Homeland has been a little hit-or-miss in its second season; that’s not to say that the show still isn’t maybe the best thing currently on air (I personally believe that the very best piece of unfinished scripted television is Mad Men, but that’s an entirely different debate). This season has just been a little less consistent and a little too soapy on occasion, especially in its lingeringly awkward subplots. However, the bulk of tonight’s episode reminded me why this show can so regularly reinvent its trajectory and provide massive shocks… especially when it comes to character development. We still have some plotting issues, people (more on that later). But tonight was huge, in what felt like the first segment of a three-part finale.
Saul goes to find Roald Dahl (I know that’s not his name, it’s just pretty damn close) at a chicken & waffle house; Saul was an idiot for not getting some chicken and waffles. Allegedly Roald always comes to this very waffle house every Tuesday, which seems dumb if you’re a legendary black ops mastermind. Roald admits that “Peter Quinn” is a member of his team, but he has no idea why Estes requested a “solider” for the Brody/Nazir case. Saul and Roald seem to have an awkward past, and there’s an edge to the conversation that Saul might not be entirely trustworthy in Roald’s eyes. I love Saul too much to distrust him, just as Roald puts Saul on blast for having too many emotions for this line of work. Two men throwing their weight behind their personal philosophies; we’ll see this writ large later in the episode.
At Safe House CIA, Jessica tells Mike that she doesn’t feel guilty about showing her nipples the night before. Brody walks in and the “romance” is ruined, followed by some Dana’s angst, some dead swoosh of Jessica’s hair, some worthless Chris banter, and a crumbling family. This place is so much fun! Carrie calls, because they’re going to have to map out Brody’s stepping down from Congress and withdrawing his name from the Vice President race – deconstructing Nazir’s chess game as Nazir’s team falls by the wayside. Carrie gets off the phone, smiles in the wake of her Brody Emotions, turns up some jazz on her car stereo… and is slammed by a giant white van. Cut to black. I jumped.
No one knows about Carrie yet. Estes is celebrating the takedown at Roya’s breakfast diner from last week’s episode, but mentions that he’ll wait to have “at least several martinis” for when Nazir is taken down; I just don’t see Estes nursing a delicate martini glass, honestly. I don’t see anyone on this show having the patience for a martini glass, if I’m bringing “honestly” to the table. After the quasi-celebration, Saul accosts Estes in the hallway (how Sorkin of you) – is Quinn insurance for Estes, to make sure that news of the Issa-killing drone strike doesn’t make it to the general public from Brody’s lips? That would be a bad thing for Estes. Estes makes nice use of the f-word to throw the attack back on Saul. Quinn arrives with news that Carrie’s car has been located, smashed up; however, Carrie herself is missing. Umm. Uh oh.
Brody, trying to have another awful conversation with Jessica, gets a call on his cell. Only it’s not a call, but Fake Facetime on a Blackberry. We get a close-up on one very familiar crazy eyeball, and then tight on Homeland’s most terrifying face. NAZIR HAS CARRIE. I REPEAT, NAZIR HAS CARRIE. Carrie is tied up and gagged in some abandoned plant, and Nazir wants to trade information for Carrie’s life – he wants the serial number to the Vice President’s pacemaker, to be controlled wirelessly. Salome calls a car for the Vice President’s house while Brody spins a bunch of lies, and the wheels are in motion to save Carrie.
Carrie. Carrie Carrie Carrie Carrie Carrie. I am so sorry for being so mean to you this season whenever you play tonsil hockey with Nicholas Brody or disobey orders; now I must watch you suffer through all of this terrorist hostage shit. Remember the days when this show featured easy images like a lot of naked woman trying to get into a harem? You know a show is getting crazy when your lunatic protagonist is in the hands of the world’s biggest terrorist in some abandoned space near DC…
Saul makes this sad puppy, “my daughter is missing” face at everyone while picking through Carrie’s car; he calls Brody from Carrie’s phone, as that was the last outgoing call she made before she was nabbed. Brody can’t blab – because he’s about to give Nazir very scary information and because he’s hanging out in the backseat with Salome – but it’s clear that tensions are too high. We awkwardly linger on a short detour for Dana and Finn, which contains some of the worst writing this show has seen. Like, actually. Dana says that she’s in this apartment/hotel safe house complex because her father is a “superspy and terrorists want to kill him or shit.” Really, Dana? Finn wants to get back together, but they can’t because they killed someone. The end. Goodbye. Dana, open your mouth and tame your Topanga hair. Thanks.
