8
Oct
2012
Homeland: Season 2, Episode 2
Beirut is Back
Jordan
Beirut is Back is centered on a phenomenally tense action set piece, and one that manages to get its thrills out of Carrie's flaws in a way that I find very interesting. However, before we dig into the meat of what was essentially a very good episode of Homeland, we must address the glaring coincidences at the heart of the episode. First, there is all of the myriad coincidences that went into getting Brody in position to save Abu Nazir's life. The mission just happened to be going on at the exact time he decided to go talk to the Secretary of Defense on the Vice-President's behalf. Then, the Vice President had to bump into Brody in the hall and pull him in. Then, Nazir's body man had to check his cell phone at exactly the right moment. There are ways all of this could have been written more cleanly (I could see the VP actually calling Brody to be in the room during the mission, for example), but as its stands it was a few big coincidences in a row. Then there is the coincidence that sets up the episode ending cliff hanger. I can totally buy into the idea that Brody sent his suicide video to Nazir for distribution. Under some circumstances, I might be able to accept that Nazir would entrust the video to one of his lieutenants (though the way the episode sets it up, the Hezbollah commander is less a lieutenant and more a potential ally for Nazir). I can buy the idea that something huge would be discovered so accidentally, to the point where it is almost completely ignored. What I have trouble believing is that Nazir gave the video to some guy he to our knowledge wasn't that close with, and that guy left it in a bag (even in the lining) sitting around in the open in his apartment while he went to meet Nazir, and that Carrie just happened to grab that bag to collect the "real intelligence" she was after. I'm sure from the writers' perspective having Carrie accidentally grab the piece of evidence that may vindicate her was poetic justice, but to my eye, it comes off as a sloppy string of coincidences to get us to the end point.

But ultimately, did any of you really care how implausible it was in the moment when Saul clicked play and you realized he was seeing Brody's suicide note from last season's finale? This is the sort of moment that can sweep away a bit of sloppiness in getting there, and the show has built Carrie's investigation of Brody, and Saul's increasing frustration with it, to the point where the moment he discovers she may have been right feels well earned. For all its minor flaws in plotting, Homeland is a show that knows well how to subvert expectations, and how to play with the audiences emotions by dropping bombs we all knew would come out well earlier than expected. Last week, we saw Jessica discovering Brody was a Muslim, which on another show would probably be a finale moment. And this week, in the second episode of the season, we got a cliffhanger that would have been sufficiently shocking as the closing moments of a season finale. This was Homeland making it clear that it wasn't playing it safe in season two, and that is an invigorating thing to see this early in its run.

This cliffhanger backs Brody into an impossible cliffhanger of Breaking Bad like proportions. And while, seeing as Homeland hasn't proved its facility with its characters getting out of corners they've backed themselves into nearly as much as the prior show, that is potentially disconcerting, its also damn exciting and makes for great television. Sure, this could be the moment, in hindsight, that destroyed Homeland season two, but if it isn't, it may be the moment the season began to assert its greatness.

The entire Beirut mission is thrilling, even at the moments it shouldn't be. This show has always been good at making people watching things on a monitor strangely compelling, and the moments where we watch the attempt to take down Nazir from Langley, the Pentagon, and from the safe house are all as tense as the (comparatively brief) moments we spend with the actual ground team who is prepping to engage in a firefight. At first, the tension all lies with Carrie, as we worry that she has lead Americans into a trap and will have to witness a slaughter she caused. But once Nazir shows up, the tension immediately racks focus over to Brody, who needs to warn Nazir in time to save him. For a brief moment, I was convinced the show would actually kill Nazir, thus unburdening it of one character who tends to be a little too capable for this otherwise grounded show. Of course, we need him to keep bringing Brody into the terrorist side of things, and so we have the somewhat contrived text message (did Brody and Nazir work out a text message signal for "SNIPERS!" when they were hanging out, teaching Issa English? I understand that "May 1," the date of Bin Laden's death, would be known to Nazir, but I still don't know that he would react that quickly without a primer). And sure, it is a bit irksome the way Nazir skirts death thanks to a nicely timed text, but in the moment, things were so tense I didn't care all that much.

