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Homeland Watch: Motel Matches

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SPOILER ALERT: Before you read this post, ask your neighbors to quiet down their raucous lovemaking so you can watch last night’s Homeland.
“I was thinking. I’ve finally done it.” “What?” “Burned every bridge. With Abu Nazir, with the CIA, with my family. I’m more alone now than I was in the bottom of that hole in Iraq.”

So on the minus side, Brody has been abducted, helicoptered away, his loyalty under suspicion, and dragged to account before his terrorist master Abu Nazir. On the plus side, he really did seem like he could use a vacation.

The struggle of Brody under competing, irreconcilable stresses and demands has been a theme of this season, and it crescendoed in “I’ll Fly Away.” By the outset of the episode, as he fumbles to rationalize himself to Jess under the cover story of national security, he seems so crushingly pressured you might expect him to start coughing up diamonds. When Jess demands that he tell the CIA “Your daughter matters more” and he snaps, “I can’t I can’t I CAN’T!,” Damian Lewis infuses the cry with something wild and feral, the whistling edges of a trapped animal’s howl.

(MORE: Homeland Watch: Wine-and-Cheese Party)

It’s a great unhinged moment, yet Brody’s been going down this path for a while (well, a while in Homeland season-2 time). So just as Brody was surprisingly quickly found out and flipped by the CIA, so too was he surprisingly quickly brought to crisis by the stress of betraying his daughter as she attempted to do the right thing–by being forced to make Dana into a liar and deceiver like himself.

Just as Dana was the one person who was finally able to keep him from pulling the trigger on his suicide plan, so finally is she the trigger that causes him to explode and walk away from Roya. He can handle the treachery, the danger, even lying (again) to Jess—but without Dana, there’s nothing left for him to preserve. “I’m through,” he tells his handler. “You think anything you’re threatening can make my life any more fucked up than it is?”

The remainder of Brody’s storyline at first seems like it’s going to be “The Weekend, Part 2″: Carrie spirits him off to a remote motel, to try to salvage the operation and in the process to confront their feelings for each other. And indeed, the dynamics are similar to their first getaway: Carrie is dealing with him both as a lover and as an asset she needs to talk down, and it’s not clear—maybe even to her—where the transactional part of the relationship begins and where it ends. It’s certainly not to Quinn and Saul, who end up sitting through the most uncomfortable stakeout session I’ve ever seen on television, as Carrie “handles” her operative loud, long and plaster-thumpingly hard. (Saul’s reaction shot was priceless—no one can facepalm like Mandy Patinkin.)

But the story takes an ominous turn as Brody is spirited off by Roya to… where? For what? It’s interesting to compare the differences in the way Brody is managed by his respective handlers; his relationship with Roya is obviously less, er, intimate than that with Carrie. But she also takes the opposite tone in managing and controlling him: where Carrie tries to draw him out, Roya is frustratingly withholding and quiet, the better to see what Brody fills the silence with.

I don’t know how deeply Roya suspects Brody—or of what—but his nervous protesting-too-much in the car can’t be helping his case. I doubt that the viewer, unlike Carrie, worried that Brody was really being driven off to be killed. (Not that Homeland wouldn’t do that—at this point, who knows?—but also because it’s hard to imagine Nazir having replaced such a uniquely positioned asset so quickly and easily.)

(MORE: Homeland Watch: Trust No One)

But it is chilling all the same to see Brody brought, again, captive before Nazir. The last time he needed to prove himself, he had to sacrifice his comrade Tom Walker (for the second time, if you count the time he was made to believe he beat Tom to death). What—or who—will it take to prove Brody’s loyalty this time?

Now for the hail of bullets:

* Above, I didn’t have the chance to get into Dana’s B storyline, but I’m impressed with how it’s been integrated into the Brody’s—not just plot-wise, but thematically. The accident entangled her (unknowingly) in Brody’s deceptions, but it also establishes her as a poignant counterpart to the various adults, lying for power, or country, or fear, or revenge. Adolescent moral certainty is a cruel master, and it’s being a harsh one on Dana—the one character here who, whatever her flaws, is consistently trying to do the right thing, and is left to try it entirely alone.

* So about Nazir. I can imagine the plot reason to bring him physically into the story, and I haven’t been picking too many believability nits with Homeland so far. (The Petraeus scandal has made it that much harder to point to any behavior here and say, “That would never happen in real life!”) But if we’re to assume that Nazir is essentially Homeland’s version of Osama Bin Laden—who managed to survive over 10 years after 9/11, but needed to spend his last years holed up in a compound—can we really assume that Nazir can jet about the world that quickly and easily?

* “She was in a hit and run.” Once again, Jess’s primary role on this show seems to have become spilling secrets from one character to another.

* One thing I love, in Saul and Carrie’s confrontation after her getaway with Brody, is how much he can say to her by calculatedly saying very little. He doesn’t need to say much directly to get her to respond, “I’m not your daughter, Saul. I don’t need you to tell me what to do.”

* “I think somebody just got in the car.” “Who?” “A humanoid figure. I told you I can’t see shit!” I can never get enough Virgil.

MORE: Homeland Watch: Broken Boy Soldier