Tuned In

Homeland Watch: E-Mail My Heart

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Kent Smith/SHOWTIME

SPOILER ALERT: Before you read this post, have your friend point a Blackberry at the TV and Skype you last night’s episode of Homeland.

“Did you think it would be easy? That you could betray me and just walk away?”

Homeland, as exemplified by “Broken Hearts,” is walking a fine line right now. Or actually, no: it’s run-staggering down that fine line, bleeding from a cut on its forehead after being held prisoner for about 20 minutes, trying to flag down a passing car and yelling “Asshole!” at it when it doesn’t stop. That fine line is the line between crazytown plotting and the strikingly good one-on-one encounters that those plot twists set up, between the standard-terror-thriller escape scenarios and the little grace notes—like the “Asshole!” moment on the road—that remind you Homeland is still something different, and stranger.

So, yeah: this week Carrie spent a brief sojourn as the prisoner of the most wanted terror suspect on the planet, who was able to spirit himself into a lair somewhere outside the U.S. capital because, look, a bird! So yeah, one of our characters was able to slip into the unmonitored office of the Vice President and secure the secret pacemaker access code he had lying around—as one does—so that terrorists could kill him by hacking his heart.

I’ve busted Homeland’s chops earlier about plausibility, particularly Nazir’s coming-to-America development. But it’s just that: chop-busting, not a major point of concern. Homeland, after all, is a series about a brainwashed prisoner of war who comes back to America to get elected to Congress and serve as a sleeper agent. Which real-life brainwashed-POW-turned-VP-frontrunner scenarios am I comparing it with, exactly?

What bugged me about “Broken Hearts” is not so much the outlandishness of the twists as the rate at which they’re happening now. What separates Homeland from other “adrenaline-pounding” espionage thrillers is that, once it sets up its basic popcorn-movie level of reality, it allows its story to play out patiently, at the pace the characters dictate it should, while paying as much attention to what’s going on inside the characters as outside them.

To use the now-popular 24 comparison, the problem there wasn’t the cougar so much as the show’s need to throw a cougar at you every hour to sustain your interest. That’s what “Broken Hearts” most worrisomely felt like. There’s plenty in Homeland to keep our attention already; I don’t want it to become a conveyor belt of frying-pans-and-fires with a different character abducted, then thrown back into play, every week. (Put another way, maybe: people can accept a few huge implausibilities if a show builds a compelling world on them. The problem is when it creates a blizzard of small implausibilities to continually shake up that world.)

Within its heightened hour (actually, closer to 42 minutes), though, the episode managed to throw in a number of fine scenes that set up, then played against, our expectations of the genre. There was Carrie, plastic-cuffed to a pipe by her wrists, a visual that almost on a muscle-memory level now leads us to expect the heroine to cut her shackles and escape; instead, she ended up cuffed by her ankles as well. There was the interrogation between her and Nazir, almost worth the cuckoo price of admission, not so much for their debate on “Who’s the real terrorist?” as for their talk about a mutually familiar subject—how pain can be bound up with love. There was, maybe my favorite bit in the whole episode, the subtle verbal fencing between old hands Dar Adal (F. Murray Abraham) and Saul. (“I miss the rules. The Soviets didn’t shoot us, we didn’t shoot them. Not this bunch.”)

And there was Brody watching the light go out of Walden’s eyes, his tension yielding to satisfaction at helping to kill the man who killed Isa. That scene, regardless of the heart-hacking that led up to it, got to an overarching theme of the second season: the puzzle of who Brody is now—what’s innate in his heart and what’s conditioned, what does he want to do and what is he compelled to do? He did not want to be forced into this position and by now seems to fully despise Nazir who put him into it, and yet he finally has to recognize that he still deeply wants this to happen, and to see it with his own eyes.

All this, crazy twists aside, is ultimately about forcing some issues regarding Brody’s character. (For instance, does he really love Carrie enough to be driven to do anything to save her? Apparently, though that raises the corollary question—is it real love or a replacement for Nazir, a result of Carrie’s having glued some Humpty Dumpty shards back in a certain pattern?)

What I don’t want to see, though, is a Homeland that decides it has to go through this kind of twist-double-twist routine regularly to keep the story alive and keep us paying attention. The business with Nazir coming to the country and escaping the foiled attack, for instance, heightens the terror-hunt aspect of the second season, but did we really need it? What if, for instance, the attack was foiled and that was it—and suddenly, a season you thought was building toward yet another climactic manhunt instead became about Quinn and Dar Adal’s plan to eliminate Brody, and the ethical/political questions that raised? Do we need a mole hunt and a clean-shaven terror mastermind running around on top of it?

I don’t know—we can’t at this point; analyzing plot developments midseason before they play out is entertaining but ultimately fruitless. What’s more important to me is that Homeland doesn’t become the kind of show that feels it needs to throw ice water at us every half-hour to keep us awake and to keep the story moving forward. The plot can be “unrealistic”—whatever that means—as long as it keeps serving the characters and not the other way around. As long as Homeland still has its voice, as long as it’s still staggering down a country road yelling “Asshole!” at passing motorists, I’m betting it can find its way home.

