19
Nov
2012
Homeland: Season 2, Episode 8
I'll Fly Away
Jordan
Homeland plays with my emotions in a way that no other show can. I can nitpick the plot points of "I'll Fly Away," if I want to, but that isn't what made it such an intense, compelling episode of television. This is a show that makes me want what I shouldn't, just like its characters. It makes me feel conflicted about where I stand, about what I want, about who I'm rooting for and whether I should trust them. It puts me in the head space of some people with serious issues, and it embroils me in their internal conflicts in ways few other shows can pull off. "I'll Fly Away" spends most of its time in the heads of people in deep psychological torment, and in doing so, turns in one of the best episodes of the season so far.

Nicholas Brody has been building to a breakdown all season, and as it is wont to do, Homeland drops that ball much earlier than most show's would in its season arc. Damian Lewis has turned in incredible work so far this year, topping his performance in season one and giving arguably the best performance on television this year (where I think both Jon Hamm and Bryan Cranston gave him a run for his money last Emmy season with their performances). With Claire Danes sidelined due to pregnancy, Lewis has been left as the show's anchor, and he is pulling it off with aplomb. Tonight, we watch Brody crumble, resigning himself to prison or disgrace, just because he simply can't take the stress, the lies, and the moral compromise anymore.

The show has systematically taken everything from Brody this season. Jessica doubted him from early on. The CIA flipped him, removing his terrorist support network, and then revealed last week how thoroughly they are using him. And, perhaps most heart-wrenchingly, Brody has lost Dana, the daughter who single-handedly pulled him back from becoming a suicide bomber last season. He has undermined himself at every turn, and he has been left entirely alone. His life is completely out of his control, he can't be open with anyone, and even as he tries to please several masters, he risks losing everything as a result. Nicholas Brody is falling apart, and he's doing it alone.

Except for Carrie. She is there for Brody when he wants to stop, there for him when he is torpedoing the mission, there for him when he is on the verge of being locked up, and, if she wasn't held back by Quinn, she would have been there for him when that helicopter came. What the show does so well, what this episode in particular does amazingly, is to put leave us wondering whether she is doing this for personal reasons or for professional ones. I expect the honest answer is both, and that she doesn't know where the line is drawn, or how the two balance out, any more than we do. And that is fascinating. At a certain point, I would expect to be calling the Carrie/Brody scenes retreads. The two fight, fuck, and feel bonded a few times a season. But it always feels fresh and new, because of the primal connection between them, and because of the inherent ambiguities of that connection. To some extent, Carrie and Brody are playing each other. Even at his lowest tonight, I imagine Brody saw the advantage of having Carrie in his corner and decided to do something about it. Just how much of their connection is each playing the other and how much is actual emotion is hard to define, and that gives scenes we have basically seen before a renewed electricity each time, as the dynamic shifts in subtle ways we can't always define. Neither can they. And that makes each of their interactions a game that we play as much as they do. It puts us in their heads, as much as it forces us to remain in our own, considering what each of them wants, and where they are going. It makes for great television.

This all comes back to the question of what drives our characters. From the political side of things, where we find most of our central characters driven by an oft-obsessive desire to protect their country, and others driven to strike horrible blows against it, to the personal, where characters are driven by love, desperation, or morality, this is a show about what motivates our characters to act. But Homeland is also a show about how you can never completely discern another's motivations, about how we don't really know anyone and, to a large extent, we may not even fully know ourselves. Look at Nicholas Brody, who walked through the first season assured that he was on control of his life and doing what he thought was best for himself, his country, and his family. Now, in season two, he has slowly realized that he controls nothing about his life, and that outside forces, be they Nazir, the CIA, or Walden, are truly in control of each action he takes. The only way for him to seize control, he learned tonight, is to be willing to burn every bridge and to destroy himself in the process. He got close to that point tonight, but the one bridge he couldn't burn kept him tied to a life under other people's thumbs.

If Homeland is a show about how much you can ever really know another person (or even yourself), then, it is also a show about how much any of us can ever truly be free. Brody is the most obvious example of this, but he is hardly alone in this season. Carrie is burdened by her own biology, which ties her inextricably into a cycle of mania and depression, and which took everything from her last season (and threatens to again at any moment). Dana is held back by powerful forces from making amends for a crime she was complicit in, and is forced to internalize her anguish by a situation that refuses to let her come clean. Saul is controlled by his devotion to his job from being with the woman he loves, and by his innate trust in Carrie from being the agent he could be (as Estes points out, "I'm the only friend you've got left in the building"). Even the people at the top of the system, like Estes, Walden, or Nazir, are bound in by their roles, by their societies, by their past choices. No one on this show is truly free, and their restrictions plague and threaten to destroy them at every turn.

The best thing about Homeland which is without a doubt one of the best dramas on television currently, is the way it uses its plot, which is often propulsive in and of itself, to drive its characters further and further into their own depths, and to tie them closer together even as it tears them apart. The more the show develops the people at its core, the more it expands its thematic reach. Homeland isn't just about the security state anymore, if it ever really was. Its about living in the modern world, dealing with serious internal conflicts, and coming up against philosophical imperatives with life and death stakes on the line. In short, its as complicated, messy, and compromised as real life. And that lends the show a vitality that is hard to find elsewhere on television.

Grade: A


Notes:

-"I can't, I can't, I can't!" Brody broke down tonight, and Damian Lewis was just incredible to watch.

-"You think I really care what happens to me anymore?" "Well I do. I care what happens to you even if you don't."

-"If that's the last thing I see before they lock me up? I could do worse."

-Mike as Dana's confidant is a great improvement to Detective Mike. Let's let him just do this from now on, k?

-"How long until they find us?" "Depends how hard they look." "I'm guessing they'll look pretty hard."

-"You visit me in prison?" "I'll probably be in the cell next to you. Which, I have to admit, is not the future I imagined for us."

-The look on Saul's face when he heard the audio of Carrie and Brody. Was. Priceless.

-Morgan Saylor was incredible tonight, in an episode full of stellar performances. I have expressed issues with Dana's storyline tonight, but Saylor has done great work throughout, and the scene where she visits the family of the woman she killed was a powerhouse moment for the actress.
Tags: Homeland
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