I haven’t written anything about “Homeland” this Fall, which seems a shame. It’s the best new series this Fall, but it airs on a night that’s not only super crowded but also the one night of the week in which I don’t have paid responsibilities. Should that have stopped me? Probably not, though at the end of a 90-100 work week, the last thing I generally want to do is throw out another 1,500 words for funsies. But “The Weekend” was such a strong an episode that I wanted to take some time to look at the first season as a whole, and why last night’s episode went a long way to assuaging my fears about the show.
When “Homeland” loses my interest, it tends to be in the big picture aspects of its terrorist plot. When it delves down into the specifics of Abu Nasir’s plot, “Homeland” turns specific in a way that’s competent yet limiting. I always hate pop songs that have a specific name in the title. “Angie” would be my absolutely favorite Rolling Stones’ song ever had they not called it that. Yes, the issues involved are universal in that song, but throwing a specific name in the mix limits the applicability of it. Learning that Nasir’s group bought the house near the airport in order for a sniper to take out the President on a nearby helipad helped make the time spent on this plot mean something. But it didn’t exactly make me feel anything other, “Well, nicely plotted.”
That’s not a skill to dismiss, by any means. I’m not suggesting that the television equivalent of Gus Van Sant’s “Gerry” is my ideal execution of the medium. But I am less interesting in “Homeland” when it deals with “terrorism” than when it deals with “terror.” In thinking back on the run of “24,” the seasons tend to blur themselves together in terms of the “OMG We’re All Gonna Die” threat of the season. But I do remember scenes in which various people grapple with complicated life in a post-9/11 world, either in a professional or personal sense. Jack Bauer eventually became too much of a Christ-like figure, meant to suffer for the sins of an America that demanded his existence. But looking at his suffering was infinitely more interesting than figuring out which mole CTU managed to hire that season. The past two weeks, excluding last night, have leaned more heavily on the less interesting tropes of “24” and made me worry a bit that the show had already run out of steam.
All of this gets us to “The Weekend,” in which the actual plot mechanics moved in the background while the show paused to show a series of people without a home they could call their own. Neither Carrie Matheson nor Nicholas Brody can face going to their respective abodes, and so flee into the country in an attempt to forge a society made of two. Saul Berenson can’t face the sight of his wife packing up her life (and potentially their marriage), and thus spends his time pouring over Aileen’s files and finding far too similarities to his own life. Brody’s family, meanwhile, literally has their house crumble around them thanks to Nicholas’ absence and Dana’s drug-aided freakout. It’s an episode that in lesser hands would seem like a writing exercise in parallelism. But it’s also a logical extension of everything that’s come before, and plays up the strongest aspects of the show in the process.
“The Weekend” is all about displacement: displacement from yourself, your loved ones, from the world around you. It’s an episode about outsiders that seem put together when viewed from a casual, outside perspective. But all of them long for a connection they are either unsure is possible or worthy of deserving. The Carrie/Nicholas interrogation works not only because of the high stakes involved with Brody’s relationship to Nasir. It works because we’ve spent enough time with this pair to know that had about 35 things gone their way, these two might be the happiest couple on earth. Of course, the very chemistry that draws them to each other was forged in a fucked up laboratory of war, psychological damage, and personal quirks that make happiness all but impossible. At one point while finally making love while sober, Brody looks down at Carrie and says, “I just want to live here…for a second.” A second is maybe even too much for these people to hope for, and the fleeting moments of happiness we see them experience is nearly impossible to bear. Because we know this isn’t going to end well. All of this informs the scene the following morning on the porch, in which not only do we learn about Brody’s true role in the imminent attack, but we watch any chance of happiness for these two people erode before our eyes.
As for the twist at the end of that scene…on one hand, I’m shocked that “Homeland” showed its cards this early. Again: the mechanics of the show matter less to me than the exhibitions of isolation on display with these characters. If the show has a way to keep Brody and company interesting with Tom now back in the picture, great. It’s a bit odd that Saul would ask for Brody’s picture to be placed in front of Aileen, if for no other reason that “skin color” probably would have been one of the first things asked of her in that interrogation room. But I’m willing to forgive this misdirection after their wonderfully sad cross-country trip, not so much embracing America/Americana but rather watching it from a curious distance. They are part of the country, yet forever separated from it as well. With Saul, it’s a childhood on American soil yet defined by his parents’ insistence that he not assimilate into the culture. Aileen’s parents were American, yet lived on embassy soil. She only found comfort outside of “American” walls. Like Carrie and Nicholas, Saul and Aileen live in multiple worlds yet belong to none. Jessica and Mike also find themselves under the roof of a home that should belong to them yet will always have Nicholas’ ghost haunting it. Linking Jessica’s woes to Aileen’s seems silly on one level. Yet “Homeland” links them in ways that push beyond a show simply about terrorism ever would. A show simply about terrorism would concern itself with the welfare of the nation. A show about terror delves in deeper to analyze specific aspects of that nation’s citizenry. And its this citizenry that has given “Homeland” so much resonance in this first season.
A few more thoughts on “Homeland”…
Damien Lewis will never win an Emmy for this performance. The field is too stacked at this point. That’s unfair, because he’s probably giving the best male performance on TV right now. If you’re dying to get more Lewis, I suggest looking up “Shakespeare Retold,” a BBC-produced series in which he plays Benedict in an updated version of “Much Ado About Nothing.”
If you want to play a “Homeland” drinking game, take a sip each time Claire Danes shift her neck from one side to the other after learning a curious fact. You’ll be drunk long before the final credits roll.
If this show makes Inigo Montoya a mole, I am not responsible for my ensuing actions.