Readers: Let’s begin this week’s Homeland recap with an exercise in empathy. Imagine you are Nicholas Brody — former terrorist, current Langley bombing suspect and general poor-decision-making dude — and you’ve just been freed from your heroin-strewn cell in Caracas by the increasingly omnipotent Saul Berenson. Do you:
A) Stare vacantly into the camera whilst weeping and singing “The Marines’ Hymn”
B) Grab the nearest chair in your cell, smash it into tiny bits and repeatedly stab yourself in the arm with the sharpest fragment in the bunch
C) Go for a drive with some burly soldiers and your former star-crossed lover Carrie, spot your estranged daughter through the car window and promptly begin head-butting your fellow passengers, occasionally screaming at Carrie that she is a “fucking bitch”
D) Decide to save the world, then engage in a peppy training montage
This is a trick question, of course, for in his triumphant return to the main plot of Homeland, Nicholas Brody does all of the above. Damian Lewis is a fine actor, and he’s giving it his all here — indeed, you could plausibly argue that he should be giving a little less — but his performance throughout most of this episode lands somewhere between “Andy Serkis as Gollum” and “Nicholas Cage in The Wicker Man.” It’s a nonstop thrill ride of hunched crawling, pallid weeping and occasional bouts of random, frenetic, graphic violence! And that’s before we get to the part of the training montage where he has to demonstrate his improved mental acumen to his fellow Marines by spelling the last names of porn stars.
Frankly, I welcomed Lewis’ scenery-chewing as a blessed relief from Carrie and her increasingly troubling EmBryody plot line. As writing decisions go, the one to impregnate the strong female lead with her love interest’s child looks more sexist and regressive every week. It’s not just that the show has made it all-but-impossible to separate said lead’s plot significance from her sex life. Homeland is also quietly but insistently making the case that Carrie Mathison cannot have a healthy pregnancy if she continues to work for the CIA. As Carrie’s OB-GYN all but told her outright last week, she has to choose between her career and motherhood because continuing to pursue the former will destroy her chances at the latter. Though it’s amusing to watch Carrie continue down the path toward being the World’s Least Healthy Pregnant Woman — this week, in addition to the binge drinking, the Lithium and the gunshot wound, she’s pumped full of heavy painkillers and starts smoking cigarettes — the message that women with high-pressure careers can’t have families is disappointingly familiar. People, myself included, used to praise this show for having one of the strongest, least stereotypical female protagonists on TV. This season, though, she’s become hysterical and incompetent, defined largely in terms of her uterus and apparently incapable of even waiting nine months to buy a pack of Marlboros.
So let’s train our focus instead on Brody and his agonizing climb out of the depths of Junkie Hell. As we all expected, Saul’s top-secret Javadi play relies upon another, even more top-secret Brody play: Now that Javadi is embedded in Iran, Saul wants to send Brody in too, to assassinate Javadi’s boss, Akhmadi. With that accomplished, Saul hopes, Javadi will be able to take over Akhmadi’s job “at the very top of the Iranian food chain” and serve the interests of the United States more efficiently.
What Saul wants to accomplish with all this, as he explains to Carrie, is, “Something besides another war; something that will change the facts on the ground just enough that two countries that haven’t been able to communicate for over 30 years, except through terrorist actions and threats, can sit down and talk.” Of course, the day this episode aired, Iran engaged in real-life talks with six other world powers and agreed to “substantial limitations that will help prevent Iran from creating a nuclear weapon,” as per President Obama. “None of this could have been accomplished without our nation’s tireless defender, Mandy Patinkin,” Obama did not add, but I think we can all assume that he was thinking it anyway.
Regardless, in order for any of this to work, Brody has to kick the heroin and get back into shape before Lockhart takes control of the CIA in six days’ time and puts the brakes on the plan. Fortunately, Saul finds a way to extend that deadline a bit: The dastardly faux-journalist Alan, last seen dating Saul’s wife, turns out to have been in cahoots with Lockhart all along. Saul’s team snaps photos of him breaking into the Berenson home and, later, lunching with Lockhart. After a bit of questioning by Saul’s people, Alan confesses that he is an Israeli intelligence agent who has been helping Lockhart to collect information on Saul via a listening device he planted in Saul’s home. In exchange for not destroying Lockhart’s career, Saul asks for a few more weeks in which he can complete the Javadi/Brody play. Lockhart consents.
That leaves Carrie, along with some helpful Marines, getting Brody ready to roll — a painful, meticulous and long-term process that is encapsulated by the aforementioned montage. (There’s vaguely techno music underscoring it all, along with a helpful title card that reads “SIXTEEN DAYS LATER.”) Brody seems more or less uninterested in resuming a romantic relationship with Carrie, thank goodness, and for her part, she never even tells him about the pregnancy. But at the end of his training, as payment for his co-operation in what is being optimistically described as a “suicide mission,” he does ask Carrie to let him visit his daughter.
Yes: Just when it seemed we’d lost track of her forever, Dana Brody re-emerges, first glimpsed in this episode through that fateful car window. She’s been working as a hotel maid, blessedly unattached to any further murderous boyfriends. She is also decidedly not pleased to see the man who ruined her family and her life, and she doesn’t particularly care if he’s innocent of the Langley bombing, given the chaos he’s caused ever since his first arrival back in the States. In a satisfyingly acidic display, Dana waves a notepad and pen at her father and tells him to dictate any message of filial gratitude he wants to hear from her — she’ll say it to him, she says, on the condition that she never has to see him again.
And so, Brody, with his last ties to his old life thus neatly severed, embarks on the mission to Iran. His death is heavily foreshadowed — mostly by everybody talking about how very likely it is he will die, though his last-act longing glances at Carrie don’t help — though not guaranteed. Personally, I would love it if Homeland had kept Brody alive for a season with the intention of only using him in two or three episodes before killing him off entirely. But all that rabid Damian Lewis silliness listed above would seem to argue against it: When you’ve got an actor who’s willing to take this much for the team, you keep him around, and in highly visible pain, for as long as the plot can stand.
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Jude Ellison Sady Doyle is an In These Times contributing writer. They are the author of Trainwreck: The Women We Love to Hate, Mock, and Fear… and Why (Melville House, 2016) and was the founder of the blog Tiger Beatdown. You can follow them on Twitter at @sadydoyle.