Tuned In

Homeland Watch: One of Us

The hunt for a mole was a staple of Homeland's predecessor 24. "Two Hats" put that storyline front and center—but ended up taking it in a very different direction.

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David Marciano as Virgil

SPOILER ALERT: Before you read this post, turn on the big-screen TV—there’s one in every room!—and watch last night’s Homeland.

“He’s here to kill terrorists, Saul. Just like all of us.”

Because Homeland comes in part from Howard Gordon, one of the executive producers of 24, there has been plenty of comparison and contrast. On the one hand, the slower burn and more complicated portrayal of the war on terror in Homeland suggests that it is, if not a repudiation of 24’s ticking-clock drama, at least a more mature spin on it. On the other hand, the series has some of the same themes (a tormented protagonist who suffers for her job) and challenges–namely, how to maintain suspense and new threats season after season.

If Homeland were another 24, one perennial plot it could use would be the hunt for and discovery of The Mole. It toyed with that storyline in season one—recall the suicide of the captive terror suspect—but it didn’t end up figuring as significantly in the season’s story as you might think. “Two Hats” put a mole hunt front and center—but ended up taking it in a very different direction from 24.

Quinn, as it turns out, was working for a secret master, as Carrie and Saul suspected. But rather than being an inside man for the terrorists, he was a deeper-inside man for the U.S. government itself, positioned to execute Brody the second Abu Nazir was taken out and Brody’s usefulness ended. He was a mole working for a different squadron of the same team, an anti-mole—call him an Elom.

The revelation pointed up a way in which Homeland is dramatically similar to 24 yet philosophically different. The show does, like its forebear, relying on adding twists to twists to keep the audience guessing, if not to the same outlandish extent. But it’s just as concerned about the deceptions and subterfuges among competing factions of the good guys.

24 certainly had its threats within, but those tended to be out-and-out corrupt, evil, rogue elements of the government, like the wicked President Logan. We don’t know the whole story behind Quinn’s embedding, but it’s likely that, however duplicitous, it was engineered by people with the same aims as Saul and Carrie but different beliefs as to how to achieve them. (For starters, by not trusting Saul and Carrie; second, by not honoring the deal with recently turned terrorist Brody.) The outstanding question raised by the reveal at the end of the episode, of course, is: why do they feel this step is necessary? For vengeance, security, or some kind of hush-up angle we’re unaware of yet?

Whatever comes of it, it fits the kind of cat-and-mouse-and-other-cat game that Homeland likes to play. The show is somewhere between the black-and-white morality of 24 and the the-whole-system-stinks paranoia of Rubicon. In Homeland, you have to watch the bad guys, but you also have to suspect the good guys—not necessarily because they’re secretly wicked, but because some of them see deceptions and betrayals as the cost of doing business.

All of that promises to complicate the hunt of Abu Nazir in the concluding episodes of this season—because it’s now, we know, a race against the gun for Brody. Assuming he survives—though we cannot assume anything here—there’s still a question of how he continues to have a role in the show, especially if Nazir is caught. There’s still a question of how this story can continue multiple seasons without relying on 24-style contrivances.

But the way “Two Hats” took a different approach to a typical spy-story complication at least shows that Homeland is capable of coming up with different answers to these dilemmas, in keeping with its themes of moral complexity. Last night, we met the mole, and it appears that he is us.

Now for the hail of bullets:

* “He’s no more an analyst than I’m in Hair Club for Men.” Speaking of 24 parallels, I bet someone has already made this observation, but isn’t it clear by now that Virgil is Homeland’s Chloe?

* There were two ways you could handle Brody’s lost 12 hours with Nazir. You could show exactly what he went through to make the truth clear. Or you could show none of it, forcing us to wonder if we can trust his retelling. “Two Hats” didn’t exactly do either: it showed us the big points in flashback, but also pointedly had Brody deciding not to mention praying with Nazir. Suspicious omission or character detail?

* I’m glad that more than one character had the same reaction I did to Nazir making it to the U.S.: “How the fuck did that happen?” Still, just having characters acknowledge that a plot development is unbelievable does not make it more believable—but I’m willing to be convinced by some later explanation.

* I love how Walden gives the slightest smile when he realizes he’s being asked to thwart a terror attack: “With my help?” You can see his inauguration speech flash before his eyes.

* Jess Brody Secret-Betrayal Watch: for the first time in a while, she doesn’t significantly spill the beans on anyone—but she does come close enough to worry her CIA handler when she goes off-message and asks Brody about his mission over the phone.