On the third episode of Homeland, everyone is trapped. Carrie is trapped in the psych ward, fending off the invasive concern and condescension of her doctors; Brody is trapped in Caracas, fending off yet another round of Ominous Foreigner stereotypes; we, the viewers, are trapped in an episode of Homeland that contains Brody.
Brody has been the weak link in this show for a long time. This wasn’t always the case: He made a great Big Bad in Season One. Carrie’s drive to unmask him as a terrorist — and the fact that she was stupid enough to get in bed with him at the same time — were effective at driving the plot and building tension, and Brody’s tortured backstory and occasional flickers of nobility or kindness gave him the depth and humanity that a good villain ought to have.
But, back when Brody was an interesting character, that’s what he was: a very good villain. Damian Lewis has confirmed that he was apparently slated to die, once his villainous activities had been concluded. He was pulled back from the brink of TV oblivion only by the viewing public’s catastrophic misreading of the show. The “love affair” between Carrie and Brody became so popular — because, you know, once you’ve established that your character is a philandering murderer who lies without compunction, mistreats his wife, and makes his mistress hate herself enough to have her brain erased in a mental institution, who isn’t going to swoon for the guy — that the writers were obliged to make him a hero, so that the romantic plotline could continue.
The redemption of Brody is deeply unfortunate, on a feminist level. I get the “bad boy” mystique, but when a male character intentionally ruins a woman’s life and renders her psyche a bleeding, twitching mass of pulp so that he can murder people more effectively, that’s not untamed virility: It’s evil. The showrunners’ choice to pull a nice, reformed Brody out of the hat for Carrie to date smacks of the same “really nice guy who loves her underneath it all” logic that people use to excuse domestic violence. But, perhaps even more importantly, keeping Brody around has been unfortunate for the story.
Witness this episode, which is comprised of almost nothing but Brody and the writers’ frantic attempts to find him a plotline.
The plotline they find for Brody looks, I must tell you, very much like his old ones. After Brody is ambushed by Colombians attempting to cash in on the bounty that’s on his head, and injured in the attempt, he undergoes a semi-exciting bit of back-alley surgery, and wakes up on what looks like the set of Elysium. In fact, it is Caracas, and more specifically an abandoned skyscraper known as the “Tower of David,” named after the banker whose death prevented its completion. It is now filled with squatters, whose apartments Brody peeps into shamelessly, with a “brown people! How exotic and confusing for me” look on his face that seems rather out of place for a guy who spent eight years in Iraq and Damascus.
Chief among the exotic and confusing brown people Brody must deal with this time around are the men responsible for his rescue. They are uniformly ominous, because God forbid Brody should ever meet a group of foreigners who wish him well and recommend a nice restaurant. Of this party, three people stand out: First, the rather delightful Dr. Graham, who has decided to pursue a life of crime largely by standing somewhere to the left of the crime while making sarcastic remarks about it, and who is quite enthusiastic about introducing Brody to the miraculous curative powers of Heroin. (Dr. Graham becomes less delightful later in the episode, when the writers decide to imply that he’s a pedophile, I suppose so that we don’t slip up and accidentally like a non-American person on Homeland.) Second, an attractive young lady who takes care of shaving Brody’s head, tending to his injuries and giving him longing looks to establish sexual tension. And third, that young lady’s father, a very stereotypical Latino gangster with the very disappointing moniker “El Niño.” I’m not clear on why the writers couldn’t come up with a more intimidating name for the guy; he has a large and disgusting spider tattoo on his neck, so I will henceforth be referring to him with the name I assume they intended, El Tatuaje Horrible. This man claims to know Carrie. And he is quite adamant that Brody is absolutely not, under any circumstances, ever to leave the Tower.
Brody, of course, tries to leave the Tower. But it turns out that, in addition to his plans for keeping Brody captive, El Tatuaje Horrible has a hard-line “anyone who sees Brody gets murdered in front of Brody” policy, which he demonstrates on a random wallet thief, an imam with whom Brody tries to find shelter, the imam’s wife and several police officers. When it’s clear that spree-killing alone will not assist El Tatuaje Horrible in keeping Brody confined, he throws him into a cell, which Brody — always happy to hammer home a parallel — describes as “like the hole in Iraq.” It differs from the hole in Iraq in one important respect, however: Dr. Graham, hospitable soul that he is, has stocked it full of free, delicious heroin. And, beaten down by his lack of narrative momentum, Brody at last saddles up and begins riding the horse.
I can only assume that Brody will eventually emerge from this new hole, with a new beard, and a new set of brainwashed principles, which he will use to execute a new set of evil plans for world domination. That seems to be his way.
In the meantime, we get a few, refreshing glimpses of the plotline people might still care about: Carrie, stuck into the hospital, trying desperately to comply even when it means submitting to her own form of brainwashing by affirming to her doctors that, gee, gosh, it was just wonderful of Saul to get her locked up against her will. It doesn’t work, and Saul, at this point, is not even in contact with her. The only visitor she receives is a lawyer, whom Carrie suspects of trying to flip her against the CIA. And when Carrie turns him away, all she’s got is her realistically grim and intolerable psych ward, and her Lithium.
Is Carrie right about the lawyer? Is he connected to El Tatuaje Horrible and his plans for Brody? How is the group holding Brody captive connected to Carrie? And what about Saul? Has he really gone off the deep end into villainy (unlikely), or is this all part of a long game we don’t know yet? People, people: Let’s not get too caught up in these questions. It might distract from what’s important: Brody, being sad in a hole. We, the viewers of Homeland, asked for more Brody, and by God, we got it. Let’s try to appreciate the many precious, hole-based moments with him we are sure to receive.
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.