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Monday, December 17, 2012

"Homeland," Season 2, Episode 12

ELEVATOR GOING DOWN: Damien Lewis in Homeland
  • Courtesty of Showtime
  • ELEVATOR GOING DOWN: Damien Lewis in 'Homeland'
As the protagonist of "Homeland," Carrie Mathison will never find true happiness as long as the series remains in production. Drama requires conflict, and as much as we may root for everything to work out for Carrie, circumstance (in the person of "Homeland's" showrunners) will conspire against her until the show's final episode. "The Choice," "Homeland's" Season Two finale, demonstrates this with some soap opera-style bait-and-switch plotting, but rather ingeniously employs one of the narrative loose ends that probably everyone had forgotten about.

"The Choice" opens with a nice bit of continuity, as Carrie brings Brody back to the Mathison family cabin, the place where they sort of fell in love in the Season One episode "The Weekend." At one point Brody holds Carrie by the arms and she says, "Ow, watch the wrists!" revealing her injuries from her captivity. He calls her a "wounded warrior." Later, Brody finds the handgun in the nightstand, and she empties it of bullets, which she puts in an Altoids box (in a nice detail). As Carrie and Brody flirt, play house, and share their feelings with each other, the episode sets a leisurely pace. See, a show about a happy couple would be pretty boring.

Brody suggests applying for the job of Carrie's cabin boy (isn't that a nautical term?), which sets off a conversation about their future. Brody muses about being a builder, then says "My only real plan is to be a good person again." "You are a good person," Carrie assures him. Is that true? He murdered the tailor and abetted in the assassination of the vice president. Are we supposed to let him off the hook for those things, just because Carrie apparently has? Carrie wants to be with Brody, but knows that it would be the end of her CIA career. She loves the show, but "I also love... " "Careful," "... being with you."

Meanwhile, Quinn's in a nearby cabin - living in the front porch, apparently - keeping tabs on them through a telescopic site. He checks in with Estes and explains that Brody's with someone, so he can't just kill him. The next morning, Carrie goes for croissants and Brody takes a walk to the lake shore. We see him through a sinister tracking shot, like he's being stalked by Jason Voorhees. Brody begins praying by the shore. Cut to Quinn with a sniper rifle. Then we cut to Carrie returning to the cabin - and there's Brody, not dead at all. Carrie says that it's time to return to the real world: "I'm going to go to my sister's and see how this plays out." I recall no sign of those croissants she promised.

Estes comes up, takes off his shirt in his bedroom, only to find Quinn waiting in the dark with a gun in his lap. (Don't do that!) Quinn announces, despite being a "a guy who kills bad guys," that he's not going to kill Brody: he helped them get Nazir and his network, and it would kill Carrie Mathison, who deserves better. He also offers Estes a veiled threat if something happens to Brody.

Brody checks in with Jessica about coming by the house to get his suit for a big memorial service for Walden at the CIA. Beforehand, though, he visits Mike, who's playing pool with some guys. Brody and Mike share a couple of Rolling Rocks, even though it's apparently in the mid-morning, which seems early for beer and pool. Brody admits that he's splitting up with Jess and points out that, since Mike's done a good job of taking care of his family, "You can keep taking care of them, if you want." Rather than say "Yesss!" Mike mournfully says, "This isn't the way it was supposed to go."

Meanwhile, Saul remains in detention at one of the CIA offices, and his polite young guard refuses to call Carrie or let him go. Eventually Estes comes in. "Well, if it isn't Javert," says Broadway veteran Mandy Patinkin in a timely shout-out to Les Misérables. Estes claims that he changed his mind about Brody and doesn't point out the involvement of Quinn and his weapon in the decision, and adds that he's having the damning report on Saul redacted. "Maybe I'm just giving an old guy a break."

Brody returns to his seemingly-empty home and begins putting on his suit, only to be greeted by Dana: the episode's second scene of a guy being surprised in a wife-beater while changing. Dana asks about the time on the season one finale when Carrie was talking up a bomb, and Brody acknowledges that it's true. Dana's upset by the revelation, and adds, "It's like you just don't know anyone." Which could be theme of the TV series.

Saul has a walk-and-talk with Carrie, who doesn't know why he's been missing for days. Apparently Saul has been arranging for Carrie to be hired as "the youngest station chief in the history of the agency." Carrie's enormously flattered but also troubled by the news: what if she would rather be with Brody. Saul points out that he put on a suicide vest. "He's a terrorist. You cannot be with him." The conversation turns ugly fast - maybe Carrie doesn't want to be alone, like Saul. "You're the dumbest and the smartest fucking person I've ever known." Is it me, or does Saul have a tendency to provoke Carrie, and then become totally offended when she gets provoked?

