“Homeland”: Saul blows it

Carrie, Brody and Saul each have to assume an authoritative position. Can any of them handle the responsibility?

Topics: Television, TV, Homeland, recaps,

"Homeland": Saul blows it

Last night’s “Homeland” contained three studies on guardianship — failed guardianship. Three people in positions of authority — two handlers and a father — led their charges astray by letting their charges take the lead. Saul inadvertently enabled Aileen to kill herself because he wanted to believe the story she was telling. Brody betrayed Dana’s remarkable sense of personal responsibility because his own is compromised. Carrie willfully upended the balance of power between herself and Brody to make him feel better in the short term, but she only wound up complicating his increasingly implausible predicament.

To start with Carrie and Brody: In this season’s third episode, Brody decided to kill a guy rather than hang up the phone on his wife. (The kinder reading of Brody’s behavior would be that overwhelmed, frenzied, cornered and unable to see a way out of his predicament, he broke the Gettysburg tailor’s neck out of fear and instinct. You say murder, I say murdah.) That third episode, the weakest of the season, was the last before Brody’s taped confession made the rounds at the CIA. It was the episode before the madness began. And “Homeland’s” creators used it to re-emphasize the depths of Carrie’s instability — she tried to kill herself — and the shallowness of Brody’s civility. His self-control is little more than a façade, liable to shatter under stress.

In the episodes since, Brody’s characterization has been more sympathetic. Whether confessing his terrorist affiliations, being drawn inexorably toward Carrie, comforting her or sleeping trembling on the floor, we’ve been exposed to his vulnerable, wrecked side and the tortured — literally and metaphorically — aspects of his personality.

But Brody is a deeply troubled danger, and last night the balance between his good and bad tendencies was re-established. At a fancy retreat for big-time potential political donors, he gets harassed by a jaded “lookie-loo” with a valley girl voice about his time in captivity, and he reflects on the kind of man he could have been if he hadn’t “lost” himself. But he’s also having childish temper tantrums. He calls Carrie to pitch a fit: How does Mike know about Tom Walker? And what is the CIA doing about it? And, god, life is way too hard for him right now; he’s caught in the middle of a stressful shitstorm of his own creation.

Carrie tries to be “understanding.” (That term has pretty much become the go-to word for the sub-dom power play Brody and Carrie are hashing out.) “I know this is hard, I’m sorry…” she says soothingly as Brody hangs up on her. “He needs to feel a sense of control, power,” she says to Quinn. Quinn — who with one ass-flashing confirmed he totally has a date to make out with Carrie as soon as she and Brody work their shit out —  replies, “So empower the guy.” Quinn definitely could have meant Carrie should go make out with Brody — and that’s all Carrie needs to hear.

First she goes to Mike, ostensibly to tell him to back off but also to have an on-the-nose chat about her feelings for Brody. (Also, to remind us what a great curser Danes is. Check out the enunciation on “Cease and fucking desist.”) “It’s hard wanting something or someone you just can’t have,” Carrie says to Mike, dripping with double meaning. When she tells him “I hope you get what you want,” it’s easy to believe her: If Mike gets Jess, that means Carrie just might get Brody.

A few scenes later, all Brody and Carrie’s hand-holding foreplay finally leads somewhere. Our star-crossed lovers embrace in a clearing in the woods. (As further proof of just how deeply Gansa and Howard’s are ‘shipping for Brody and Carrie there’s this: The very title of this episode is ‘The Clearing.”) While they’re smooching, Carrie finally tells the truth. She doesn’t know what she’s doing, whether she’s handling him or into him. Brody knows more than her — she’s both, and so is he. “I do feel used and played and lied to,” he says, “but I also feel good.” Carrie smiles, scary huge because it’s scary real. “Two minutes with you, and I feel good,” Brody continues. “How do you pull that off?” he says, pushing her away. By then, it’s not really a compliment. He walks away, empowered, leaving Carrie looking nauseous and confused. I am really looking forward to Carrie and Brody’s future sex scenes, but this is not how you run a terrorist Ms. Mathison.

Meanwhile, Dana Brody makes the case for being the most morally grounded television teenager of all time. Finn remains hesitant to tell their parents about the vehicular manslaughter, but Dana forces him to, blurting out “we killed someone” to their mothers at a pool party. Jess’s instinct, like her daughter’s, is to tell the truth. Finn’s mother’s, like her son’s, is to cover it up.

Dana’s faith in doing what’s right — her faith in confession as a way to ease her conscience and begin to amend her sins — is so steadfast she would rather go to the police than let a bunch of powerful people make her misdeeds go away. In this she is, of course, the exact opposite of her father, who is hoping his behavior can be papered over, allegedly on his daughter’s behalf. By the time Carrie shows up at the police station — and big laughs for Dana’s, “Yeah, I know who you are” — Brody’s compromise has tanked Dana’s clarity. Her confession will have to wait. Rather than protecting Dana, Brody gives her a crash course in, as Finn puts it, “how things go.”

Taking a step back: This may not be the end of the car-crash story line, but thus far it has not turned into the show-destroying arc many initially predicted it would be. And the cover up was key: If Dana goes to the police, suddenly “Homeland” is dealing with a histrionic-teenager courtroom scandal story line. “Homeland” needed to push off Dana’s implacable sense of right and wrong nearly as much as her father did.

Last’s night’s other story line, the tragedy of Aileen and Saul, was a horribly perfect gut-wrencher. Aileen (a great Marin Ireland) has been living inside a windowless cell for 23 hours a day since confessing to her crimes on a road trip with Saul. That trip has widely been interpreted as the ultimate example of “Homeland’s” push back on “24,” a showcase of its preference for diplomacy over torture, soft power over hard. But even having avoided torture, Aileen is still shattered, living for just one more day by a window.

This story line was an emphatic warning about where the Carrie-Brody dynamic may lead. Chastising himself after Aileen’s suicide, Saul says “I got emotional, I wanted to believe her. It was sloppy. I know better.” I’m not sure Carrie does.

Willa Paskin

Willa Paskin is Salon's staff TV writer.

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