2
Dec
2012
Homeland: Season 2, Episode 10
Broken Hearts
Jordan
Good God, was "Broken Hearts" frustrating. It was over-the-top, insane, dangerously-close-to-going-off-the-rails stuff. It was also enervating, exciting, high-wire and full of tension. I loved every minute of it I didn't hate, and my feelings throughout were deeply divided. Some things that annoy me in hindsight worked perfectly in the moment, and some things that drove me crazy at the time actually work well for me thinking them over. In other words, my feelings on this episode are muddled and confusing. I hope this review doesn't suffer as a result. But let's dive in and see if we can't figure out whether "Broken Hearts" jumped a shark or blew it out of the water (ok, that's an exaggeration. It really, probably, did neither).

Basically, Homeland is increasingly bifurcating itself into a show I unabashedly love the shit out of (as you'll see on my Top Ten TV shows list later this week) and one that frequently annoys me. The Homeland that is a tightly focused character study of deeply flawed people struggling to better the world even if that means sacrificing their loves, their lives, and even their sanity is one of the best shows on television. It colors both its heroes and its antagonists in gray enough hues to make them interesting, and at its best, it shows us how close they are to each other. Both Carrie and Nazir are people who admit they have personal flaws but who are willing to give everything to reshape the world and leave it better (as they define the term) than they found it. I care much more about Abu Nazir as a deeply flawed crusader, a man with a thirst for vengeance he feels is righteous, than I do about Abu Nazir, Terrorist Ninja.

The Homeland that is a narrative about the CIA working to stop a terrorist threat on domestic soil, on the other hand, has been problematic at best. I've said a lot that this show excels at character work and has plotting problems. The plot looks more and more like 24, especially after "Broken Hearts," and while I was willing to let that show get away with murder to further its high concept fun, I want and need this show to be better. I care too much about these characters to see them fed to the plot machine, and if this show breaks its carefully constructed characters in furtherance of some outrageous twist (or, at this point, another outrageous twist), it will be one of the largest missed opportunities in modern television.

Homeland has given me two hours of television this season that rank among my favorites of the year (with "Q&A" and "I'll Fly Away," one of which will be on our episodes list later this week, and the other of which would have been if we didn't have a "one episode per show" rule that I instituted to keep it from being Mad Men: The List), but this week, it gave me, at minimum, two plot "twists" that pulled me out of the story for long enough to go "really?" This week, Abu Nazir used his magic terrorist powers to kidnap Carrie, which was, in and of itself, a plot point that may go down in infamy as the moment the show went too far. Beyond that, though, he then used her as a bargaining chip to force Brody to give him the serial number on the VP's pacemaker, so he could kill him remotely. I don't even care if that is somewhat plausible. I'm willing to believe it is. That doesn't make it a good storytelling decision, and it doesn't make it a less weird decision for Nazir, who is apparently on U.S. soil to do a bunch of things he could have done from literally anywhere.

And yet, I was on the edge of my seat throughout Carrie's time in captivity and Brody's time at the Naval Observatory. I care enough about Carrie and Brody that I was freaking out when they were both put in danger. But I have to ask, does visceral tension trump emotional plausibility, on Homeland and in pop culture in general? Sure, I was invested in the episode, but it also caused me to question the show's emotional veracity. We know Carrie loves Brody enough to put everything on the line for him, but Brody feeling the same has come out of nowhere. We know he feels a hard-to-explain attraction to her, and we know the two are drawn to each other in complex ways neither fully understands. But if the show wanted us to believe that Brody loved Carrie more than anything, it needed to do some more work on that front. As it is, Brody's depth of feeling feels like a product of the story the show decided to tell more than a well-earned emotional realization. And that is deeply troubling to me.

