This episode of “Homeland” is titled “Two Hats,” but I think of it as “The Dodge.” Even though it had the most action-movie-like plot of the season, it was the season’s dullest episode, with the story and the characters feinting one way to go another, yet leaving us — for now — with just the feint. (“Homeland” is a true psychological, not action, thriller and this was further proof: Secret identities and explosive batteries are nowhere near as fascinating as Carrie Mathison’s brain.) As the episode begins Abu Nazir, Quinn, Brody and Carrie are all pretending and obfuscating about their true missions and motivations. “Homeland” itself is being tricky about what really went down between Nazir and Brody. At episode’s end, even with Roya and her crew in custody, all that pretending and obfuscating remains in effect. The CIA is still trying to determine Abu Nazir’s next plot. This episode was like a stutter step, a flashy motion to stay in the same place.
Let’s start with the putative star of the episode, the ass-flashing gentleman known as Peter Quinn. Following up on Carrie and Saul’s directive, Virgil and Max locate Quinn’s apartment and find he’s living with all the asceticism of an assassin. His personal possessions include a sleeping bag, his sniper-rifle works and a picture of his newborn son and baby mama stashed in his well-thumbed copy of “Great Expectations.” (Is the CIA Quinn’s Magwitch, i.e., his criminal fairy godfather, who has raised him to a much-dreamed-of but unsustainable social position? Or is Quinn the Magwitch of this piece, the devoted-yet-absent father figure who will do anything he can to ensure his child’s material safety? And, while I’m at it, Carrie and Miss Havisham – now there’s an essay, right? )
Saul decides to smoke Quinn out and pays a visit to the aforementioned baby mama by impersonating the calmest, most suspicious IRS man in history. She calls Quinn, who runs off to his handler — the wonderfully named Black Ops muckety-muck Daradal — and ta-dah! Quinn’s not a trained killer working for the bad guys, he’s a trained killer working for the CIA. “He’s here to kill terrorists, Saul,” David Estes says of Quinn. He sure is. But as Quinn sits in a limo ready to off Brody on Estes’ command, that’s not nearly as reassuring as Estes means it to be.
Quinn’s true mission is meaty material for “Homeland,” a show that has always been interested in exploring the morality of the war on terror and torture in particular, and now gets to feast on the possibility — or impossibility — of forgiveness and rehabilitation. I don’t want Brody to be assassinated, but can the CIA really just let him go? Can a former vice-presidential candidate who’s also a mentally unstable man with terrorist sympathies be allowed to live peacefully far away from D.C., not only a forever security risk, but a forever potential calamity to the CIA, the military and the federal government? Will his family be punished into joining him in exile? And would living a life in prison, like the broken Aileen, be a better fate?
The Quinn reveal also sets up what would be a supremely fitting season-ending arc (there are just three episodes left): Not a showdown between the CIA and Abu Nazir’s terror squad, but a showdown between Carrie’s professional and personal life, which may or may not take the form of a showdown between Carrie and the CIA. Carrie’s priority is stopping an attack on America, but what comes after that? Either she and Saul will figure out Quinn’s real mission, to assassinate Brody after he stops providing useful intelligence, leaving Carrie to decide whether or not she will intervene before or after Brody’s mission is complete, in some legal or illegal way, in some public or clandestine way. Or Quinn and the CIA succeed in killing Brody, or attempt to kill Brody and we’ll get to see how off the rails Carrie goes about it.
And Carrie seems likely to go way off the rails. The episode, even more than last week’s grunting motel sex, made clear that Carrie’s feelings for Brody have increasingly little to do with mission completion. Here she is at the beginning of the episode, pretending to be tough about the possibility that Brody’s dead, but when he calls her to say he’s alive, she blurts out, “We’ve been going out of our minds,” projecting all over her colleagues. When she meets him in her car she’s barely able to keep her chin from wobbling right off of her face. Later in the interrogation room, when she tells Brody she had Mike warn Brody’s family, she’s testing him, daring him to have a jealous reaction, because that is totally appropriate in the middle of a national security crisis. (As for the Mike-Jess coupling, God I hope those two relatively normal kids get a chance to be happy. The functionality of their makeshift family compared to everyone else on this show is so high, I worry for them. Does anyone get to walk away, just sort of harmed?)
Meanwhile, Brody is up to … something. I suppose it is possible that we saw all of the pertinent conversations between Abu Nazir and Brody, but that seems more unlikely than a beardless Saul Berenson. In Season 1, Brody’s selective memories of Abu Nazir were used to mislead us. That’s almost certainly happening again, especially given the amount of paraphrasing Brody does during his CIA interrogation.
What did Nazir say to Brody right after Brody said, “I wanted to avenge Issa’s death, not harm innocent civilians?” Would Brody reject a plan that just included murdering the vice president? And what did Brody do in the hour after he called Carrie besides hop a train between Baltimore and D.C. (and wave hello to Bunk or Marlo)? And what did Nazir mean when he said to Brody, “This is where we say goodbye forever, if all goes well.” Coming at the beginning of the episode, it’s easy to hear that line as a reference to the forthcoming plot. But at the end of the episode, after the plot has been foiled, and it appears neither Nazir nor Brody was supposed to die in it, it sure sounds like there is some other violence in the offing.
Brody’s behavior with Carrie also seemed odd to me. Their relationship’s balance depends on a meting out of imbalances: The power imbalance, which leans in Carrie’s favor, is matched by the feelings imbalance, which is in Brody’s. Carrie controls Brody, but she also loves him more than he loves her — as broken as he is, he’s only capable of like and lust. The nicest thing Brody has said to Carrie all season is, “You make me feel good,” and, suddenly, here he is asking her, “Do you believe me? Because that’s all I care about right now.” Maybe he means it, maybe he doesn’t. Saying it should make it that much harder for Carrie to stomach his murder, CIA-sanctioned or otherwise.