Human beings tend to see shades of gray in themselves and black and white in everybody else. It takes a generosity of spirit, emotional awareness and, in some cases, a healthy dose of meds to remind us that most of our fellow men and women are just as nuanced and complicated as we are.
In this week’s episode of “Homeland,” most of our key characters very clearly saw the nuances in their own situations, but viewed others as standing smack on one side of a moral line they had drawn in their own minds.
Carrie Mathison — who wound up being committed against her will and so gorked up on thorazine that she could barely slur out an “eff you” to Saul by episode’s end — refused to think that anyone associated with the CIA might possibly have her best interests at heart. Right now, for her, those colleagues, as well as her dad and sister, are defined in straight-up, black-and-white terms. But what’s happening to her, from her point of view, is complicated, and filled with layers, and my God, can’t you see? Which is why it’s perfectly normal for her to be bursting into people’s homes and newsrooms so she can blast out the truth about the Big Lie.
The simple fact that Carrie is losing her sanity and credibility because she’s off her medication — or that she should have learned from her experience two seasons ago, when she seemed crazy for believing that Brody was a bad guy — is something she can’t process. Now she seems crazy for thinking Brody’s innocent, at least in terms of the attack on the CIA. Once again, based on what we currently know, she’s correct. And once again, that hasn’t prevented her from getting strapped to a bed in a mental hospital, marginalized from her workplace and society because she can’t find a midpoint between sticking to her guns and shooting herself in the foot.
After the questionable decisions she made last season, it’s really easy to watch “Homeland” and dislike Carrie. As a woman swinging toward the wildest end of her bipolarity — and as portrayed by Claire Danes with a twitchy ferocity that purposely agitates — Carrie represents the stereotypical female that audiences love to loathe, especially on television: the strident harpy who won’t stop yelling, who turns her crazy into our crazy. It’s always been risky for the “Homeland” writers to show us too much of Carrie in this state because it practically invites viewers to switch channels or delete the whole series from their DVRs. But that’s exactly why they need to show us Carrie in this state.
Anyone who’s ever dealt with someone suffering from mental illness and paranoia knows how maddening they can become. Like Dar Adal at the CIA, we may desperately want to just shut them up or shut them down. But we can’t. They deserve better than that, and so does Carrie. “Homeland” is a thriller filled with political intrigue and post-9/11 urgency, yes, but it’s also a commentary on the ongoing challenge of living with mental illness, both for patients and for those, like Carrie’s sister and father, who care about them. I’m not sure “Homeland” lifts any of the stigma associated with such illness, but the fact that it even attempts to confront the issue is worthy of notice.
But back to the CIA and its attempt to muzzle Carrie. Here’s a question: Was throwing her in a psych hospital really an effective move for Central Intelligence? Our heroine was committed against her will while speaking, on the record, to a Washington Post reporter, or at least a reporter sitting in a newsroom that looked a lot like the Washington Post’s newsroom. The interview was cut short, but still: Carrie was dragged away in front of multiple journalists, in a newsroom breaking stories about an “unnamed mentally ill CIA agent” (obviously Carrie) who slept with Nicholas Brody. Surely that reporter will attempt to publish something about what happened, or at least investigate further, which will then lead to more follow-up stories. Locking Carrie away, at least under those circumstances, could invite more problems than it prevents. Or at least it should, if the “Homeland” writers are true to how a journalist would respond to this.
Then again, the CIA, under the leadership of a newly hardass Saul Berenson, is all about bringing problems on itself. Shouldn’t Fara, the new transactions expert, go straight to HR after the way Saul ripped into her for wearing a headscarf as if it’s a big “fuck you” to all the people who lost their lives at Langley? I summarized this scene in my notes by writing: “SAUL, WHAT IS YOUR PROBLEM?” But we know what Saul’s problem is: he needs someone to blame for the CIA bombing. He’s under duress, and taking it out on Fara, who in turn laid on her thickest “You are responsible for the bombing” attitude with the arrogant bankers who illegally funneled funds to Iranians. Saul treated Fara like an enemy combatant (black and white, minus the gray), so she felt pressure to prove she was a “true American” (again, black and white, no gray). The result: one of those bank guys told her “that’s not how we ask for help in this country.” You know what? Tell it to Saul, buddy.
And then there’s Dana Brody, who declared that she’s not crazy, and that her boyfriend, Ian Somerhalder’s little brother, isn’t crazy, but that her father, Nicholas Brody, is crazy. “He was a psycho from the moment he set foot in this house and he ruined our lives,” she said to her mother in a tone drenched in teenage drama.
That’s just a narrative Dana’s created, one in which her father is made up of clear contrasting colors so that she can reconcile what happened to him and move on. By the end of this episode, however, Dana demonstrated a generosity of spirit and emotional awareness that no one else quite managed to muster during this Showtime hour, except maybe Quinn. But he’s still coping with flashes of conscience by also killing people, so he loses a few brownie points.
Dana looked through a number of old pictures of her father — including some of him with floppy hair, looking like the long-lost third member of Tears for Fears — and seemed to begin to understand that a person can’t be contained to a single portrait, not even her father. His story involves many images, with many shades. Then she dug out his prayer rug and laid herself across it, giving herself up not to God, necessarily, but at least to the idea that there are things in the universe bigger than herself, her problems and the world that exists in her own head.