11
Nov
2012
Homeland: Season 2, Episode 7
The Clearing
Jordan
Here is why Homeland will never have a storyline where Dana fights a Cougar or where Jess has amnesia for a few weeks: It managed to wrap up, for the moment anyway, its most dangerously 24-esque plotline in a way that was smart, realistic, and earned. It was frustrating to watch Brody's attempt to do the right thing for his daughter foiled, but frustrating in a way that makes dramatic sense rather than in an "I can't believe the show is this dumb" sort of way. There has been a lot of talk about the similarities between this show and 24 (with Homeland's creators coming out of that writers' room, it makes sense) both in this space and elsewhere, but Homeland isn't 24 and I feel reasonably confident it will continue to be a much better show.

This is a show about the mistakes people make, and as a result, every choice has consequences in ways that 24 plot points couldn't. Every season, Jack Bauer had to basically be reset, lest the entire series be forced to deal with Jack's heroin addiction or the long term effects of his time as a POW. If we're going to take seriously the development of Carrie and Brody, both together and individually, we have to remember all that's come before, and that makes Homeland less likely than its predecessor to fly off the rails on random tangents that can't possibly tie in. Dana's mistakes reverberate throughout the show, forcing Brody to really contend for the first time with the effect of his choices on his family. He could torpedo his political career for his daughter, but that would mean facing treason charges as a terrorist, and that is a choice he simply can't make. So he is forced by good people to make a bad decision, a resolution to a dangerous plot line that restores some of the good will the show lost with its weeks of Dana hemming and hawing over whether to tell her parents she killed someone in a hit and run.

The show's sense of history is also apparent in the return of Aileen. On the surface, this story goes nowhere, with Aileen leading Saul and Quinn on a wild goose chase that wastes their time and energy. But this isn't really a plot moving story; it's about the relationship between Saul and Aileen, and about the way he fails to save her. When Aileen brings up Mira, it reminds us of the pain that Saul bears daily, and puts in our heads another relationship that Saul failed to save. Mandy Patinkin gives such a subtle, quiet performance it can be easy to forget how much Saul carries below the surface, but once again his meeting with Aileen brings up emotions he usually keeps submerged. When we learn that Saul moved to Lebanon as part of a misguided attempt to be closer to Mira, it adds a poignancy to moments in earlier episodes that will benefit on rewatch, but it also reminds us of the burdens Saul carries with him every day, and of the sacrifices he has made to keep his job.

Homeland has a habit of underlining its most important moments in its titles, in underplaying subtle moments, but calling attention to them right at the top of the hour. If you were curious what the most important scene in this episode was, look no further than the title--it all happens in "The Clearing." If season one was largely a downward spiral for Carrie, a story about a broken woman falling apart amidst seemingly misdirected theories and increasingly reckless decisions, season two is shaping up to be about Brody's realization that he is a pawn to pretty much everyone in his life. Walden selected him as a VP potential because a rich donor wants Brody to be president some day. Roya, and even Nazir, keep Brody around for what he can do for them. Carrie, Saul, and Estes need Brody to feed them information about Nazir's organization. That moment in the clearing is one in which Brody is torn between his attraction to Carrie and his feeling that, on some level, she is using him. Brody comes up against the fact that Carrie is using her sexuality as part of a longer game, to play him, but what really throws him off is how little he cares. Brody doesn't get to make choices any more: his political career is controlled by Walden, his personal life by Jess (and Carrie), and even his parenting decisions are made for him by the CIA. Brody doesn't get to make choices any more; he just follows directions.

Removing Brody's agency is an interesting direction for the show to take, seeing as in season one, it was what most interested us about his character. Not knowing what Brody would do, not knowing what was driving him or where he was headed was what gave season one much of its propulsive energy, but in the interim, the show has revealed his motivations and taken away his ability to make his own choices. Brody was never a cipher, per se, as he was always a well-formed character, but we were never sure exactly where his loyalties lay. That is still true, to an extent, but at this point, Brody is so controlled, his motivations become almost irrelevant. I'm not sure how he will react to this in the long run, but I imagine his new-found powerlessness will have lasting consequences for him, and for those who attempt to exert influence over him.

The show is making a larger point, in the wrap up of the Finn plotline, about the way power has corrupted the Waldens so thoroughly that there is never any doubt they will cover up Finn's vehicular homicide, but I largely don't care about that side of things. The Waldens have never been particularly interesting, and Finn's brief foray as a compelling character ended the moment he killed that woman and became a plot contrivance more than a human being. Vice President Walden is the closest thing this show has to a villain outside of Nazir's circle, and the show has never given him the shading even granted to Nazir in season one. Walden is a power hungry man who long ago lost sight of questions of right and wrong, and so long as that's all he is, he will continue to be a boring character, and I will continue to have trouble engaging in what the show is saying about power.

Or at least about power in the macro. Because, ultimately, Brody's storyline is one about power as well. Nazir's power of Brody lead him to convince Brody to contemplate assassination, and the CIA's power over him lead to their complicity in a cover up. Power at any level has corrosive tendencies, and even at its most micro level, in the dynamic between Carrie and Brody, Homeland frequently reminds us that whichever of them has the upper hand at any given moment is likely to abuse that power in attempts to control the other.

At some level, everyone on this show is after power, after control whether they will admit it or not. Saul wanted Mira to stay, but wasn't willing to sacrifice his career; he simply wanted to control her, to get her to do what he wanted regardless of her feelings. Carrie and Brody are in an endless struggle for control over the other, a struggle that may destroy them both in the long run. The CIA wants to control the way the rest of the world perceives America, which is really, from the opposite end of the spectrum, exactly what Nazir wants. Think, for a moment, of Aileen, who wants only control over her view, and understands how fleeting that control will be. When she knows she is powerless, she does one thing she can think of to retain some control, taking her own life to get out from under all the forces controlling her. We're all, in some sense, struggling for a modicum of control, and when we feel we've lost it, the consequences can be dire. Watch what happens to Brody over the next few episodes, and I have a feeling the point will become even clearer.

Grade: A-

Notes:

-This episode was, at first blush, a bit of a mess, and I went in expecting to give it a lower grade. But as I thought about it, I was impressed by how well it tied together various disparate elements.

-And the show gets kudos for how compelling it continues to make any and every scene between Brody and Carrie. I am in no way rooting for them in some "will-they-won't-they" sense, but the way the show creates an erotically charged dread every time they meet is impressive.

-"Like you've never seen a dick before."

-"Cease and fucking desist. Understood?"

-"Two minutes with you, and I feel good."
Tags: Homeland
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