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Homeland Watch: The Inside Man

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SPOILER ALERT: Before you read this post, turn on your classified satellite-video link and watch last night’s Homeland.

“It fucked me up, Saul. Being wrong about Brody… It makes me not trust my own thoughts. Every time I think I see something clearly now, it just disappears.”

“I cannot be texting secret messages while I am surrounded by the fucking Joint Chiefs!”

“Beirut Is Back” was another tense and gripping episode of Homeland, but because I am what I am, I’m going to begin this review with a concern. Brody’s right: he can’t be texting secret messages and disrupting covert operations one after another, from his perch within the government. Or rather he could, and that would be a way of keeping him involved in the story while he’s in Congress. But that kind of variation on the 24 mole-in-the-government theme, with Carrie coming this close to one bad guy after another and Brody pulling strings, would get uninteresting pretty fast.

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That said, the fact that the show confronted this issue and had Brody vocalize it this
early in the season gives me confidence it won’t go in that direction. On top of its cat-and-mouse story, “Beirut Is Back” suggested a more interesting dual story: Carrie, who’s still torn apart by her failure to catch Brody last season, and Brody, who’s torn apart by the results of his success.

For much of this episode, Brody seems at least as tormented as Carrie. Now that he’s made it to Congress, everybody sees him as their inside man. It’s not just Abu Nazir, who casually changed the terms of their arrangement (and whom Brody saved with the aid of a remarkably efficient international texting service). There’s the vice president, who sees Brody as a useful recruit in his efforts to undermine his own administration.

And, maybe most painfully, there are his old Marine buddies, who want him to use his access to exonerate, or at least get the truth about, Walker, about whom they’re asking some worrisomely on-point questions: “Walker may have lost his mind, but he did not lose his aim.” It’s a subplot in the larger episode, but it shows us a Brody barely keeping it together amid the stresses, strains and secrets weighing on him. Especially fascinating here, as in so many of Damian Lewis’ scenes, is how Brody’s facades and authentic emotions work with and against each other: here, his calculated need to give his comrades an answer that will quiet them and his genuine anger at being hounded and doubted by them.

Back in Beirut, the episode gives us something I’d been waiting for: Carrie and Saul back together, and a more direct reckoning with the fallout of the end of last season. One thing I love about scenes between Saul and Carrie is that we see that neither of them is a people person–they’re not easily friendly, each is a piece of work, and it’s taken time and history to have a rapport with each other. They’re difficult, cranky, bristling with spiny natural defenses. And their little exchanges mean a lot: Saul explaining that he was warned against the “deleterious effect” of visiting Carrie, Carrie admitting that she had hoped she’d be back working with him (“I know. Don’t get used to it”).

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There are two Carries, at least, coexisting in this episode, just as we saw multiple Brodys. The one who wants to get back in the game and the one who’s terrified of it. The one who’s cocksure and reckless and the one with doubts on top of doubts. The one who runs alone into a terrorist’s house and the one who runs to the roof to have a breakdown.

She tells us as much: she doesn’t trust her own instincts around her informant, but “the Carrie who recruited her”–that woman, she trusts. It’s a beautiful little scene, and one that gets to a long-running theme of Homeland, that the price of fighting a secret war is often alienation, even from yourself. Despite Nazir’s escape, Carrie has a triumph—she’s shown to be right—and yet she still feels there’s another, better Carrie, lost to time, and the best she can do now is look for traces of her, doing archaeology on herself.

Or so she thinks. For just as the first two episodes of this new season have set us up to expect a new status quo—Brody ascendant, Carrie crawling her way back—the last moments of the episode give us a revelation I’d not expected to see until much later in the series, if at all: Saul discovering Brody’s martyrdom video and, thus, learning that Carrie was right all along. (At least, pending some future twist.)

It’s a genuine, out-of-left-field stunner, and a sign that Homeland is not simply going to conservatively husband its story to keep it spinning out as long as possible. Abu Nazir may have gotten away, and Brody’s bomb vest may never have gone off. But two episodes into season two of Homeland, we have our first explosion.