Note: Do not read on if you have not yet seen Season 2, Episode 11 of Showtime's "Homeland," titled "In Memoriam."
With only one episode left to go in Season 2, now feels like a good time to reflect on the original promise of "Homeland" and ask how fully the show has delivered on it.
Early on, some of us dared to dream that the show would shed new light on America's sputtering war on terror, exposing the moral ambiguities of intelligence work as well as the terrible costs that those on the front lines pay to "protect our freedoms."
"Homeland" hasn't really done that in any credible way. (If you want to see a much better example of that type of enterprise, be sure to catch Kathryn Bigelow's "Zero Dark Thirty" when it opens later this month.)
Then again, at its core, "Homeland" has always been first and foremost a show about two characters: Nicholas Brody, the heroic POW who fell under the sway of his captor, Abu Nazir; and Carrie Mathison, the bipolar CIA officer whose unpleasant personality makes her really good at her job. For all its increasingly loony plot twists, the show has stayed true to those characters, allowing them to evolve in mostly believable ways and bringing them together in a mostly swallowable fashion.
That is why, even though I found much to dislike about this second-to-last episode of Season 2, I am going to resist the urge to rip it to shreds. I really planned to, until that scene in the driveway between Brody and Jessica. It was the exact opposite of the strangely exhausting scene in which Abu Nazir is captured. I felt nothing for Nazir, nothing for Carrie, nothing for anyone except Quinn, who actually seemed to feel bad about the fact that he'd just been ordered to kill the love of Carrie's life. But in that driveway scene, I felt acres of emotion as husband and wife laid down their weapons and admitted that life had whipped them into submission. "I don't want to fight anymore, even for something. I'm tired of fighting," says Jess. Brody tells her there was nothing either of them could have done, hard as they tried: "I was fucked the moment I left for Iraq. We all were." That line brings tears to her eyes -- and how could it not? She had carried on without him, raising the family, daring to get involved with Mike, only to discover years later that he'd spent the whole time in a hole.
The best part, though, came after she tells Brody she actually doesn't want to know the truth about what he's been up to. "Carrie knows, right?" she says. "She knows everything about you. She accepts it. You must love her a lot."
He does, and that's why, much as I love the audacity of it, Emily Nussbaum's "completely insane theory that explains everything" never held any water. No, Brody and Nazir weren't playing Carrie last episode, implicating her in the vice president's assassination so she would "conceal their crimes." Sure, fans might have preferred a reversal that would have kept the show's sturdy "are they in love or just playing each other?" theme going, but that's not where the writers' heads are at. They may not give a flying flip about basic standards of plausibility, but they care about Brody and Carrie -- and they want us to care too.
Do we? Despite all my skepticism, I was moved by the penultimate scene that found Brody and Carrie together again at her doorstep, Brody's hand on her face. (I will say I'm extremely glad she didn't start sucking his thumb or anything.) And I was intrigued enough by the dilemma facing Quinn -- to kill Brody or not to kill Brody and, if so, how? -- that I'd tune in next week even if I didn't have to write this thing.
Until then, though, I was really close to losing interest. We started where we left off last week, with Carrie hunting for the world's most wanted terrorist in an abandoned factory. Suddenly, she stumbles through the door to discover a gigantic fleet of emergency vehicles at the command of Quinn and Galvez. Never mind how all those people managed to get there within seven minutes; I was more worried about the prominence of Galvez. Were we really going to do this "mole" thing, after ignoring the issue all season long? A few incredibly clunky, exposition-heavy lines of dialogue later, Carrie and Quinn had jumped to the same conclusion that many readers have: Galvez the Muslim must be the mole we forgot we were looking for! Except he wasn't -- he was racing to the hospital because the stitches on the gunshot wound he suffered at the hands of Nazir's thugs had opened up. Oops!
Back at Langley, Estes is doing his usual two-faced thing, telling Carrie not to worry about "the ugliness" with Galvez and then instructing Quinn to box her out of the Roya interrogation. If the real CIA operates anything like this, I'm moving to China, because next thing you know Carrie waltzes into Roya's interrogation room and starts trying to connect with her on an emotional level. There's more ugliness when Roya asks Carrie, "Have you ever had someone who somehow takes over your life, pulls you in, gets you to do things that aren't really you?" I sure as hell have, and his name is Nick Brody, Carrie practically blurts out, only to have Roya spit back, "Well, I've never been that stupid, you idiot whore!" Then she starts ranting in Arabic. Oops again, but this mistake turns out to be a profitable one because, while she's waiting at a stoplight in a car that looks suspiciously like it wasn't smashed a mere episode ago, Carrie realizes that Roya's Arabic tirade included a reference to the fact that Nazir wouldn't run. Obviously, he's still in the factory!
She races back and starts annoying the hell out of all the FBI dudes who are trying to pack up and get home in time for SportsCenter. One of them accompanies her into the tunnels, because it would make way too much sense for her to bring more than one officer with her as she hunts for the most wanted terrorist in the world. Of course, Carrie notices a gate that nobody thought to open. They look inside and find a campsite freshly abandoned by the most wanted terrorist in the world, who is now living like a homeless person, apparently. They split up, because that makes a lot of sense, and Nazir jumps out of the shadows to slit the guy's throat. Carrie starts running and shouting, more annoyingly than ever, and then hides. Nazir finds her, but instead of slitting her throat, he just punches her, and then runs away when a large group of guys with machine guns show up. They find Nazir kneeling on the ground, looking very much like he's about to blow himself up. When he reaches into his vest pocket, they open fire.
R.I.P., Abu Nazir.
Whatever, I don't care. They fucked this storyline up by having him set up camp alone in a factory like a sewer rat.
The stuff with Saul and the lie detector was funny at least -- even if only because it's always funny when Mandy Patinkin says the F-word. (Polygraph creep: "Are you sometimes called 'The Bear'?" Saul on fire: "I fuckin' hope not.") At one point, I thought Saul had out-foxed Estes by putting all that stuff about the Brody assassination plot on record, but after informing Estes that "the machine said he's telling the truth," the polygraph creep adds that he's chalking it up to an "anomaly" and leaving it off his report. So Estes has the goods on Saul and wants to force him to resign. As for Brody, Estes has this priceless line: "We don't make deals with terrorists." Somehow, I think Saul is going to find a way to keep his job and foil Estes, even if he has to take one step back before he can take two more forward.
And then there's lovely Dana, the sighing, grunting, cursing teenager from hell. "Fuck!" she screams as she drops that leaky container of milk, which is how I feel these days every time she appears onscreen. I did enjoy the scene where she announces that the family would be far better off being with Uncle Mike, especially since Jessica doesn't bother denying it.
So now it's on to the final episode. Will Saul resign? Will Quinn kill Brody? Will Carrie -- or Brody, or Saul -- kill Quinn? Will they all gang up and kill Estes? I confess, I'm pretty curious to see how it all turns out.
What did you think of this episode? Did I miss anything good, or bad? Let me know in the comments!
"Homeland" airs Sundays at 10 p.m. EST on Showtime.