Note: Do not read on if you have not yet seen Season 2, Episode 7 of Showtime's "Homeland," titled "The Clearing."
Remember that old Smashing Pumpkins song where Billy Corgan sings, "Despite all my rage, I am still just a rat in a cage?" That's about how Congressman Nicholas Brody has to be feeling now, as the walls of the maze close in on him. Nazir's plan to attack America is in its final stages -- "Things are going to move very quickly now," Roya promises with homicidal glee -- and both the terrorist's network and the CIA have big plans for Brody.
Roya sets this episode's plot machinery into motion by giving Brody the one instruction he doesn't want to hear: Keep Vice President Walden happy at an upcoming fundraiser. Never mind that he's literally your least favorite person on the planet -- a man you hate so passionately that you nearly offed yourself and a few dozen bystanders in an effort to kill him. The old Brody would have considered it his prerogative, as an accidental war hero with a screaming case of PTSD, to interpret this mandate pretty broadly. "Define 'happy.' Are any of us really happy. Maybe Walden's idea of happiness involves having his neck snapped in the woods behind the highway." But now, his every move is being watched by Carrie Mathison. And while she never saw an order she didn't feel entitled to override, she's not about to stand by and let Brody disappoint the one woman capable of revealing Nazir's plot before it's too late.
On the ever-undulating seesaw of fortunes that connects Carrie and Brody, she is definitely enjoying a moment of ascendancy. Not only is she back on the job, but she's up to her elbows in her favorite activity ever: purging the guilt she feels for "missing something" in the lead-up to 9/11. And she couldn't be more central in the effort to stop Nazir. Quinn's Gettysburg mission was a ratfuck, and Saul let his emotions get the better of him at the Supermax with Aileen Morgan, but Carrie is batting 1.000. She's the one who obtained Brody's suicide tape, which proved to be a breakthrough piece of evidence, and she's the one who can control Brody by pulling his psychosexual strings.
But if she's going to succeed, she'll need to keep Brody in one piece for at least a few more days. It won't be easy: Dude's a complete mess. Carrie's promise that the truth would set him free turned out to be the lie of the century. As if taking orders from Roya and Carrie wasn't enough of a head trip (as Carrie tells Quinn, "He's a freaking double agent -- of course he's stressed!"), he's got to deal with Jessica confronting him about Mike's claim that he killed Tom Walker. And he can't just blow her off, because she's not having that anymore. "I can take it if it's the truth, but I can't take another lie," she tells him, so he serves her a wedge of truth between two slices of bullshit and hopes she can't taste the difference. "The CIA knew we were close, and they used me to reach him," he tells her. "Tom lost his way. He just went through too many tinges and he couldn't' get right again." Sound like anyone else you know, Jessica dear?
Outside the fundraiser's mansion, Brody calls Carrie to unload on her about the Mike debacle: "This thing is on. I'm in the center of it. And I'm in the fucking dark!" Carrie talks it over with Quinn, who seems to be warming to his role as Carrie's pimp. "Empower the guy," he instructs her, and we all know what that means. First, though, she has to pay a visit to Inspector Mike in a scene that includes one of the great Claire Danes line readings of all time: "Cease and fucking desist, understood?" Can somebody please print that on a T-shirt for me? After giving him hell, Carrie starts working on Mike's emotions. She tells him the CIA knows all about his affair with Jess, and then warns him about playing detective with this gem: "Sometime soon, she and those kids might really need you." Yeah, because if he doesn't get killed in the next 48 hours, you can bet I'll be plying him with pint glasses of Sauvignon Blanc.
I don't know what kind of fundraiser this is, but it seems to last for at least a week. There's a poolside portion, where some dimwitted rich lady gawks at Brody's sexy torture scars, and then Brody heads down to the stable with the host, a military vet, who confides that he's only giving Walden half a zillion dollars because he really wants to see a President Brody in eight years. Suddenly, Carrie calls Brody. "I'm in the clearing," she says, so he hoofs it over there for an impromptu makeout session with his CIA handler. The Damien Lewis/Claire Danes chemistry is as charged as ever, as they try to hash out how much of their passion is real and how much is business. "You know what? I do feel used and played and lied to. I also feel goooood," Brody hisses like an after-school-special drug dealer. Then he drops the hammer: "Two minutes with you and I feel good. How do you pull that off?" Because I love you, you big terrorist-sympathizing galoot, Carrie wants to shout as he walks away ... but she doesn't.
I know I've been Team Dana for weeks now, but the hit-and-run subplot is starting to get on my nerves and I'm glad it's almost over. For some reason, Dana -- unlike pretty much every other teenager in the history of teenagerdom -- has a burning desire to be hauled before the authorities to answer for a dumb mistake that had horrible consequences. She finally persuades Finn into wanting the same, so they agree to tell their parents. Unfortunately, all the half-finished Amstel Lites on the property can't give Finn enough liquid courage to do the job himself, so Dana finally blurts out the truth to Jess and Cynthia Walden: "We killed someone." Shockingly, neither the second lady nor her husband is eager to deal with a public scandal involving their son and a vehicular homicide on the eve of his big presidential campaign, so they urge the back-woods Brodies to stay calm and leave everything to them. Dana also seems shocked to discover that her relationship with Finn is being discontinued. As he ducks into a town car, she informs him that her family is going to report the incident to Metro Police. "Good luck with that," he says.
How right he is. The next morning, after reassuring Jess that the Brodies aren't a family that condones criminal activity just because they're in politics, Brody decides to drive Dana to the precinct. But David Estes, who has been sent to keep tabs on Brody, sees what's happening and phones Carrie, who speeds to the police station to intercept her ward. There's a terribly awkward scene out front, as Brody fumes at the impropriety of it all and Dana demands to know why the Agency's No. 1 home-wrecker is preventing her from exercising her God-given right to incriminate herself in a felony. Carrie is apologetic but firm: "Brody, you won't have a deal anymore if you do this." Realizing he's cornered, Brody promises Dana that he'll turn her over to the fuzz some other time, but she's very disappointed in his moral turpitude: "You're bullshit!" she screams before running away, leaving Brody to vent his Corganesque rage at his lover-handler-persecutor: "None of this is OK!!!"
That's the end of the episode, but before we close for the week let's wind back and devote a moment to Saul and Aileen. This subplot had some high points -- the guard's warning about her being "a spitter, a hitter and a shitter" (another T-shirt, perhaps?), the warden's crack about Saul's "Heaven-may-care grooming." But much as I welcome any opportunity to spend quality time with Mandy Patinkin, I wasn't really buying the whole love connection between Saul and Aileen. I get that he's a very lonely man, and that espionage makes strange bedfellows, but Saul has to be a little smarter than this, no? And then her dying speech about getting to spend an entire day by the window? In an episode with a ton of razor-sharp dialogue (Quinn to Carrie: "Like you've never seen a dick before"), this just felt phony.
But I've had my say. What do you think? Is Brody going to crack up entirely, or will the pendulum swing again, lifting him back up and sinking Carrie into another crisis? Is Galvez going to die? Is Quinn's gut going to split open, spilling Percosets all over the floor? Will the CIA manage to infiltrate Nazir's network before it's too late? If Brody was able to text Nazir that warning from the Situation Room, shouldn't somebody at least try texting "Where R U attacking L8R?"
"Homeland" airs Sundays at 10 p.m. ET on Showtime.