Homeland, Season 3, Episode 8: Cruel, But No Longer Unusual

Homeland’s insistence on torturing Carrie has become routine to the point of hilarity.

Jude Ellison Sady Doyle

Mira (Sarita Choudhury) and Saul (Mandy Patinkin), happily ensconced in the 'tenuous reconciliation' stage of their recurrent Berenson Marital Strife Cycle. (Kent Smith / Showtime)

The official title of last night’s episode of Homeland is the red wheelbarrow.” It’s a lovely title, its insistence on pretentious lower-case aside. But for me personally, this episode of Homeland will forever be known as How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love Carrie-Torture.” In the context of this season — in which Carrie Mathison has already been professionally disgraced, publicly humiliated, strapped to gurneys, force-injected, abandoned by her family, screamed at by Saul, stripped, kidnapped, threatened, emotionally tormented by her highly endangered pregnancy, and (never forget) seen bleeding from a wound that she inflicted on herself by repeatedly bashing her face into a mirror — when Carrie went down onto the pavement with a Quinn-inflicted bullet hole in her shoulder, I just burst out laughing.

'Something’s going on! None of this makes sense,' Carrie moans. I disagree. The writers hate you now, Carrie, and they enjoy seeing you suffer. What’s left to figure out?

Watching Carrie get tortured this season has turned into something like a TV-melodrama equivalent of the famous rake gag” from The Simpsons: The first time Sideshow Bob gets a rake to the face, you might not laugh. The second time he gets a rake to the face, maybe it’s a little funny. But by the time the camera pulls back to reveal that the ground is covered in rakes, and he just keeps stepping on them, you’re laughing. If Carrie Mathison had been shot by her best friend in the season opener, I would have been shocked. But when it happened in the eighth episode, I giggled. After all the humiliations and tortures she’d already endured, I just hadn’t thought anything worse could happen to her. I was wrong.

But we should backtrack, a bit, and discuss exactly how Carrie wound up in front of that bullet. Which requires us to examine yet another unfortunate bit of repetition: The Continuing Emasculation of Saul Berenson (Marital Strife Category). 

Actually, things are looking up for old Saul this week. On the professional front, Saul calls a meeting with Mike Higgins, the White House Chief of Staff, to justify the Javadi play — which, as soon-to-be-CIA Director Lockhart points out, is not remotely guaranteed to work out in the CIA’s favor. Saul insists that it will, sweetening the prospect by waving lofty pipe dreams of CIA-controlled Iranian regime change before Higgins’ eager eyes. Saul also acknowledges that this gambit will almost certainly lose him his job at the CIA when Lockhart takes charge in nine days’ time. But it’s all worth it, both because he believes that the Javadi plan will work and also because his impending time away from the CIA will allow him to continue repairing his relationship with his wife.

And repair it he does, in this episode, in great amounts of highly schmoopy, intensely irrelevant detail. It’s not that I don’t care for Saul or don’t want him to be happy, but the threat of divorce has been hanging over his marriage since early in the first season, and the way that threat plays out in practice never really changes. Mira Berenson says her husband is working too much; she threatens to leave; Saul says he loves her; they tenuously reconcile. Mira Berenson says her husband is working too much; she takes a lover; Saul says he loves her; they tenuously reconcile. And repeat. 

The Berenson marriage has been in the same kind of peril for three years now, with the otherwise talented Sarita Choudhury essentially stuck making the same facial expression (read: gentle, compassionate regret”) in every one of her scenes. This plot line has repeated itself so often that there are no emotional stakes left. Though we get to visit the tenuous reconciliation” phase of the Berenson Strife Cycle in this episode, when Saul eventually turns down time with his wife to go on a mysterious trip” for the CIA and the camera pans in on Sarita Choudhury looking gentle and compassionate — yet regretful — we know precisely where the Berensons are headed next. 

Meanwhile, Carrie has clearly learned nothing from Saul about the dangers of getting stuck in a problematic relationship, because she’s still obsessing over the idea that she can find the real Langley bomber and vindicate the much-maligned father of her EmBryody. (On the pregnancy front, we do get an unexpectedly hilarious scene at Carrie’s OB-GYN as she sums up her prenatal health regimen: I was on 1,800 milligrams of Lithium for about a month there … and before that, there was a lot of drinking. A lot.” The politely appalled doctor tells Carrie that she needs to modify her behavior,” which is basically the only thing any sensible person has ever told Carrie Mathison.) 

In an unprecedented move, Carrie’s colleagues at the CIA are actually helping her with the Brody search. Dar Adal uses his contacts at Javadi’s shady law firm to put the pressure on the lawyers covering his U.S. operations, sending them scrambling to find the bomber and move him out of the United States. Carrie uses her own double-agent status to keep abreast of all this in the hopes that they can intercept the bomber before Javadi’s people do.

And yet, on the scene of the planned interception, everything goes wrong. The mild-mannered lawyer sent to retrieve the bomber turns out to be packing a gun with the aim to kill him, rather than move him out of the country as the CIA had previously supposed. Carrie panics at the thought of losing the one man who might prove Brody’s innocence and gets out of her surveillance van — disobeying Dar Adal, and ignoring Quinn’s pleas to stop. Rather than let her intercept the assassin, which would result in her getting made and alerting Javadi’s network to the CIA’s involvement, Quinn is instructed to take Carrie down. Which he does, shooting Carrie before she can save the Langley bomber’s life. Meanwhile, that nice lawyer fellow shoots the bomber in the head and douses his corpse in acid. 

Something’s going on! None of this makes sense,” Carrie moans, as Quinn attempts to bandage up the new hole in her shoulder. I disagree. The writers hate you now, Carrie, and they enjoy seeing you suffer. What’s left to figure out? 

Well, there is one more thing: We need to know how many more secret deals and twist endings Saul Berenson has up his sleeve. Because that trip” he ditched Mira for turned out to be a little jaunt over to Caracas. He’s greeted upon his arrival, quite politely, by the spider-tattooed El Tatuaje Horrible, whom we last saw five episodes ago sticking the show’s romantic lead into a heroin-laden cell. And it’s to that heroin-laden cell that Saul repairs, to meet the hollowed-out, red-eyed, junkie husk of Nicholas Brody. Yes, there’s yet another working with Saul all along” twist to be played out, here. And as much as I might question the storytelling — if Saul gets any more omnipotent and prone to unlikely rescues, he might actually transform into Albus Dumbledore — the fact is that we’re headed back to a Homeland in which Carrie, Brody, and EmBryody might be reunited. And that’s going to be a whole new kind of torture. 

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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.

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