Monday, November 19, 2012

Homeland Ep. 2-8: I'll Fly Away

One of the greatest feats of "Homeland"'s first season was the delicate balance it managed between making viewers empathize with Brody and at the same time feeding their doubts about him. The audience could feel the psychological damage wrought by years of imprisonment and torture while simutaneously wondering if he was planning to commit an even greater evil than that done to him. Even after it became clear he'd been turned, there was still the possibility he wouldn't go through with the plan - that he wouldn't pull the trigger, that love of his family, love of life, would pull him back from the brink.

This season, it's been much more difficult to sustain that balancing act, as we've now seen that Brody was perfectly capable of going through with it, even if a technical malfunction and his daughter's plea prevented him from finishing the job. We've seen that he's capable of killing, brutally, under orders from Abu Nazir, and of incredible cruelty to poor Carrie, the only person who loved him as the man he'd become rather than the man he once was. There's not much rationale for sympathizing with Brody now or hope for his redemption. Yet the show continues to find ways to pull us into his mental drama and, yes, empathize with him. (Maybe this isn't true for everyone; the friend I watch the show with, for example, finds Brody completely intolerable.) In particular, ever since Carrie convinced him to make a deal with the CIA, we feel his growing sense that what once looked like a potential escape route has become a trap, a maze with no outlet.

And so, in this episode Brody finally reaches his breaking point, after the CIA stonewalls his attempt to take Dana to the police to report the hit and run. He sees his daughter, and possibly his wife, slipping irrecoverably away from him; he sees he's just a pawn to the CIA; and he sees he has no choice. Damian Lewis does a stellar job (by now we should expect no less) conveying Brody's meltdown, from his bellowing "I CAN'T!" to Jessica and collapsing into fetal position (a callback to first season) to his flipping out on Roya to the eerie fatalistic calm that descends upon him when Carrie, against orders, takes him off the grid to calm him down and put him back on track. Carrie "handles" him, all right, with a mixture of soft pep talk and crazy monkey sex (all recorded by the CIA!), and succeeds in her immediate objective: Brody tells Roya he's back in. Roya looks skeptical, to say the least, but proceeds to drive him off to a remote field, introduce him to the mystery man who led the raid in Gettysburg, and bundle him off by helicopter to a meeting with...a clean-shaven Abu Nazir.

What happens next is anyone's guess. I think Nazir and Roya would have to be idiots not to have made Brody by now, and Roya's comments and general demeanor towards Brody - not to mention her disabling the tracker on his phone - suggest they know he's playing double agent. If they're not going to kill him, or torture him to find out what the CIA knows (which really isn't much), then what are they going to do with him? The easiest answer is that Nazir will try to reprogram him to their cause; but how can he possibly believe the CIA would trust Brody now?

As for Carrie, she's in it right there with him, right up to her f**king neck, as she would say. "Homeland"'s other high wire act has always been its depiction of the blurriness of Carrie's motives w/r/t Brody; it's become almost impossible now to tell how much of what she says to (and does with) him is in service of her mission, and how much of it an expression of her true feelings for him. She keeps telling Saul and Peter Quinn, who are giving her a pretty implausibly long leash, that it's the former, but there's little doubt she was being more honest with Brody last week when she told him she didn't know.

As usual, the subplots involving Brody's family were considerably less dramatically compelling than the main plot, though Morgan Saylor continues to impress as a very morally lost Dana who, not unlike her dad, is nearly going out of her mind carrying around a bundle of guilt she can't discharge. I also found her interactions with Mike unexpectedly sweet, especially since it was she who originally banished him from the Brodys' lives. The way things are going, Mike might be resuming full-time surrogate dad duties quite soon, and I'm beginning to think that can only be a good thing.

Random observations:

-I knew Brody's lying to Jessica about Carrie no longer being with the CIA would come back to bite him. This may be the last straw for their marriage. Nice work by Morena Baccarin in her limited screen time this ep.

-I'm glad to see Peter Quinn lookin' good, though that must be one seriously fast-healing stomach wound. He was popping so many pills last episode I half expected him to be concealing a painkiller addiction in this one.

-This is a quibble, but seriously, folks, no Congressman's chief of staff would ever tell anyone, let alone a journalist, that his boss had an open calendar for ANY day.

-Could Virgil's black van BE any more conspicuous? It doesn't look like it could be anything other than what it is, a surveillance vehicle. I did like Virgil's line about the Starship Enterprise, though.

Best moment: Saul face-palming at the sound of his protégée's sex noises. Can I admit that I laughed hysterically through that whole scene? (Carrie's blasé reaction to the news that the entire night had been monitored was also priceless.)

Best line: "I know, I was there." -Quinn to Carrie as she's railing about having lost six agents at Gettysburg to Abu Nazir's mystery man.


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