And yet, this episode had some fantastic interpersonal work. The opening scene between Saul and F. Murray Abraham (whose character probably has a name, but I'm not too concerned about learning it) was phenomenal, a great conversation by two veterans with drastically different worldviews that I could have watched play out forever. I may find Carrie's kidnapping deeply problematic, but it did lead to a pretty amazing scene between her and Nazir, which drew nice parallels between the two, even if neither would admit their similarities (and see what I mean about this episode being confusing for me critically? I hate the plot mechanics it took to make it happen, but I quite enjoyed Carrie and Nazir's conversation). The final confrontation between Brody and Walden, too, came from plotting that was really stupid and ultimately unsatisfying, but Brody's manic glee, his terrified excitement, was a great character moment. He got what he's wanted from the moment he returned to the U.S., but so much has changed since then that his feelings are mixed at best. Its a moment where all of Brody's layers can fall away, and where we can see the real Nicholas Brody for maybe the first time. He's tense, he's triumphant, he's terrifying, he's on the edge until he jumps off the cliff. Damian Lewis was amazing again tonight, and its unfortunate that such stellar acting had to be muted by the idiotic plotting it took to get there.

So what trumps, at the end of the day? I can't tell you what to think, and I haven't fully decided myself yet. But I have to think that, ultimately, when my feelings on this settle, I will come down on the side of the character work. I think I will learn to play down the show's more absurd plotting for at least as long as it continues to create such compelling characters and bouncing them off each other in such fascinating ways. I can probably continue to love Homeland as an acting showcase (and it is one of the best on television) even if I can no longer defend it from a plotting perspective. For some, this may seem hypocritical of me. I have often said I just couldn't get invested in Lost because its plotting and structure were too problematic for me. But where that show used mystery, used its questions and the promise of answers, to pull us in, Homeland has always been, at heart, a character study. I was willing to ignore inconsistencies in character on 24 as well, because its characters were food for a plot machine I found fascinating. In short, my answer to the question at the center of this review is, "it's complicated." You may come down differently on "Broken Hearts" than I do. You may come down on Homeland as a series (or, for that matter, on any show I write about here) differently than I do, and ultimately, I think its a personal choice. I can't tell you to value the character work of a series highly enough to overlook ramshackle plotting. But I think there's an argument to be made that its something worth doing, and that a show like Homeland can be great television in a lot of respects, and troublesome in others.

This show has done great work this season exploring how its characters react to everything they know about the world changing. Carrie got to deal with the realization she was right about Brody all along, and then with the ramifications of him working alongside her to stop Nazir. Brody's lies were revealed (at least to the CIA), and we've watched him reel at a total loss of control. Saul is discovering how marginalized he is within his organization, and not taking to being put in a corner very well. If some of the plotting its taken to get us here is far-fetched (or downright absurd), the character work has been almost uniformly stellar, and I have ultimately found that more satisfying than the storytelling is irksome.

I don't have high hopes for the end of this season at this point. The show has veered off track to the point that I'm reasonably certain the final two episodes will be, at best, an interesting mess. I'm willing to be surprised, obviously, and I hope the writers figure out how to bring everything back into the realm of the plausible and tie together all the disparate threads of this story. But I think it's more likely Abu Nazir will pull some terrorist ninja bullshit, there will be some stupid cliffhanger, and I'll be left screaming at my television. When that happens, though, I hope the show doesn't tear its great character work apart in the process. If Carrie, Brody, and Saul can walk out of this plot quagmire with their basic characters intact, I will be coming back to Homeland season three. Which, if the plotting keeps on like this, may be about Saul opening an ice cream shop, where Dana and Abu Nazir work side by side while Brody is forced, against his will, to pretend to prefer a rival creamery to steal their cookies and cream recipe. Carrie will be there, too, probably. Maybe she buys Chris an ice cream cone.

Grade: B-

Notes:

-"Little things matter more and more to me as I get older. Do you find that?" "I find that everything matters more to me as I get older."

-"I miss the rules. The Soviets didn't shoot us, we didn't shoot them."

-"He didn't tell me. He just asked for a soldier." "Soldier's kill people."

-"What are we doing?" "I don't know..."

-David Estes drinks martinis. I drink martinis. Does this mean I get to run a unit at the CIA?

-"We killed it. Just the same way that we killed that woman." Yeah. because your teenage relationship is the same as A HUMAN LIFE.

-"You're never going to leave this country alive." "I know. And I don't care."
Tags: Homeland
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