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Cities without landmarks
Niagara Falls, U.S./Canada
I am going to start this recap calmly and in my indoor voice. Neither is going to last long. But while they do, I want to say that “Homeland” has never been the most realistic show. Or a realistic show at all. It’s about an unhinged, bipolar, genius CIA analyst in crazy and true love with a tortured, terrorist Marine who, by some freak of vetting, was allowed to become a congressman and a vice-presidential candidate.
“Homeland” exists in a relatively “real” geopolitical universe, but it has deployed teen hit-and-run accidents, consequence-free murders in the woods, cabin sex, car sex, motel sex, and amnesia — the cherry on top of any soap opera — as plot devices. Some viewers find these creative liberties/absurdities off-putting: I have not been one of them. “Homeland” is so entertaining, Carrie Mathison is so vibrant and broken, Claire Danes is so next-level great, I would forgive the show anything. Or so I thought, until I watched the most recent episode.
If you watched said episode then you know what the preceding paragraphs are — a caveat. A big, huge, caveat. Because the only thing there really is to say about this episode is, TV gods, please forgive me for I have sinned, it has been one week since I thought this show could do no wrong, and I actually deserve to watch, like, I don’t know, 800 hours of “General Hospital” in penance, because at least when “General Hospital” does anything as cuckoo for Coco-Puffs as this total nonsense it doesn’t take itself so damn seriously. [Abandon indoor voice.]
HOLY SHIT THAT WAS SO LUDICROUS. Like crazy, bananas, bonkers, idiotic, insane, stupid, contrived, deranged, are you sure this was not actually a spoof episode of “Homeland” ludicrous? Can we count the ways? I am going to count the ways. (I’m sure I’ve forgotten some.)
1) Abu Nazir kidnaps Carrie.
What does Abu Nazir know from Carrie Mathison??? Perhaps in a future episode we will learn that in his interrogation last week Nicholas Brody talked about Carrie Mathison for hours and hours. Maybe when Nazir asked about his change of heart, Brody said, “I can’t do your dirty work, Abu Nazir, not because I love my family, but because I have fallen in love with this loose cannon CIA agent — she really gets me! She likes having pounding sex on upright furniture and thinks it’s sweet when I curl up on the floor and have terror flashbacks! — and we are going to be together forever.” And maybe Nazir was like, “Tell me about this Carrie. What kind of car does she drive? And where does she live? And would you do anything for her? Oh, I only ask, because I would totally let you have your original corner of terror floor back, if you really wanted it.” But unless that happened, I am unclear on how Abu Nazir — who does not have, like, long cozy chats with Brody every few days because, among other things, Brody’s phone was tapped until this episode, when it magically wasn’t anymore — knows Brody will do whatever he wants because he has taken Carrie.
But let’s say, for argument’s sake, that Abu Nazir does know that Carrie is Brody’s weakness: This is still a terrible plan for a terrorist mastermind to have come up with. Carrie is a CIA agent! This plan only works if the CIA has momentarily gotten terrible at their jobs! The CIA did get terrible at their jobs, but why would Nazir rely on this!? Rely on Carrie not being followed, not having security, and — for some reason— Brody’s phone no longer being tapped? If Abu Nazir was this smart all the time, he would have been caught before this show had even begun.
Nazir kidnapping Carrie felt a little like the thing that happens in the later years of long-running soap operas, where the writers, casting around for as-yet-unexplored plot permutations, decide that some brother and sister are not actually blood relatives so they can bang, because the brother and sister have both already banged everyone else on the show. Just because it is possible to put two actors in the same scene together in a certain way does not mean it is advisable or reasonable or anything but wholly illogical.
2) Carrie listens to jazz/the ”Homeland” theme song as she’s getting hit by a car.
“Homeland,” please don’t wink at me with your meta-jazz when you are about to do something this preposterous. Also, don’t wink at me when you are about to physically harm Carrie Mathison. Also, don’t remind me of your opening credits.
3) Brody does not call the CIA.
So I think there is an “explanation” as to why Brody doesn’t call the CIA as soon as he hangs up from Nazir and says, “Why isn’t my phone tapped anymore???” (Seriously, Carrie handed him the phone last week and said, “new phone, same number.” Did Lester Freamon forget to file some paperwork or something?) But it is one that only “exists” in hindsight. The explanation is that Brody really wants the vice president to die. And so a part of him is willing to go along with Nazir’s plan not just because he wants to save Carrie (who would be better served by some CIA intervention) but because he, like Nazir, is down to give the veep a heart attack. (One logic crinkle here — ha, one. One! I kid, I kid — if we “assume” that Brody wanted to kill the veep all along, Nazir could have skipped kidnapping Carrie altogether and just called Brody up and been like, “Yo, Nee-Ko-Las, let’s kill that killer, am I right.”)
