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The Morning After: Homeland on the Road

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Brody (Damian Lewis) in an episode in which a whole lot was laid out on the table.

Spoilers for last night’s Homeland follow:

In a drama about terrorism, you would expect an explosion, but not of the sort that finished last night’s Homeland. In this stunner of an episode, Homeland blew up its status quo.

In a wonderfully tense and dense download of confession and information at the end of Brody and Carrie’s weekend getaway, we learn that Brody was not turned by al Qaeda,* that his conversion to Islam was real but nothing more than that and that the Manchurian-candidate prisoner is in fact his recently eulogized buddy Walker. Further, Brody learns that the CIA, specifically Carrie, suspects him of treason and has been invading his privacy in the most intrusive way, alienating him from the feds just as he, presumably, would become immensely valuable in an investigation.

*(Yes, yes: Or so he says. One can add that qualifier in front of pretty much everything revealed in this episode. Saul got Aileen to identify Walker as the U.S. prisoner who had been turned—or so he says, &c. As with any mystery-based serial drama on TV now, you can work yourself up anticipating the next triple-twist and quadruple-cross, but for now I think Homeland has earned our trust that it will not collapse into the constant switcheroo mania of a latter season of 24.)

On a sheer plot level, the move’s audacity is gobsmacking and raises plenty of questions about what the show becomes moving ahead. But “The Weekend” was also excellent for how it got there. Carrie and Brody’s escapade made literal the one-way connection they had forged under Carrie’s surveillance, and it threw both Carrie’s total-commitment method of spying and her personality into a new light. (Was she manufacturing a relationship with Brody as another way of surveilling him? Was she genuinely drawn to him, though she thought he was a terrorist? It seems possible both could be true, and in fact inseparable—there is always something simultaneously calculating and intuitive about Carrie’s approach to her work and her relationships.)

Above all, it’s refreshing and brave for a show like this to introduce a twist that involves its central character—and the premise on which our interest has been based—to be flat-out wrong. Well, not entirely wrong: if we take Aileen’s revelation to be true, Walker was not only turned—as Carrie had learned—but turned using much the same methods she assumed were being used on Brody. (The beatdown scene—whoever Brody was actually beating—may not have been meant to break Brody, but it was, presumably effectively, meant to show Walker that his own brother Marine would kill him to save himself.)

And Saul’s own road trip with Aileen was itself a compelling study in adversaries finding themselves bonded. Saul’s job, of course, is to get to know strangers and guess at what makes people tick. But while Aileen does not seem to exactly be his double, over the course of a largely one-sided conversation, he discovers (and is apparently able to get her to talk because of) a connection: both of them alienated and isolated, having seen circumstance take a toll on their relationships.

The episode raises all sorts of questions about where the show goes from here and what it becomes. I’m guessing that, somehow or another, Brody becomes a central asset in the search for Nazir and in defusing this particular plot. But can he stay in that role in future seasons? In Homeland’s pilot, recall, Carrie questioned why the terrorists would have kept Brody alive, since his intelligence was older and less actionable the longer they kept him. Likewise, he knows what he knows about his captors, but that information isn’t getting any fresher, and he’s still a Marine sergeant, not an intelligence officer.

But these are questions, more than doubts. After an episode like “The Weekend,” I’m more than inclined to trust Homeland’s intelligence.

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