The episode cross-cuts between Saul overseeing Nazir's burial at sea, a la Osama bin Laden, and the Walden memorial at the CIA, where Brody greets Walden's wife and son, Finn. We cut between Muslim servicemen washing and wrapping Nazir's body with Estes eulogizing Walden as the main who coined the phrase "Fortress America." Carrie and Brody make eye contact, skip out in the middle of the service and meet in an office - Estes, maybe? Carrie says she's made her choice: "I want to be with you." "Right now?" Brody asks. She asks "Why the sad look?" and he replies, "I'm not sad - the opposite." They embrace. It looks like everything's coming up Carrie! Then he looks out a window, wondering why his car has been moved. KA-BOOM! The car blows up and we see Estes blown off his feet.

Carrie awakens in the rubble of the office. She finds a hidden handgun and holds it on Brody. "Don't! You! Move!" Brody protests his innocence and suggests that it was Nazir's doing: that Nazir allowed Roya's team to be arrested and got himself killed to set up this moment. Carrie decides that she believes Brody, but that nobody else will, so they flee the building.

They stop by a storage facility, where Carrie reveals that she has an elaborate plan in place to flee the country. (Is that common among CIA agents, or a sign of Carrie's mental illness?) She picks up an emergency bag full of cash, a fake passport and other documents, and talks about their plan to cross the border to Newfoundland and go to international waters. They visit a sketchy-looking friend of Carrie and begin to prepare him a fake identity.

Saul arrives at the wrecked building and turns out to be the ranking officer on-site. We learn that there are almost 200 fatalities, including the Walden family and Estes, while Carrie and Brody are presumed dead. Brody's car is suspected of being the bomb delivery system, so Homeland Security jerks barge into the Brody home and begin to search the place. Dana protests that her father's innocent: that they met that morning and he didn't seem like he was saying goodbye. She's trying to avoid mentioning the substance of their conversation when - uh-oh - the old Brody suicide video appears on the news! Chris and Dana are devastated to see it: Chris's shocked, miserable face is the young actor's finest moment in two seasons, and is generally the most powerful scene in the episode.

Brody and Carrie arrive near the Canadian border, where it's about a 20-mile hike to the cabin belonging to Carrie's contact. "Back in the woods," Brody remarks. "It seems to be our place," replies Carrie. "You're not coming, are you?" Brody asks. Carrie says no, that she wants to stay in the U.S. and clear his name, but that she totally would have wanted to stay with him otherwise.

Saul stands in a cavernous room with all of the victims in body bags, and suggests they try to match the bomb residue from Brody's car with the material found at the Gettysburg tailor shop. Left alone, Saul begins to say kaddish over the bodies (in an effective counterpart to the prayer said over Nazir earlier that episode). Carrie walks in, and Saul looks relieved.

Notes
Brody's shock at seeing the tape on TV would seem to confirm his innocence regarding the bombing. Apparently, it's been released by surviving members of Nazir's network. But is it possible Brody really is guilty? Could he and Nazir have implemented this scheme when Nazir held Brody hostage? Would that make the whole Carrie kidnapping an elaborate ruse? Even by "Homeland's" shall we say elastic standards of realism, it seems unlikely.

On the other hand, the suicide tape makes for a perfect plot device. At the beginning of the season, Carrie and Saul discovered it and proved that Brody was a sleeper agent all along. Of course, the members of Nazir's network always had it, and could always have gone public with it. Rather than just cause Brody and Walden embarrassment, they used it to make Brody the perfect fall guy. In a way, the terrorists brought their plan from Season One to fruition and laid the blame on Brody, only Brody had basically nothing to do with it.

Just how much explosive material was in Brody's car? Who moved the car? Perhaps it was the CIA's mystery mole. Could Quinn and Dar Adal be involved? Is it possible that Quinn decided not to kill Brody because he'd make a better fall guy?

Assuming that the Brody family remains as series regulars in the third season, they're going to have a long, hard fall. This season they were the family of a congressional rising star and potential vice presidential candidate. Next season, they're going to be the family of a domestic terrorist and will probably be shunned by their community.

Will Carrie claim that Brody is dead? Will Saul believe her? How many people in the CIA know that Brody recorded the suicide tape months before the CIA bombing?

I wonder if Carrie has used her CIA resources to track down her absentee mother.

Overall, "Homeland's" second season ends on a note of mild disappointment. For a season and a half, the show worked superbly in exploring whether Brody was a sleeper agent, and whether Carrie could unmask him. Those twinned dynamics perfectly matched the show's themes of loyalty and deception, and when they were resolved, the show lost some of its defining qualities. "Homeland" turned from "great show" to "good show" in the back half of the season. To reach its previously attained heights, it'll have to find a fresh storyline that's still inextricably bound up in character, but that doesn't have to be a mission impossible.

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