Tuned In

Homeland Watch: Broken Boy Soldier

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Kent Smith / SHOWTIME

SPOILER ALERT: Before you read this post, turn on your closed-circuit monitor and watch last night’s Homeland.

“He systematically pulled you apart, Brody. Piece by piece, until there was nothing left but pain. And then he relieved the pain and he put you back together again as someone else.”

Roll over, Brody, I could use some room on that interrogation-room floor. Also, Carrie? I’ll take one of those big-ass glasses of wine.

“Q&A” was an audacious and exhausting hour of television. Just as Abu Nazir did, it took Brody apart: methodically, brutally, yet tenderly pried off each layer of the lies that constituted his being, revealing the angry, spent, used man underneath. Like Nazir, Carrie and the CIA need to break Brody down to remake him. In the process—in five quick episodes of the second season—Homeland has made itself into potentially quite a different, and exciting, series.

To say that the questioning between Brody and Carrie was an emotionally affecting piece of acting almost goes without saying at this point. What I was especially impressed with, though, is what remarkable physical performances both Damian Lewis and Claire Danes turned in. For his part, you can see the effort it takes to maintain his facade under questioning—even before he is stabbed through the hand in an effectively shocking moment—and his exhaustion after being stripped bare of his cover. By the time he gets up, panting and drained, from the interrogation table only to drop to the floor, he looks like the same beaten, broken soldier-prisoner that he was in his flashbacks to 2003. Which, for Brody, may be a step forward at this point.

As for Danes, she has the less showy part here, but it’s impressively complicated. She demonstrates Carrie in control (her shutting off the cameras shows both sympathy and power), leading Brody through his cover story, taking it apart and then bringing down the hammer—Dana—before walking him to a place where it’s OK for him to confess, telling him that she knows he’s a good man. At the same time, she shows Carrie’s delicate state in the moment, drawing on the feelings for Brody that she has, or at least once had. If she’s fooling Brody with her sympathy now, she’s fooling me too. There’s an almost sexual intimacy to the way these one-time lovers work through the confession: one tear rolling down Brody’s face, a drip of moisture from Carrie’s nose—her nose!—as Brody lies down like he wants to sleep forever.

There’s a fair amount more story unfolding here—Dana’s car accident with Veep Jr., the ongoing suspicions of Brody’s Marine buddies—but all that will now unfold in a situation that’s reversed and yet similar. We’ve gone from “Is Brody a terrorist?” to “Can Brody be trusted as a double agent?” There’s no clear way to answer that question: I doubt that even a very effective interrogation can have shifted Brody’s mindset that suddenly.

And yet Carrie’s right—Brody’s not a monster, or, at least, Nazir could not have made him into a monster if Brody did not have deep reserves of decency to use in his manipulation. He still has reason to hate Walden; he has reason to hate Nazir. The plot question here is, Is Brody really on the CIA’s side now, or just acting out of expediency? The character question is, after he’s been broken down so many times, is Brody simply whatever person that someone else reassembles him as? Underneath it all, is there a Brody left?

I couldn’t tell you. And I can’t wait to find out.

Now for a quick hail of bullets:

* I’m writing this review in advance based on a DVD screener, so I don’t know if this scene was replaced in the final edit but: in the version I saw, the USA Today Jess picks up in Brody’s room has Romney and Obama (and an electoral map) on the cover. If it’s still there, I assume it’s just a production error, but it does raise an issue that’s gnawed at me ever since I’ve been watching: that the show apparently deals with a fictional Administration (Walden is not Joe Biden) but it also explicitly exists in a world where 9/11 happened (as well as the 2004 Madrid terror attack) and so forth. I’m not entirely clear the distinction between real and fictional history on the show, but I’ve always assumed it takes place in a fictional “near future” or a contemporaneous, slightly alternative future.

* “You’re going to think this is a little crazy, Jess. I’m working for the CIA.” This is as close as Brody has come to telling Jess the truth since he’s been home; is she now less likely to believe him than ever?

