Note: Do not read on if you have not yet seen Season 2, Episode 2 of Showtime's "Homeland," entitled "Beirut Is Back."
You've got to hand it to the writers of "Homeland" (Sundays at 10 p.m. ET on Showtime): They don't play it safe. Just as Carrie would never think of sitting tight inside the bullet-proof SUV when she just knows there's a piece of evidence inside that Hezbollah commander's apartment, these writers have no intention of slow-footing the show's revelations just to stretch out the tension. I mean, it took "Breaking Bad" a full five and a half seasons to (spoiler alert) finally give Hank Schrader his lightbulb moment, and here's "Homeland" handing Saul the key to Brody's traitorous relationship with Abu Nazir in only the second episode of the second season.
Now we're left with a whole host of what-next questions, and that's just the beginning of what happened in this tense, eventful hour of television.
Before Saul pressed play on that video of Brody explaining his decision (later aborted) to suicide-bomb Vice President Walden, I had intended to start this recap by talking about the nerve-rattling Situation Room scene, where Brody tips Abu Nazir off to the fact that he's about to be pink-misted by a pair of Special Ops snipers. In retrospect, "Homeland" had to offer its own take on that famous tableau of Obama and his closest advisers watching the Bin Laden raid go down, but what an ingenious twist to introduce a mole to the party. And it must be extra fun for them to shoot this scene, knowing that their No. 1 fan will be watching from the White House.
And of course it was fascinating to see Brody and Carrie warring by proxy via the Nazir capture-kill operation. The operation wouldn't have happened without Carrie's female-bonding prowess, or her white-hot conviction that Fatima Ali was telling the truth, and the fact that the meet was real -- and not a trap designed to embarrass the U.S. with a "Black Hawk Down" sequel -- served as a pretty serious vindication for her. Her chicken-hawk superiors would have had the "big honking victory" they wanted, if only Walden had resisted the urge to show off in front of his little war-hero buddy .
Brody wasn't exactly thrilled about having to send Abu Nazir a "May Day" alert text message while "surrounded by the fucking Joint Chiefs," but on the other hand, he could have sat back and done nothing if he'd really wanted to. If Abu Nazir had been killed, he would have been free. So, for all his protesting to Roya at the end, his claim that "I'm not your guy" rings pretty false.
Meanwhile, the circle around him is closing fast. Vice president Walden is already inviting him to evade the president -- and, let's hope, the law -- in an effort to deliver bunker-busting bombs to Israel. I suppose Brody can keep smiling to Walden while secretly thwarting his plans, but at some point that's got to get pretty uncomfortable ... and suspicious. Brody's fellow Marines are getting restless too. They're not exactly satisfied with the official story about Tom Walker's death, and they're starting to wonder why Brody is so unhelpful, and so defensive. As the drunk but ever-perceptive Lauder noted, it's "unbecoming."
Still, Brody's problems in those areas pale to the one he has now that Saul has seen his mea-culpa video. So now what? Does Saul bring this to Estes, who demonstrated his slimy spinelessness yet again in this episode when he put the decision of whether to proceed with the Nazir capture-kill operation on Saul? Does he go directly to the vice president, who has publicly cast his lot with Brody? Does he tell Carrie, who could use the additional vindication of knowing she was right about Brody ("It fucked me up ... I've never been so sure and so wrong.") but who could easily go rogue and whip up an unhelpful tornado of shit? Or does he quietly spin a web and try to trap Brody, who, as we know, is a crafty, cunning adversary?
We'll have to wait and see. One thing is for sure, though: Carrie is not long for the safe suburban life that her sister so badly wants her to embrace. There are certain areas where "Homeland" asks a lot of viewers in the willing-suspension-of-disbelief department, but one area where they're rock-solid is Carrie's motivation. Yes, she enjoys being a hero -- she needs it -- but she's also completely incapable of disclaiming responsibility for preventing the next terrorist attack. That's why she went to see Fatima Ali at the mosque, even though the protocol called for her to return to the safe house. That's why she ran into the building to grab Ali's husband's papers, even though she could have been killed. (Is there any other show on TV that delivers two action scenes of such exquisite intensity in a single episode?) And that's why she isn't going to sit on the sidelines while Nazir plans his revenge for those attacks on Iran's nuclear installations. One of the show's semi-subtle messages is that following the rules isn't enough; to really protect the homeland, you need brains, imagination and 20-ton balls.
Carrie, more than anybody, is the whole package.
- I'm liking the subplot of Walden's wife luring Jessica into her "junta" of Washington wives -- and am I the only one who had a "Sopranos" flashback watching these ladies operate in the shadows of their unprincipled husbands?
- Here's to continued air time for the Dana Brody subplot. Her encounter with Finn Walden (Timothee Chalamet) in the library felt honest and believable, giving us a sense of how intelligence and irreverence mix uncomfortably in the souls of these children of immense privilege.
- Last week, a few commenters pointed out plot points that stretched credibility -- the notion that Brody would be able to break into Estes' safe was especially unpopular -- and I spotted one this week: Do we really think Jess would laugh off Brody's alarming remark about blowing up the defense-industry cocktail party and everyone in it so soon after losing her shit over his decision to secretly convert to Islam?
- Oh, and here are two more: Shouldn't Saul have found a slightly more private location for his phone conversation with Estes about how Carrie is crazy and shouldn't have been sent to Beirut? Or at least conducted the entire conversation OFF speakerphone? And someone, please tell me the C.I.A. doesn't use freaking Skype for highly classified international conversations about operations to kill terrorists!
- Finally, gotta love Claire Danes chewing up the scenery in her "mad scene" -- did anyone else think (hope?) she was gong to jump out the window, kicking off a three-episode sequence in which the C.I.A. has to track her down, Jason Bourne-style?
"Homeland" airs Sundays at 10 p.m. ET on Showtime.