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Watching Homeland With Agatha Christie

09/25/2013 04:42 pm ET | Updated Nov 25, 2013

In Homeland, as in life, everybody has a secret:

Carri suffers from a mental illness. Jess is in love with Mike. Brody was (or is?) a terrorist. Peter Quinn isn't really "Peter Quinn" at all.

These dark secrets often color a character's choices and blur their motives, driving the show's plot in fascinating directions.

In contrast, my dark secret is much less riveting. Here goes: In my younger, more impressionable years, I suffered from an Agatha Christie obsession.

It is largely under control now but I went through dark times, once spending two weeks of middle school lunches binging on Agatha in the library. I couldn't stop myself, I needed to know: who killed Roger Ackroyd? And was it really murder on the Orient Express? And seriously now, why did British people keep building parlors, didn't they realize that room was a homicide waiting to happen?

By the time I was an upper classman in high school, I had read the majority of Christie's 66 detective novels, finally enabling me to put my addiction to bed and focus on other bookish pursuits.

But nearly a decade later, Homeland premiered, and like a sleeping giant, Agatha awoke. From the very first scene, I recognized the parallels, the plot devices, and the tropes. I was again embraced in the warmth of my addiction. Homeland, I realized, was nothing if not a mystery novel in its most prodigious sense.

Considered the matriarch in the "Golden Age of Detective Fiction," many of Christie's original motifs, plot devices and tropes have became standard tools of fiction writing -- Homeland is exceptional because of its mastery of them, employing these tools with the grace of Dame Agatha herself.

Allow me to illuminate:

Many a Christie novel begins with a Detective arriving too late: the key witness has disappeared, the evidence has been manipulated, the speaker has been silenced. The Detective is left with an excerpt of a clue -- compelling enough to go on but limited enough to present significant complications. Carrie Mattheson might not technically be a Detective but in the pilot, she did arrive too late. She cannot prevent the execution of her key witness, so she bribes her way into the Iraqi prison where he's awaiting the gallows. He can only whisper eight words into her ear before she's found and dragged away. 8 words that serve as the catalyst for the season: an American prisoner of war has been turned.

In seeking the truth behind the clue, the season culminates for Carrie with a bipolar episode, which (temporarily) destroys both her career and her credibility. Signature Agatha! Christie pioneered "the discredited witness" -- someone who was telling the truth all along but couldn't be believed because of their past, their track record or earlier mistakes.

So Carrie was right from the beginning but the sudden re-appearance of Tom Walker (another prisoner of war that Carrie's clue could have been in reference to) seemed to exonerate Brody. Agatha again with her famous "double bluff" -- a shocking twist that is ultimately just a distraction.

Roya Hamad would have been an obvious terrorist from the start in any Christie thriller. Why? Because Agatha's personal vendetta against journalists carried into her writing. The newsman is always complicit in seedy dealings if not downright guilty of murder.

A Christie enthusiast (or anyone who has ever played Clue) could have told Walden not to go in the study with his would-be killer. That room is almost as synonymous with bloodshed as the British parlor.

The parallels don't stop there but with the premiere of Homeland season three looming, there is a more interesting subject to consider. What predictions can we make using Agatha as our crystal ball?

The CIA Leak.
As in nearly every Christie novel, we have a closed circle of suspects. Only a handful of people had access to the leaked information, which narrows the pool considerably and forces us into the grizzly task of interrogating some of the most beloved characters.

Agatha Christie once wrote: "The whole point of a good detective story was that it must be somebody obvious but at the same time for some reason, you would then find that it was not obvious, that he could not possibly have done it. Though really, of course, he had done it."

Quinn, perhaps? And yet Agatha teaches us that the guilty party is almost always involved from the beginning -- not an add-on, which would be too easy.

Saul, then? But here's another rule of thumb to consider: the motive rarely revolves around passion, loyalty or love. In other words, our leak isn't necessarily a terrorist or extremist-sympathizer, he's probably just in it for the money. I have a hard time believing that Saul could be driven by anything but passion.

Involved from the very beginning, probably financially motivated and simultaneously likely but unlikely:

If Christie were penning season three, my metaphorical money would be on Max, Virgil's brother. Carrie is concerned about him from the very beginning, asking Virgil who he is and why he's part of Brody's surveillance team. He has had access to relevant information all along but his aloof, tag-along nature makes him unmemorable and thus unlikely.

Brody's Complicity in CIA Bombings
Chance remarks (whether overheard or slipped accidentally) are integral to many Christie plots. They're often imbedded with clues that are easily overlooked. There is one notable remark from Season two, episode nine that has gone largely unexplored. Nazir says to Brody, "Goodbye Nicholas. Forever if all goes as planned." Forever implies that Nazir's plan (as communicated to Brody) involves one or both of the men dying. Yet the plan Brody reports back to the CIA doesn't involve his death or Nazir's. On the contrary, Brody is given explicit instructions to avoid the military homecoming blast and Nazir intends to broadcast live from the scene. Perhaps this would make Nazir's capture inevitable but not necessarily his death. Did Brody know that Walden's memorial was the real bombsite all along? I doubt it but it's clear he knew more than he reported.

What's next?
In 66 detective novels, Agatha showed her readers that there would always be another murder mystery to solve. So in Homeland, as in the real world, there will always be another terrorist to root out. Carrie will inevitably remain our discredited truth-teller: fighting terrorism and bureaucracy as a rule-breaking, ethics-bending, slightly unstable underdog. Her guerilla antics will continue to land her in hot water while simultaneously ensuring that she is the only one who can save the day. Regardless of what comes next, Homeland has found a winning formula for what can only be another jaw-dropping, heart-pounding, anxiety-inducing roller coaster of a season. For those of you who just can't get enough, there are 66 books that I would highly recommend.