“Homeland”: Are you a monster?

Carrie puts everything on the line to get to the heart of Brody

Topics: recaps, damian lewis, Claire Danes, Homeland, TV, Terrorism, Television, CIA, recap,

"Homeland": Are you a monster?

Previously on “Homeland”: Everything we thought the entire season was going to be about took place in two episodes. Over the course of these past two episodes (4 and 5) — less than 120 minutes of television — Brody’s terrorist tendencies became known to the CIA, he was brought in, detained, turned and sent back out into the world, a troubled double agent. It’s as if “Homeland” jumped into the air, but instead of coming back down to Earth, landed — like Super Mario could — on some invisible platform in the sky and walked through a previously unseen door into a whole new world. Except that unlike a video game, all the intense, tempestuous, shocking developments involved two people sitting very, very still and talking, vulnerably to each other. Give or take a hand stabbing and a hit and run, last night’s episode was a restrained classical duet, so much more thrilling for being oh so quiet.

When does a secret stop being a secret? Is it when other people find out about it? Or is it when you stop lying about it? Since the end of the season’s second episode, when Saul watched Brody’s confession, the secret about Brody has been out — or at least that’s what the CIA, and we in the audience, thought. But last night’s episode made clear that truth-telling is not just about an absence, it’s about an avowal. The CIA knows about Brody. Brody knows that the CIA knows about him. And yet, that’s not enough. Peter’s entire interrogation of Brody, the laying out of the cold hard facts, was not enough. When it was over, Brody could still sit there and deny that he ever wore a suicide vest, saying “You’ve got nothing on me.” Everyone knows the truth, but truth still has to be stated.

And who better to get Brody to tell the truth than Carrie Mathison, that crazy, brilliant, deranged truth-teller, a woman who has spent a season and a half refusing to lie at sometimes great personal cost? At the beginning of the episode Peter says Carrie is “way too emotional and reckless” to be allowed to interrogate Brody, but in this instance, way too much of these things is exactly the right amount.

Walking into the interrogation room, where a recently stabbed Brody is still lying his face off, Carrie leads with, “You broke my heart you know? Was that easy? Was that fun?” This is a many-layered tactic: It immediately flips Brody’s POV. He’s been feeling the abused, stabbed, wronged victim, and in walks Carrie, asserting their connection and making a claim to being the wronged party. She gives Brody emotional power over her, so that he can jump from being terrorist Brody to being the Brody who takes responsibility for the people around him. But Carrie is also leading by example. You have to say the hard shit out loud. (And if Carrie makes sharing her feelings look easy, watch that episode again and think about the fact that Carrie hears Brody sneer, “She’s out of her mind, she’s obsessed with me” minutes before she walks into the room and says, “You broke my heart.” The spine on that chick.)

One of the beautiful aspects of this script — and this script is so stunningly wrought — is that it comes back, again and again, to how little it matters that we “know” the truth, and how much it matters that we say it. Brody tells Carrie he knows what she’s doing when she’s talking about her feelings for him. He knows that she is appealing to his discomfit about using her as his boogeyman, that she is asserting her faith that a “good” Brody exists, that she is being as “understanding” as he just told Peter, in a bit of wishful thinking, he imagines Jess could be. But knowing is the irrelevant part. The relevant part is that her tactic works anyway.

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And why does it work? It works because Carrie is brilliant and brave, a woman who is willing to put herself out there and who knows what questions need to be asked, what fears need to be played on — “Are you a monster, Brody?” — but also because she’s not just pretending to love him. Carrie’s not trying to get the truth out of Brody with a lie of her own. And it works because Brody is not just a monster. He’s a wreck of a guy who still gets comfort from curling up on a cement floor, who still thinks his torture cell is home, and who actually does take succor from Carrie’s generous comprehension of him. This is what’s so radical about “Homeland”: In some profoundly non-cheesy way, it’s Carrie’s heart — in conjunction with her head — that is sorting this mess out. Her emotional IQ is smarter than everyone and everything else on this series.

Along these lines, I’m not sure I have ever watched a show where the people making it are ‘shipping as hard for a couple as Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon are ‘shipping for Brody and Carrie. I don’t mean that they’re pushing for Brody and Carrie to end up together forever or even to  have sex again — though I would bet they will have sex again. “Call and say you miss me, I’ll do the same, and we’ll meet at my apartment” is too slam dunk a setup — but that they want them in a room together, talking about their relationship, as deeply as any writer of fan fiction ever could. Even when Peter started the interrogation, there was no doubt in my mind that Carrie would get into that room with Brody. It almost felt like Gansa and Gordon were working backward: What has to happen in this episode for it to be realistic for Carrie to interrogate him?

And thus the hand stab. I’ve come around on this moment, which at first seemed way over the top to me. A punch in the face wouldn’t have done as much to disorient Brody, or to convince him that these people will do anything to him. If the CIA will stab you in the hand in D.C., who knows what they’ll do to you in Guantánamo?  This moment was also “Homeland’s” warmest portrayal of torture yet: Peter’s act of violence softened Brody up for Carrie. It wouldn’t have helped Peter get anything from him, but it set the scene for her.

As for the other bit of ultra-violence, Dana and Finn’s joy ride turned hit and run: Poor Dana, who has so much heaviness going on in her life, and has now had her adorable, young romance turned into a crime scene. I’m reserving judgment on a story line that puts another Brody on the wrong side of the law until it plays out further.

I watch a lot of television. Some of it’s good and some of it’s bad and some of it’s horrible and some of it’s great. But it’s very rare that even when a show is great, it’s all that I want to watch, or all that I want to think about, or that I develop an internal clock that knows exactly how long it will be until the next episode airs. That’s what’s happening with “Homeland” right now and it is so, so awesome. See you in six days and 21 hours.

Willa Paskin
Willa Paskin is Salon's staff TV writer.

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