9
Dec
2012
Homeland: Season 2, Episode 11
In Memorium
Jordan
Homeland is one of the best shows in television history at reminding us just how bad things are for our main characters, at zeroing in on how far they have fallen and on making the things that have dragged them down almost palpable in each and every scene. Every character is weighed down by their past, dragged deeper into the mire by the things they just can't forget, the mistakes they just can't unmake. When Carrie tries to interrogate Roya during "In Memorium," the character screams with such fury that she becomes, for probably the first time, a human being, albeit one that is ruined by the way her past, and her family's past, has shaped her.

She is hardly alone in this, and the episode does a good job throughout of reminding us just how much our characters' pasts won't really let them go, and just how stuck they are in their current unhappiness. For all of Carrie's (improbably) success tonight, she is fairly obviously manic throughout, a product of her illness that she cannot shake, and can only hope to use to her advantage. As Brody tries, and ultimately fails, to save his marriage, there's an inevitability to its dissolution. He was never going to come back from captivity and settle back into the life he left behind. Too much had happened, too much had changed, he had done too much and had too much done to him. Nazir's righteous fury is shaped largely by past wrongs done to him or those like him, and he is willing to die for a chance to strike back, to right some of the wrongs he has experienced. Estes is engaged in a (completely ridiculous and very annoying) conspiracy, and Saul is being ostracized from The Company, which has cost him his marriage, and much, much more.

The last few weeks of the show have been given over far too much to the thriller side of the show, which I have said before is not my favorite facet of Homeland. Much as sequences like Brody's panicked quest at the Naval Observatory or Carrie's search through the tunnels for Nazir are pulse-poundingly suspenseful, they still feel dropped in from another, lesser series, as if the show was stooping to accommodate elements it has long since left behind. This reminds me of one of my all-time favorite shows, The Sopranos which largely abandoned its mafia violence in its later seasons for deeper meditations on its characters, the passage of time, and the way change was difficult, but never impossible to achieve. Sure, The Sopranos still killed people up through its last episodes, but where the violent side of the business was a focus of the show in its early years, the series wisely steered further and further away from it as it got more comfortable with thematic explorations. For a show like Homeland that is as good as this one at examining its characters, laying bare their flaws, and watching them try, and usually fail, to overcome them, a scene like the "There's a secret compartment back there!" one we were treated to tonight feels like its less than the show is capable of, and a waste of time that could be better spent on other avenues.

I'm not saying I think Homeland should abandon its terrorism-based premise, and I think there is little danger of that happening. I'm simply arguing that the show should play to its strengths. The climax of season one involved a terrorist attack that didn't quite go off as planned, and it was edge-of-your-seat television. It was also centered on a huge character moment for a man we had come to care about, and that made it count. If the show had spent more time developing Abu Nazir the man and less time making him Abu Nazir: Terrorist Ninja (this fall on NBC!), I may have felt similarly about that scene in the warehouse. Instead, it quickly became inevitable that Carrie would be right, Nazir would be found, and he would die. That made a scene that was still very tense feel a bit de rigeur, and the episode as a whole suffered for it.

Now that Nazir is dead, it is clear the writers never really had a great reason for bringing him to US soil, and the plot lead to far more stupid moments than it did great character interactions of even interesting twists. Each time the show pulled the rug out from under us (Nazir is...in the US! He has...some sort of plan! He's going to...kill the Vice President!), it was a "TWIST!" moment that fell apart if you thought about it for more than a few seconds, and it was also yet another plot development that pulled us farther from the heart of the show, and closer to the sort of terrorist wonderland Jack Bauer used to call home.

But once he dies, we get some of that great character work I had been missing the last few weeks. Brody weeps at the news of Nazir's death, and its clear that his feelings are so mixed he isn't even sure what those tears mean. The later scene, where Brody sits in the car and compassionately dissolves his marriage to Jessica, was just beautifully done by both Damian Lewis and Morena Baccarin. These are two people who loved each other once, a long, long, time ago, and have realized over the very trying period since Brody's return that being high school sweethearts just isn't going to cut it anymore. They have both changed too much, and been too damaged by what has happened in between, to find comfort in each other. Instead, Jessica found her happiness in fellow "survivor" Mike, and Brody has found his with another "captive," Carrie. Jess and Mike were drawn together for logical reasons--both missed Brody and felt guilty as they fell in love, but both also comforted themselves that they were living their lives, not being held back by a man they thought was dead. Carrie has been held captive all her life by her disease, and she found in Brody a man who carries mental scars that mirror her own.

The show still has one fairly messy plot to work out in the finale, and ultimately, my thoughts on this season may largely rest on the fate of Nicolas Brody. The episode builds tension the right way as we watch Brody sitting alone, unprotected in his car and know that Quinn is coming to kill him (sidebar: This show really doesn't deal with the fact that the CIA are not authorized to operate on American soil enough), and it leaves his fate an open question going into the finale. To be honest, I am worried either way. If Brody lives, the show will have to deal with the fact that he isn't remotely useful from an intelligence perspective anymore in its third season, and as much as I'm sure Damian Lewis could sell a "Brody decides to be a sushi chef because he's bored while Carrie is at work" plotline, I really don't want to see it. But if Brody dies, the show loses its most compelling character pairing; it sacrifices the endlessly fascinating interactions between Brody and Carrie, and it loses what their attraction means for both of them in good and (mostly) bad ways. I'm not sure the Homeland that is just about Carrie and Saul fighting a brand new terrorist ninja is any better than the one in which Brody prepares sashimi, and I am worried for the show's future in either case.

That final scene, where Brody tells Carrie the choice between her and Walden wasn't even close, rings false, but I think it does so in ways that are interesting. I've talked in the past about the way the show seems to have just decided Brody loves Carrie as much as she loves him, but thinking about it, I'm not sure that's the case. This season has taken everything from Brody, and has married him to Carrie in ways he must glimpse the importance of. She was the only one that saved him from ruining his deal with the CIA and spending the rest of his life in prison, and now, she is the only one who knows he was directly responsible for Walden's death. Brody may be espousing pure, true love for Carrie the way she feels it for him, but I think there may be more than meets the eye to his decision. He knows where his bread is buttered, and if his life is made easier, he may be willing to pretend to feel emotions with the same heightened focus Carrie does. It's an illusion I'm not sure can last, but its a dance I'd like to see play out. Here's hoping the finale figures out a way to wrap up this season without destroying all prospects for a third. I'd say its chances aren't great, but I'm still pulling for it.

Grade: B-

Notes:

-James Urbaniak is back! But, sadly, just to set up the machine...

-"You tell Estes no matter how many bullshit charges he trumps up, I'm onto him."

-Today in Chris: He ate cereal and played video games!
Tags: Homeland
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