Thankfully, we follow that horribly ill-conceived madness with possibly the gretest writing that Homeland has ever given us – a nice tete-a-tete between Carrie and Nazir, as the two sling around their beliefs on terrorism, justice, and human instinct. Nazir realizes that the love between Brody and Carrie is real and mutual; Carrie rejects Nazir’s water, his practices, and his warped understanding of American pride. Or, is his view so warped? Is there potentially some small kernel of honesty at the core of Nazir’s destructive, heinous outlook? Carrie isn’t scared because she’s so enraged. One example exchange?
Carrie: “You’re never going to leave this country alive.”
Nazir: “I know. And I don’t care.”
Navid Negahban deserves an Emmy for this scene alone, and Claire Danes turns in her best work of the season as well. It’s a remarkable thing. Putting Carrie and Nazir in a room together is dangerously exciting – they’re both touched by passionate insanity, they’re both razor sharp, and they will both do anything to fight for the very heart of their ideology. It’s a huge moment, these two together. Carrie is the baddest bitch on television. I love this show. In this moment, this show is perfect. My heart exploded.
All that perfection is soon to be undone. Brody makes it up to the Vice President’s home office by telling a bunch of zany half-lies, and sweating like an escaped convict the entire time. Brody finds the pacemaker kit after searching for far too long, and finds a handy magnifying glass after searching for 17 seconds; the serial code, it seems, is really damn tiny. A magnifying glass? Are you f*cking kidding me? Brody calls Nazir, demanding that Carrie be let free first. Nazir makes Brody swear on Issa’s life, which Brody does fervently and with (moving) honesty… and then Carrie is set free. The blast of pure emotional glee on Brody’s face is overwhelming; Damien Lewis played this whole episode kind of… weird? Whatever. True love for Carrie. Carrie runs from the compound; Nazir’s got to have an angle on this, right? Brody texts the serial number to Nazir. Nazir sends the information over to his secret young medical helper, who puts the pacemaker’s information into an elaborate computer system. Let the countdown begin.
I have no idea how shutting off a pacemaker works, so I really hope this entire sequence was somewhat plausible in the real world; it does not feel realistic to me, and weird moments of self-conscious questioning (on the plot’s behalf) started talking me out of the pulse-pounding beauty of things. A magnifying glass. The Vice President finally returns from his meeting, finding Brody in his office. Spare us, VP. Brody admits that he’s retiring from Congress, for his family. Vice President Walden is momentarily crippled by some pain in his chest, and Brody digs his claws into to the man’s faltering health – Brody isn’t stepping down for his family, but rather stepping down for himself. Brody lets the VP fall to the ground, his heart giving out; Brody moves the phone out of the VP’s reach. “I’m killing you,” Brody whispers in his ear. The rage needed to avenge Issa is contained in that whisper, and it’s staggering. Walden, the smarmiest Vice President in the history of everything, is dead; Brody finally has some direct retribution in the aftermath of that heinous drone strike. True love for Issa.
Here’s what I mean with Homeland needing to ramp up the plotting elements – this show is balls-to-the-wall intense when there are two characters in a room, slinging their words at one another. It’s magnetic and unstoppable. However, sometimes, the elements that link those scenes together fall a little flat; they force me to ask too many questions, and therefore push me outside of the scene. You should never be asking questions in the moment! You should only be screaming! Plotting should be confident and, at least in Homeland’s case, blisteringly realistic. Season One never felt overtly manipulated. Season Two needs to spin all those plates at the same time. Then again, Homeland has always been a show about words, and words are best when these characters aren’t on the run…
While the VP dies, Carrie is running through the wilderness; she stands in a middle of the road, forces a trucker to stop, and nabs his cell phone so she can call Saul. This weirdly comical scene, with Carrie trying to figure out her location while the trucker chases her down the street, also filled my heart with dread. Maybe it was just some Twin Peaks echoes, but still. As Saul & Co. race from Langley to find Nazir’s location, two officers escort Saul back inside the building; they have some questions for him, questions that Estes signed off on. Is this to cover up Quinn, the drone strike? DON’T YOU DARE HURT SAUL, HOMELAND. DON’T YOU DARE. Saul has always been handicapped by mole suspicions, but I will fight for his soul until that twist arrives. Are we going to dig into his past next week? I hope so. I miss that reality show The Mole on ABC. Anderson Cooper hosted the first two (glorious) seasons.
Carrie was instructed to stay put, so does Carrie stay put? No! Carrie finds her way back into the abandoned mill. Carrie picks up a pipe, her weapon of choice. Carrie winds through the complex, making her way to a closed door. Carrie opens the door. The episode fades to black. Cue the credits. This soft, hyper-hanging cliffhanger made this episode feel like a part one, a whispered ellipse with a hammering heartbeat. Carrie peeked down the rabbit hole. We’d be dumb not to follow.
[Photo Credit: Kent Smith/Showtime]