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It’s with great personal shame that I report: As a nearly professional watcher of TV, I still got suckered like a rookie by Homeland’s trick of implying a character’s death in last week’s previews. If I were a smarter woman, or a less gullible one, I would know that when a show portrays a character facing gunfire and certain death in the near future — as we saw Brody doing in the teaser for “Good Night” — that character will invariably go on to live a long and happy life. When the Almost Certainly Doomed Character in question is 98 years old, surrounded by loving grandchildren and great-grandchildren, he will likely tell the tale of that time he ran directly toward a machine gun and everything just sort of worked itself out. Heavily Implied Preview Death is, in TV terms, the closest you can get to a guarantee of immortality.
And yet, I managed to forget all this while watching “Good Night.” For most of the episode, I waited for the hail of bullets aimed at Brody that we were promised last week. But — surprise, surprise — when that scene finally hit after 31 minutes’ worth of buildup, it only took about three seconds for the firefight to get resolved in Brody’s favor. I don’t blame the previews, gentle reader. I blame myself, for not knowing that Nicholas Brody will be with us as long as our hearts beat, as long as we draw breath, as long as we all watch Homeland.
But that might be a cheap complaint, given that this episode contains one of the more direct “get Character X from point A to point B” stories Homeland has done in a while. For the most part, it ditches the soapy stuff and Shyamalan-level twists, instead giving us a solid, action-based spy story. With its ambitions thus constrained, its technique is much more solid. The basics: Brody, along with his faithful team of CIA-assigned Marines, must get across Iraq to the Iranian border. When they reach Iran, Brody will ask for asylum as a terrorist wanted by the United States — the Marines will be posing as his Al-Qaeda cohorts — and, if he receives it, he’ll be able to pull off Saul’s plan to assassinate Javadi’s high-level Iranian boss. If he’s apprehended, however, Iran may learn about said plan, which would spark an international conflict. Naturally, before they reach Iran, Brody’s team will have to get past many people who might apprehend and/or kill them. If their capture seems imminent, the White House is prepared to take them out with a drone strike so as to maintain plausible deniability.
The B‑plot, meanwhile, takes place in the control room, where Saul is waiting to see if the aforementioned operation — the one on which he’s staked his career — will pay off. This reads less well than Brody’s on-the-ground trans-Iraq travels, but only because it contains Carrie, and at this point, I’m not sure that anyone at Homeland really cares much about Carrie Mathison anymore. After being stuck in suspiciously damsel‑y distress all season, she has now been completely turned into The Girl In The Picture. She’s the girlfriend back home, the expectant mother, who weeps and hopes that our boys over there will get through this terrible conflict all right. Although the writers try to capture some of the prickly, antisocial toughness that used to make her so much fun, they’re putting in so little effort that her big bad-ass line of the night — it has to do with “people covering their asses” — gets repeated twice, in two different contexts with only minor variations. And the first context is in response to Quinn telling her to stay out of the control room because, now that she’s pregnant, she’s “incapable of being objective.”
The problem here is not just that Quinn’s argument is flagrantly sexist. (“Now that you’ve got a bun in your oven, you shouldn’t be doing any of this nasty, violent spy-work, little lady! Let’s get you some yarn, and you can worry your pretty little head about knitting Baby a onesie!”) It’s that the script doesn’t recognize how sexist it is. Because sure enough, once she makes it into that control room, Carrie proceeds to freak out about Brody and Brody’s safety and all the feelings she feels for Brody, exactly as she’s done all season long. Season Three has demonstrated, time and time again, that Quinn’s right: Carrie actually can’t be objective in any matter concerning her ex-boyfriend and/or baby’s father, largely because he’s the only thing she ever seems to think about. Like it or not, this episode — and an alarming part of this season — comes down entirely to men. It’s the story of a man with his career on the line (Saul) and another man with his life on the line (Brody) and then, off to the side a little, there’s Claire Danes, as The Girlfriend.
So let’s pull our focus, as Homeland has done, back onto the boys. Brody’s transport hits a mine — in a fabulous cheesy-action-movie moment, it occurs exactly the minute his beardy driver finally opens up about his fascinating past as a bull-rider in a Texan rodeo; as anyone who enjoys this genre knows, when the extras get personalities, it’s time to die — and, although Brody’s team survives the initial blast, Iraqi forces soon come to investigate the explosion and pin them down 300 yards from the Iranian border. There’s a firefight, the control room crew gives up Brody’s team for lost and, as rugged manly men throughout history have always done at the last minute, Brody decides to make a heroic, doomed run for the border. Of course he’s on the line with Carrie as he makes the decision; of course she weeps and screams the phrase “YOU WILL DIE;” of course Brody tells Carrie that he is empowered to make this heroic, doomed effort because he believes in her, damn it! She’ll get him out of this somehow! (Even Carrie is like, “No, I really won’t.”) Therefore, he’s going to hurl his rugged body directly at a machine gun. See ya, Brody.
Naturally, though, approximately 3.5 seconds after he starts running, he’s intercepted by Iranian forces who accept his request for asylum. Soon, Brody’s in an Iranian cell, where Javadi picks him up (making sure to unexpectedly shoot Brody’s surviving Marine buddy in the head, so that we know he’s still evil) and takes him ahead to Tehran so that Saul’s play can work itself out. It’s all tearful smiles and renewed hope back in Mission Control, where Saul’s career is saved. Even Fara shows up, having apparently remembered that no one has lectured her in this episode, just in time for Carrie to lecture her about how her imperiled Iranian family will need to aid Brody in his new circumstance.
All in all, “Good Night” hits all the beats you need for a workmanlike, action-centric episode: It gets all the characters from Point A to Point B, maintains suspense — even puts in a cool explosion. As easy thrills go, it does its job: hits the ground running, gives you a fun ride and occupies an hour of your life that you don’t spend thinking about your own mortality. What it doesn’t do is anything unexpected or game-changing. There’s nothing here that approaches the unpredictability or genuine suspense of the show’s earlier seasons. But then, if you had fun, there’s no real reason to complain about the cheap tricks. It’s all just part of the (disappointingly) typical game.
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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.