After last week's mostly terrific character piece, in some ways Homeland re-launches with "Achilles Heel"—with marine sniper Tom Walker now the CIA's person of interest, as they have fresh evidence his death in Baghdad was faked by Abu Nazir, thus allowing him to return to Washington D.C—posing as a hobo receiving instructions in rolled up banknotes from a passing diplomat.
This episode worked well to re-energize the show, even if I spent most of the hour concerned we may have spent seven episodes chasing the wrong man, effectively meaning the first half-season has been a waste of time (in one sense). This kind of thing used to be par for the course on 24 (the last-quarter of every season always had little to do with the first-quarter), but it would have been a bigger problem for a show like Homeland because it's not designed as a relentless domino-effect thrill ride.
I needn't have worried, because this episode ended on an effective moment that suggests Brody isn't as innocent as he passionately claimed in "The Weekend". He appeared to have just convinced Carrie (Claire Danes) of his innocence, together with most viewers at home, but there's definitely more going on here. Brody's either involved in a two-pronged attack with Walker that's slowly taking shape, or he's the backup plan if Walker gets caught. Or maybe he was genuinely never aware Walker was alive, so knowledge of that deception is what's made him renege on his mission—whatever that is?
The Achilles heel of the title referred primarily to Walker, whose love for his family is his weakness. He's been calling their voicemail most days since he got back to the States, just to hear their comforting voices, and the CIA are soon exploiting this weakness to their own ends with a phone trace. It seems Brody's Achilles heel may be the exact same thing, as he made serious progress with his family. For the first time since he got home, the Brody family were acting like a proper family: playing board games and watching movies, before Jess (Morena Baccarin) accompanied her husband to a fancy shindig thrown by Elizabeth Gaines, the Vice-President's aide who still thinks Brody is perfect political material. As I mentioned many weeks ago when Gaines first appeared on the show, maybe it's Brody's role in Abu Nazir's plot to become a government figure, to facilitate a more devastating attack? If so, the plan's working...
And again, the family theme returned with Saul (Mandy Patinkin) realizing he's powerless to stop his wife leaving him. His job's cost him his marriage, but it's a job that means the world to him. I especially enjoyed the touching moment when Carrie suddenly realized she'll probably always be alone, because this job and relationships aren't good bedfellows, and her mentor Saul's silence spoke volumes.
Overall, what more can I say every week? This is a brilliant drama that's keeping me on the hook every single episode. It's true there's potential for the writers to give us a finale that stinks of gross manipulation, but I'm hoping things will end in a plausible, exciting way. It makes dramatic sense for the show if Brody really is a brainwashed soldier, so I don't mind that last week's confession was likely a performance to put Carrie off his scent, but please don't end Homeland by pulling some kind of ridiculous twist that spoils the characters and how they've been developing. I just want this story to end well, as it should.
Play fair, please.
written by Chip Johannessen / directed by Tucker Gates / 20 November 2011 / Showtime