The worst episode of "Homeland" ever

Brody returns -- but was the show better off without him?

Published October 14, 2013 12:30PM (EDT)


Nicholas Brody finally reared his clean-shaven, bounty-hunted head in this week’s episode of "Homeland," the third of season three. We finally got to see what has become of him since he said goodbye to Carrie last season, surrendering himself to life on the lam as America’s most wanted terrorist. And now that we’ve seen him, some people may be thinking: wow, I really don’t care what’s become of Nicholas Brody since he said goodbye to Carrie last season.

Let’s put the blame for that apathy where it belongs: on an episode that was ponderous, occasionally heavy-handed and an unsatisfying slog to watch. Was this the worst episode of "Homeland" ever? I’m still not sure, but I know that it felt that way while I was watching it. Even during some of the more preposterous missteps of season two -- like, say, the vice-presidential murder moment that forced me to reconsider my understanding of pacemakers as well as basic logic -- I was not bored. But this installment, dubbed “Tower of David,” was boring.

It overexplained when it would have been better to underexplain. (See Dr. Randall’s exposition-riffic summary of the significance of Caracas’s Tower of David, the skyscraper of Venezuelan squatterdom that has now become Brody’s prison.) It underexplained when at least basic translation was required. (Did the subtitle guy go on vacation this week?) It introduced characters whose motivations were unclear (see El Niño, aka Spider Neck Tattoo Guy, who claims to be harboring Brody because he knows Carrie Mathison, even though that seems hard to believe). It introduced terribly cliché characters like El Niño’s daughter, Esme, Brody’s improbably hot nurse/minder who managed to sneak Brody off to a mosque without anyone realizing even though Brody previously got caught within milliseconds of strolling away from the tower. And it asked us to believe that Brody, a high-profile criminal with a $10 million bounty on his head, could be kept under lock and key in Caracas simply because El Niño wants it that way. Wouldn’t one of his underlings figure out a way to report Brody’s whereabouts, collect the money and gain the protection of the CIA, which, as "Homeland" has previously taught us, is very good at promising to protect people who have information about known terrorists? I don’t know. All I know is that this mess of a Nicholas Brody plot really made me miss Dana Brody, who was absent from an episode that solely toggled between Brody’s and Carrie’s storylines.

I say “toggled,” but actually this episode unsubtly switched back-and-forth between the current circumstances of America’s favorite national-security-compromising sweethearts to emphasize that their actions have placed them in parallel situations. Brody was isolated and trapped. So was the still-institutionalized Carrie. Brody believed the people he trusts -- Carrie, any imam at a nearby neighborhood mosque -- were still trying to protect him. So did Carrie, who was obsessed with the idea that Saul had tried to visit her even though she quite clearly slur-jected him in last week’s episode, so why would he? Both concluded that the only way to cope with their lives was to medicate: Carrie with her prescribed lithium and Brody with the heroin “prescribed” to him by Dr. Randall, played by Erik Todd Dellums, who also worked in a medical capacity on "The Wire" in a town where it was all too easy to find syringes dripping with substances to numb the brain.

It was astonishing how mentally weak both Brody and Carrie had become. Brody clearly found soothing peace in his view of Caracas as a stand-in for Damascus, so perhaps that explains why he believed he could find refuge in a mosque: in his physically vulnerable state post-gunshot wound, he wanted to believe that life could still work the way it did before he turned fugitive. But of course -- and the "Homeland" writers deserve credit for noting this -- no self-respecting imam would want to take in Nicholas Brody, because the last thing they want Islam to be associated with is terrorism. So naturally, the imam reported Brody, leading to that horrible bloodbath and Brody’s return to the tower. It was as if Brody thought he was merely a semi-wanted man, as opposed to really wanted-wanted.

It’s unclear what is motivating Brody at this point. He obviously wants to get out of that tower and go to some other undisclosed location. But then what? Does he think he’ll see Carrie again? Does he believe that, eventually, he can go back to living openly in society? It’s hard to care about Brody when it’s so unclear what his goals are and what we, as viewers, should be rooting for in terms of his story.

And then there was Carrie, who flipped from blurting out the truth about the CIA and sprinting out of commitment hearings to becoming the most obedient little popsicle stick house maker in the entire mental ward. Once again on her meds, she was determined to do what was asked of her, even willing to admit that Saul had done her a favor by hospitalizing her against her will. “This is quite the sea change for you,” her doctor noted, speaking on behalf of every viewer who developed whiplash as a result of Carrie’s dramatic turn from unhinged loose canon to round peg happily jammed into round hole. Apparently lithium must make anyone who uses it ridiculously loyal to employees of the CIA. At least that’s what it did in this episode to Carrie, who was determined to make sure Saul knew she was doing better and also quick to accuse the visiting shadowy attorney figure -- who said his “partner” wanted to talk with her -- of trying to turn her into a CIA turncoat.

As with Brody, it’s hard to know what Carrie’s goals are at the moment, other than to regain her freedom. Is she still obsessed with proving Brody’s innocence? Is she on such a Saul kick because she wants to make sure she can return to her job, the thing that has always given her life purpose and structure? It’s very challenging to see what the Homeland long game is right now, and how either of these central characters will embark on an arc that sustains and compels an audience through 10 more episodes of this season. That said, I trust the show enough to believe that there must be a long game, one that hasn’t fully evolved yet.

At least in Carrie’s case, we know there may be a way out of her state of confinement and into other potentially conflict-laden circumstances. We know this because: a. surely that’s not the last we’ll see of that attorney, and b. because the preview for next week’s episode made it clear that Carrie will be released from the hospital. As for Brody, though, the guy just doesn’t seem to have much of a future ahead of him. I’m still willing to see how his story plays out. I’d love for him to make contact with his family, and for Dana to begin to feel real sympathy for her father again, which will only make her own recovery more difficult. Whatever happens, I hope that Brody’s story becomes more layered and rich as the season continues. Because based on this week’s episode, it’s much too easy to conclude that "Homeland" is a more interesting place without Nicholas Brody in it.

By Jen Chaney

Jen Chaney is a pop culture writer whose work appears regularly in The Washington Post, New York Magazine’s Vulture and The Dissolve. She’s currently working on a book about the movie “Clueless,” to be published next year by Touchstone.

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