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.