28
Oct
2012
Homeland: Season 2, Episode 5
Q&A
Jordan
Last week, I said Homeland was setting itself up for a landmark hour of television, and "Q&A" did not disappoint. This was one of the best hours the show has ever done, with Damian Lewis and Claire Danes at the top of their games, and writing matching their skill. Danes is in the conversation for best performance on television (if I can mention you in the same sentence as Cranston, you're doing all right), and Lewis isn't far behind. I have said a lot about how Homeland is never better than when it is about the weird, compelling relationship between Carrie and Brody, and this week gave us full scenes of the two bouncing off each other, giving powerful monologues in each others' direction, and prodding at the lengths the other is willing to go in ways that kept me at the edge of my seat and left me wanting more.

That scene, where Carrie tries to get Brody to break, is such a tour de force in acting and writing, a long monologue from Carrie that acts as a pay off for all of the detailed character work the show has done over the last season and a half and sets us up for a lot more to come. Danes absolutely kills the monologue, chewing each line of dialogue in the best possible sense, but the scene is shot from her perspective, leaving us staring at Brody as his desperation and devastation mount, as he realizes he's backed into a corner and he can't get out. Lewis' face during this scene is such a map of the character's anguish that I could see him submitting this largely silent stretch of episode as part of his highlight reel for Emmy consideration next year. He doesn't say a word for a long stretch of the scene, yet you can see what is running through his head clearly. We know he is desperate, but we don't know how he will play the situation. Brody is a man who has been tortured and manipulated for years, and isn't the type to break easily. This ratchets up the tension to unbearable heights, to the point that simply waiting for him to answer "Yes" or "No" was enough to push me over the edge. Much of acting is reacting, so the saying goes, and Lewis gives perhaps his best performance in the show's history without even saying a word.

Brody starts cocky. He knows he's in a bad situation, sure, but like many criminals in television before him, he knows the CIA has no evidence he was wearing a bomb in that panic room, and he's pretty sure he can walk. He handles Quinn, to the point that, though Quinn claims the knife to Brody's hand was theater, I am not convinced. Brody knows how to deal with bluster; he's seen men who don't need to puff smoke and walked away, so Quinn doesn't worry him too much. Brody knows he can push Quinn to the point where he is taken from the situation, and he does so. What he probably doesn't count on is having to face down Carrie. He's so convinced that he has Estes on his side when it comes to Carrie, that he has The Agency convinced she is unstable, that he plays his cards like she's not at the table. It doesn't end so well for him.

Season two is doing something very interesting, in comparison to the show's first. We have always seen Carrie taking huge, dangerous risks, which are incredibly reckless when they fail, and incredibly brilliant when they succeed. In season one, we watched her lose again and again, taking huge risks and coming up empty handed. We watched Carrie Mathison pushed to the edge and beyond it, questioning her own sanity as she puts it tonight. This season, on the other hand, Carrie is on quite a hot streak, feeling, and at this point even seeming, like she cannot be touched. That this mimics her disease, with its depressive periods followed by the manic, is brilliant, but it also allows the show to get away with some things that might otherwise stretch credulity. That we watched Carrie lose as much and as often as we did last year means it doesn't feel as unlikely when she gets a win. Without the groundwork laid last season, Carrie finding the bag with Brody's video, risking her confrontation with him in the hotel, and breaking him in the interrogation feel unrealistic. With it, I'm willing to look at the larger picture and chalk it up to a hot streak following a long, long losing streak.

Plus, the way she breaks Brody ultimately makes sense. She confronts him with his endless series of lies, and points out to him they don't hang together. She brings up, slowly and subtly, all he has to lose if his lies come apart. She tells him he's a good man, that he did the right thing. She paints him as a hero to convince him to reveal his villainy. And then, when she has him where she wants him, she gives him a way out, makes him an offer he can't refuse. And as each of these things happen, we watch tears well up in Brody's eyes. We watch sweat bead on his brow. We watch his lip quiver. We understand the thoughts going through his head, we can visualize the memories he is going over in his mind. We are in Carrie's position, but like her (and to an even greater extent) we are in Brody's head. In a year full of great television performances(from Cranston, Jon Hamm, Dustin Hoffman, Christina Hendricks, Anna Gunn, and yes, even Claire Danes), I am not sure I have seen a better piece of acting than Damian Lewis in "Q&A."

The way Carrie paints Nazir's tactics, his attacks on the innocent, and juxtaposes that with Brody's view of his own attack against a justifiable criminal, is interesting, even if Carrie is letting the VP off the hook a little bit at the same time. The show has asked us a very interesting question from the start: Are motivations enough alone to make you a terrorist? Is hating America (or at least American foreign policy) enough? Is planning an attack enough? Is standing in a room in a suicide vest enough? My guess is your answer to one or more of those questions is yes, but Carrie let's Brody think, even if only for a moment, that the answer is "no," that his decision not to detonate that vest walked him back from the edge. And that is the genius of her interrogation. The idea of Homeland Security as a sort of Orwellian (of Phillip K. Dick-esque) thought police is an interesting one, and truthfully, the fight against terrorism is a struggle to stop crimes before they are committed, which is a deeply unsettling notion. If the crime is awful enough, is it ok for us to stop someone before they commit it? And if not, how high will our losses be to keep our sense of justice intact? How crazy will we let Carrie be as long as she's right? And how right does Brody have to be before his actions stop seeming crazy? These are all fascinating questions the show plays with, and each got at least a moment in the spotlight tonight.

When I look back at "Q&A," I will likely be remembering how near-perfect everything around the interrogation was, and ignoring the "Finn and Dana engage in a hit and run" stuff, which has pushed that plot line into the inevitable eye roll territory faster than I was hoping. But that interrogation works so well it overwhelms any of the other plot lines that didn't, it nearly erases the flaws of the episode and leaves its diamond core--that scene between Brody and Carrie that will stick with me for quite some time.

So going forward, Homeland is a show about a double agent who happens to be a U.S. Congressman. To an extent, its always been about that, as Brody has never been 100% in Nazir's camp. But now he is working with the CIA to bring Nazir down (or at least playing both sides against each other), and his handler is his once (and future?) lover, Carrie. This premise gives us plenty of opportunities for Brody and Carrie interactions in the coming weeks, and that is never a bad thing. The core of this show is the disturbing yet compelling connection between Brody and Carrie, and the way it forces them to contend with their own demons while trying to use the others' to their advantage. These two devastate each other in ways they don't fully understand; they destroy each other in ways from which they may never recover. And, in the process, they form the center of one of the best dramas currently on television.

Grade: A

Notes:

-"She is WAY too emotional. Reckless."

-"Who was Issa?"

-For a minute, I actually forgot who Chris, Brody's son, was. That's how unimportant he is.

-After his brief Leone speech, even I would consider letting Finn Walden take me to Once Upon a Time in America. Too bad that plot line reached eye roll territory so soon thereafter.

-"He has to answer his phone. He's a Congressman. He can't just disappear."

-"You've got nothing on me. No real evidence at all."

-"Because of you, I questioned my own sanity. I had myself committed to a mental institution. I lost my job, too. I lost my place in the world. I lost everything."

-"Oh for God's sake, Carrie, we were playing each other!" "I wasn't. Not the whole time."

-"Every good cop needs a bad cop."

-"Who gave you the suicide vest?" "A tailor in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania."

-"All dead?" "All dead."

-"You guys don't have the power to give me that." "You better hope we do."
Tags: Homeland
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