Of course, the show does not intimate that Brody cares much about killing the vice president at all in the early goings — his concern seems only to be with Carrie — and so it just seems inexplicable and idiotic that Brody would not call the CIA immediately. Even if Brody wanted the V.P. to die, when Saul conveniently called him, Brody could have said that Nazir had Carrie, and left the V.P. out of it. In direct contravention of all ransom story lines in all movies ever, Abu Nazir didn’t even tell Brody not to call the police, but Brody has apparently internalized this particular plot point anyway.
4) BlackBerrys do not have that kind of video functionality.
See: Why RIM is about to go out of business.
5) You can’t see Claire Danes’ chin wobble when she is wearing a mouth gag.
This is some remedial shit, “Homeland.” Show us what we need to see.
6) Brody still has security clearance.
If “Homeland” were real and it was ever revealed that Abu Nazir had orchestrated the death of the vice president, when various members of the intelligence community were called in for a hearing in front of a Senate committee, some of the senators would want to know why the vice president’s death was not immediately referred to as a terrorist attack. But the rest would want to know why on Earth a recently active terrorist — a terrorist who was a terrorist solely because of his hatred for the vice president — had full security clearance to walk around the vice president’s house. Like, David Estes, if you are going to take the time to plan ahead and hire a Black-Ops assassin to murder Brody just in case, maybe take the time to pick up the phone and find the person who can make sure Brody no longer has unchaperoned access to the V.P., or any other important people, ever again. Also, I wish I could fire you myself.
7) Galvez is back.
The junior analyst who has been recovering in the hospital for the last few episodes came back, which basically means he is the mole. Previously I would have said “Homeland” wouldn’t do anything so obvious, but I can no longer say that, because, like, among other things, this episode is called “Broken Hearts.” Broken pacemaker, having hearts. Get it?
8) There is no security in the vice president’s house.
No cameras? No audio? Nothing to prevent a curious citizen from sneaking around the house and walking off with a memento? Nothing to prevent a recently reformed terrorist from gliding up a back staircase, snooping around an office, and looming over the vice president while saying, “I am killing you” out loud? Really, like, once you’re in the front door of the veep’s, anyone can do anything they want? OK!
9) “You still don’t get it. I’m killing you.”
Because it bears repeating.
10) The “serious, philosophical” conversation about terrorism.
So, with Carrie beaten and trussed up, Abu Nazir and “Homeland” thought the time was right to re-explain the “stakes” of the show. And so Carrie and Abu Nazir have a chat about terrorism, and how “terrorist” is a more subjective term than it might seem, but not actually really subjective, and also how Abu Nazir and fundamentalists like him are terrifying, but share with many Americans a real disdain for yuppies. As Abu Nazir sees it, he and his brethren have perseverance, while we in the West have “organic food” and “beach houses” and “sports clubs.” It may take him “ two centuries, three centuries, but we will exterminate you,” and, presumably, our pesticide-free, organic romanesco and ramps. Carrie, meanwhile, has to sit through this speech — which, if not for a couple of syntactic flourishes, could have been from any action movie starring a crazy terrorist; Javier Bardem in “Skyfall” would have done this one nicely — with a straight face, occasionally grimacing that we will do “whatever it takes.” She somehow does not laugh when Nazir says, “Sometimes when you are breaking a man, an emotional transference takes place.” Apparently, he’d recently taken a college class on Freud.
11) Nazir lets Carrie go before Brody sends him the vice president’s pacemaker number.
When Brody swears on Issa’s eternal soul that he will text the number after Nazir releases Carrie, both men stay true to their word: Nazir releases Carrie and Brody sends the number. The point being that Nazir really does love Brody, he really does trust Brody, he really does know Brody. That’s great (and also so dumb. There is a reason bad guys don’t do this!), but again, then why did Nazir kidnap Carrie in the first place if he doesn’t even need to keep her to make sure the V.P. dies? Can we get a do-over please?
12) Carrie walks into a dark room.
Look, Carrie is impetuous and she wants to get Abu Nazir, but she is not dumb. She has just been in a serious car accident, bound and gagged, and the CIA is on the way. Especially because Brody is not in that warehouse, I think even she would wait for backup before walking unarmed into a dark room that maybe contains a terrorist who has a gun and a huge amount of explosives. But then, what dramatic shot would this episode have ended on?
13) None of this needed to happen.
This episode could have accomplished everything it needed to for future episodes without ever placing Carrie in harm’s way. Brody could have been cajoled into killing the V.P. by Abu Nazir; Carrie could have figured out where Nazir was holed up, called the CIA, and then gone after him on her own; Saul could have gotten detained, all in an episode where Nazir and Carrie never debated the ethics of terrorism and who loves Brody more. This hugely far-fetched, contrived kidnapping didn’t have to be. But it was, and so “Homeland” can never go back to not having made an episode as silly as this.
Willa Paskin is Salon's staff TV writer.More Willa Paskin.
Niagara Falls, U.S./Canada
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Arc de Triomphe, Paris, France
Lost City of Petra, Jordan
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