’d been exposed as a suicide bomber two episodes earlier after Carrie (unknowingly at the time) found his suicide tape in Beirut. Following the affectionate but awkward hotel bar meeting — during which Carrie talked about her electroshock, and Brody replied with a noncommittal “That which makes you stronger” — he called it a night and closed out his tab, making Carrie think that he’d made her and decided to clam up. Back in the control room, Saul and Peter, Carrie’s immediate superior, were ready to call it a night, too.
Then Carrie went to Brody’s room (against orders; she’s always disobeying orders) and laid out the truth instead of laying him.
“It reeks, you know,” she told him.
Things got messier from there.
“I’m sorry, I thought we could be friends,” he said.
“Do I want to be friends with a demented ex-soldier who hates America, who decided that strapping on a bomb was the answer to what ailed him?” she countered, betting all her chips on the fact that she had the bastard’s number. Lewis’s reaction to this line was perfection — a seductive smile freezing into a faintly corpselike grin and then melting into fear. “Despite his daughter,” Carrie continued, “his son, people who love him in real life, not in the mindfuck world of Abu Nazir?”
Claire Danes was brilliant throughout this sequence, merging two strands of righteousness: Carrie’s patriotic anger as an American confronting an enemy of the state, and her private rage at having been seduced and abandoned by a damaged person she’d thought of as a kindred spirit.
“Is it work or love?” Peter had asked earlier in the episode. “What are we, girlfriends?” Carrie replied. “I want to know if you fell for him,” he asked. We got the answer in that climactic confrontation.
“Are you gonna kill me?” she taunted him as he advanced on her. “Blame it on rough sex, maybe? I mean, how long are you gonna get away with something like that?” “I’ve had a pretty good run so far,” he said, looming over her. “It’s true,” she countered. “I seem to be good at this,” he said, smirking, then added, “if nothing else.”
That “if nothing else” was devastating — a clue that much of Brody’s sustained treachery and deception is fueled by feelings of failure, at having been captured, at failing to resist murdering a fellow soldier who turned out to be alive after all, at failing to protect Abu Nazir’s son, at failing to carry out the suicide bombing, at failing his wife and daughter; the Shame List is endless, and Brody keeps adding new items to it.
“You’re special,” Carrie said sarcastically.
“I liked you,” Brody said, with a mix of desperation and condescension.
“I loved you,” she said, answering Peter’s question after-the-fact, and maybe admitting an ugly truth about herself out loud, for the first time.
And then the door crashed open, CIA agents burst in, and Brody was dragged off in handcuffs.
Hell of an ending.
I’m not sure where the show can go from there — although the fifth episode is available for critics, I haven’t watched it yet — but I’m excited. The club-footed gracelessness displayed by Abu Nazir’s people in recent episodes now feels less like imaginative poverty on the part of the writers than evidence that Nazir’s people were in over their heads — that they had no idea how to use an asset as powerful and sophisticated as Brody, a Congressman with Top Secret security clearance. They were treating him like an overqualified drone and sending him out on menial missions, one of which (last week’s) could have resulted in his being ID’d by an unconnected bystander, and exposed publicly before the CIA could get its hooks into him. (As a commenter put it last week, hilariously, “The moral of the story: Don’t call your husband at work. He might be in the middle of killing someone.”) Brody was obviously tired of the shenanigans, too; his long-eroding marriage finally cratered because of them. Now he’s in a perfect position to be flipped. But of course, this is Homeland, so he could pretend to flip but secretly be a triple agent — or pretend to be a triple agent but really be working for Carrie and Saul and company; and so forth, and so on. Russian nesting doll plotting: bring it on.
Odds and ends
- Dana’s romance with the vice-president’s son is heating up. Where are they going with this? As I mentioned in my recap of “Beirut is Back,” “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.’” As Dana worms her way into the veep’s household via her new beau, we’ll find out if I’m right about that. But the dude just seems untrustworthy. Not sure if it’s the character as written, or Jamey Sheridan’s “I’ve got a secret” smile.
- Saul hasn’t given me any really good reason not to trust him, yet I don’t trust him. I can’t explain it. It’s just a feeling.