Nazir's escape is hardly the end of the tension, though, as we then follow Saul and Carrie as they rush to grab Carrie's informant and get to the extraction point. This portion of the episode gives us the aforementioned action set piece, and it is both thrilling and fascinating. Carrie, upset over the failure to kill Nazir, desperately rushes from the car and into her informant's house, looking for any actionable intel on Nazir. This is a shockingly stupid thing to do, but one of my favorite facets of Homeland is the way it never lets Carrie off the hook for being stupid and reckless. The show constantly implies that her dangerously cavalier methodology is both an asset and a detriment to her; its what made her great at her job, and what made her lose her job simultaneously. This is a difficult dynamic to illustrate, and kudos to the show for nailing it nearly every time.

This adds another layer of tension to an already tense scene. Watching Carrie try to grab anything of import from the apartment while the crowd around the car outside gets louder and rowdier would have been tense enough if it was part of mission protocol, but knowing Carrie was off-book without any semblance of a plan took things to the next level. I found myself rooting for her even as I cursed her, and watching her bash that guy in the head with a brick became strangely electrifying because of how mixed my feelings were toward Carrie in that moment. Homeland may make mistakes around the edges, but it has yet to misstep in regards to Brody or Carrie, and if the central characters can continue to be so well designed and so compellingly flawed, I will continue to watch and love what I see. Danes plays Carrie's manic tendencies so well that the sequence takes on another level of tension; we are reminded all too clearly that our hero is still mentally unbalanced and is someone the CIA really shouldn't be trusting in the field, especially after a botched assassination attempt in a city where they are not even supposed to have operatives.

If this episode has a flaw, its in the Mike storyline, where the character pops back up with a conspiracy theory, and we're supposed to worry because he's right, and he's got that drunk guy on his side. Sure, the Marines know Tom Walker wouldn't have missed the shot at the VP, but Brody has a great point when he tells them that nothing happened that day. If Walker was a distraction, what was he distracting us from? Now, this is total bullshit, obviously, because Brody well knows Walker was intended to get him in a room with the VP, but seeing as none of his Marine friends could possibly know that, this storyline feels like filler. I hope it was used to pad a (strangely brief) episode of the show rather than as the launching pad for a new "Mike is suspicious of Brody" storyline, because I have no desire to see that.

But the Mike nonstarter aside, "Beirut is Back" hummed along fairly nicely (if you can overlook the strings of coincidences we discussed earlier). This show lives and dies by how compelling Brody and Carrie are as characters. If it loses sight of them for even and episode, it may start to slip into more standard espionage thriller fare. But we saw Carrie and Brody dance close to the edge tonight, and it was compelling stuff. Damian Lewis was incredible in the scene in the parking garage, when he chastised the reporter and told her he couldn't be sending text messages when he is in the room with the Joint Chiefs. He's completely right, obviously, but she isn't deterred at all. She knows what Brody has yet to learn: he damned himself when he chose not to die for the cause. What Brody was asked to do was treason, but it was somewhat justifiable (he knew the VP ordered the attack that killed Issa and covered it up, so I can see why he'd be motivated to kill him). Now, though, he is in much deeper, darker water, part of an ongoing terrorist conspiracy to hurt the country he claims he loves. In that moment in the parking garage, you can almost see Brody realizing that he will inevitably get caught, and that with how high he has risen, he will be bringing down many people he cares about as well. "Beirut is Back" reminded us that our two leads are people whose downfalls are inevitable. The only question is when, and how far, they will fall.

Grade: A-

Notes:

-I love the way the show is giving us more and more time with Jessica as she adjusts to life as a political wife and finds herself loving it. Its a nice, subtle way to emphasize just how much Brody has to lose, and how big the collateral damage will be when he goes down.

-"I made a mistake." "It happens."
Tags: Homeland
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