* I’m impressed with how well Homeland has negotiated a potentially tricky gender situation, i.e., Carrie investigating a terrorist she is (or was) in love with. The show doesn’t let this dominate the story, but it acknowledges it—not least when Brody, still thinking he can lie his way out of this mess, paints Carrie as hysterical and crazed by her “obsession” with him.

* I love how, after all the high-volume theatrics of the episode, the kicker is simply Carrie going home and pouring herself a giant glass of white wine.

* I also love that, as hardcore and damaged as she is, her drink of choice is something as innocuous as white wine. In some other universe, I’d love to see her and Bored to Death’s Jonathan Ames get together for drinks.

9 comments
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Hollywooddeed
Hollywooddeed

The interrogator stabs Brody, United States Congressman, in the hand a la The Godfather?  Really?

TheHoobie
TheHoobie like.author.displayName 1 Like

Yeah, hmm... about the slightly alternate reality of the show.... I remember that my beloved Rubicon was explicitly set in and anchored in our present: When Truxton Spangler drags Will Travers to DC with him to get more funding for API, a portrait of President Obama hangs prominently on the conference room wall. I liked that about Rubicon; it made the show feel both more real and more serious. (Having to invent fake vice presidents for your otherwise very realistic show can feel a little... silly.)

But, you know, Joe Biden wouldn't be doing the things Walden does, so, yeah, gotta make some people and parts of your world up. :-)

Carrie's repeated profession of obsessive love for Brody during the interrogation was fascinating: How much was genuine, and how much manipulation? (Designed to throw Brody a lifeline of apparent love and understanding for him to cling to while Carrie endeavored to pull him out of his psychic hole?)

I like that Carrie's last-minute pre-ECT realization about Issa, and her frustrating amnesia afterward, wound up not really mattering this season---as torturous as that moment genuinely was, I like that the show was better and smarter than to have anchored this season on it.

Hard to know who was more alone at the end of the episode: Brody has his family, but Carrie has the whole truth.

I may be overinterpreting this, but I thought the lamp to Carrie's right at the end of the episode looked like one of the Twin Towers. Like Carrie, a lonely sentinel here.

Lucelucy
Lucelucy like.author.displayName 1 Like

@TheHoobie  

Hmmm...(stroking chin) Have we seen the "president"?  Not even a picture?  I don't remember.  We see Obama in the opening sequences of terror incidents and responses.  The only thing I can add to TH's admirable insights is that I don't think I've seen a more intimate filmed confrontation  since the boxing match between Starbuck and Apollo on Battlestar Galactica.

TheHoobie
TheHoobie like.author.displayName 1 Like

@Lucelucy That's right! So if Obama is in the credits, does that mean Walden is his Veep? And yeah, I'm not sure the President in Homeland has ever been seen or even mentioned by name. (Please, somebody correct me if I'm wrong!) Is that how they're getting around it, story-wise? So that we viewers can assume that Obama's President, as in our world, but Walden is Veep? Hmm.... I dunno. The mix of reality (to have the powerful moment of Obama in the credits) and fiction is a little uneasy for me (eg, I can't imagine Obama picking a dude like Walden as Veep in real life).

TheHoobie
TheHoobie like.author.displayName 1 Like

Not to undercut the sober, chin-stroking thoughtfulness of my earlier comment or diminish the serious awesomeness of the episode, :-), but when pondering the difference between "lone" and "lonely," I can't help but think of this, the definitive take on the topic:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TnR_apLGQNw

Lucelucy
Lucelucy like.author.displayName 1 Like

@TheHoobie  

Actually, love!

Lucelucy
Lucelucy like.author.displayName 1 Like

@TheHoobie @Lucelucy No.  And what with reading everything under the sun and trying to keep up with the Bookhouse and finish my second novel and watch all my favorite stuff on TV, I'm just wasting away (I wish).  Gotta save some stuff for Netflix at the Nursing Home.

TheHoobie
TheHoobie

@Lucelucy Have you seen any of the live-action series of The Tick (where the clip is from)? It's one of my and Mr. TH's very faves!