13 comments
Bemused
Bemused

Am I the only one who took the blocking of Saul from going to where Carrie is as meaning that she's possibly in danger from Quinn's team? If they're willing to kill a U.S. congressman, why not an unbalanced former agent who knows too much and is close to said congressman?

Lucelucy
Lucelucy

Wait a minute here.  I wrote a piece on this earlier today and now I don't see it.  What happened?

Lucelucy
Lucelucy

Oh, and ditto on James doing more "watches."  But I get it.  Just hope the next one he picks is one I'm watching.

jenny5555
jenny5555

I can accept a lot of the iffy plot turns for the payoff they give - the whole Nazir in the U.S. thing so that we could have that scene between him and Carrie; the pacemaker plot so that we could have Brody face down Walden,

I really wish he had told him he was dying for the drone strike of the madrasa and to prevent the future strikes he would order that would kill innocents. On that note, and not to get political, but I find it really weird in a life imitating art kind of way, that it's come out in the last couple of months, on CNN and elsewhere, how high the civilian casualty count is, including children,  from the drone strikes. I bring that up because watching  the conversation between Saul and Estes got me thinking about that.

It's funny, I had to stop watching 24 after the first season because it seemed like Cheney could be a consultant, it became such an endorsement for torture. Now, with Homeland, it's like the creators are, unwittingly or not, doing the opposite....an indictment, or exposure of the drone war.

IPFletcher
IPFletcher

I think what we have here is a case of conventional producers not knowing what to do with an unconventional product. Honest to God, I half-expected to see a digital clock appear during all the scenes of Carrie's captivity. That whole bit was really disappointing to see happen, although the one-on-one between her and Nazir ALMOST made up for it.

This season's been crazy-stacked with unnecessary subplots (the hit-and-run being the peak of annoying). I'm certainly looking forward to any upcoming scenes between Abraham and Patinkin, but as far as the Quinn thing, why does another character even need to be involved? Estes is hardass enough to have made this call on his own.

I won't even get into the implausibilities, which at this point are stacking up like cordwood. As you note above, we'll accept the crazy on a show like '24' because while that show was on the same topic, it was still a straight-up action thriller and thus subject to the normal conventions. This show is not that and the producers need to stop acting like it is.

I won't lie- I liked the first season but in no way saw it as the best drama of the year as the emmy voters did. They really needed to up their game this season, and instead they're diluting it. They really should've killed Brody (or ended his storyline) last year, rather than playing it safe. The interrogation scene between him and Carrie this season (which was incredible and should guarantee both of them another award) really should've been the season finale of last season.

All of the above whining aside, I really hope the show gets its feet under it again.  :)

P.S.- are you ever gonna write about another show regularly again? Seriously miss your recaps.

E.King
E.King

When Carrie got the phone from the trucker and called Saul the first thing she would have said was to lock down the Vice President.  Much as I don't mind Walden biting the dust that was one of the many completely unbelievable bits of the episode.  So what's up with mole?  Saul walked away from the lie detector test way back when after he failed one of the first questions, the mole is still uncovered and whats his name returned from Walter Reed to help  - it seems he's always around when something leaks.

Lucelucy
Lucelucy

Not only that, I also wrote a "reply" to my own piece as an addenda.  For which I received an e-mail notice.  That I had replied to my own already published post.  But none of that is here?????

Lucelucy
Lucelucy

@jenny5555 I have to second that "really with he had told him he was dying for the drone strike."  Was waiting for that.  Damn.

jponiewozik
jponiewozik moderator

@IPFletcher "are you ever gonna write about another show regularly again? Seriously miss your recaps."

Thanks for asking! I'm making a point of not recapping (as in weekly) more than one show at a time. I'd rather write about a variety of things, and in general I'd rather write about a show when I have something to say--which is not always the case, week after week, with a recap. But it's nice to hear they're missed! In any case, I'll still be recapping something, at some point, after Homeland ends, but not sure which show will be next.

jenny5555
jenny5555

@Lucelucy Yeah, there's been something wrong with this comment section for a while now. Same thing has happened to me, and I did post about it....James, you listening?

I think that's why there's consistently so few comments to this blog....something is awry.

SeanC
SeanC

@jponiewozik @IPFletcher Count me in with the crowd that misses the regular recaps. I used to read this blog religiously for all the commentary on my favorite shows. (Our taste in TV runs close, which makes me feel all high and mighty.) The content has been lacking lately, though, and my visits have gone from daily to drips and drabs. I'm sure you're busy with a million other things more important than a blog, but this insightful recap of Homeland just made me miss the old TunedIn all the more.

Lucelucy
Lucelucy

@jenny5555 @Lucelucy That explains the few comments.  Thought sure I'd see something from TH or ANON.  I'm going to have to remember to save whatever deathless drivel I post here on a notebook sheet so I can retrieve it for reposting.