Wednesday, 14 December 2011

HOMELAND, 1.11 – "The Vest"

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

I really admire how Homeland approaches its storytelling. You'd expect a counter-terrorism show to be awash with action by its penultimate episode, but the writing is much more creative and challenging here. It always puts characters first, and the opposing forces of Carrie (Claire Danes) and Brody (Damian Lewis) underwent very significant changes before the big finale. Carrie's recuperation time in hospital left her unable to self-medicate against her secret bipolar disorder, so Saul (Mandy Patinkin) was astonished to find her in a manic state during a visit. Yet this was also Carrie-plus, in the sense that her mental disorder gives her an extraordinary focus and work ethic that later proves instrumental to almost cracking Abu Nazir's plot, as she works tirelessly to compile a timeline of the terrorist's activities and identifies a weird period of inactivity that coincides with Brody's capture.

Meanwhile, Brody himself used a family trip to Gettysburg with Jess (Morena Baccarin) and the kids as cover for a visit to a shop where a Muslim contact has carefully prepared a "suicide vest" for his use. Interestingly, now that Brody appears to be focusing on becoming Nazir's instrument of terror against his own motherland, he's also getting a taste of the perfect all-American life: a family that dearly love him, a marriage that's getting back to normal, and a taste of the power and respect he'll have as a US politician when the patrons of a diner gathered to shake his hand and backslap a national hero. Is love and respect enough to erase the feelings of hate towards America that have been cultivated by Nazir over eight years? We'll find out next week. But it seems likely Brody's daughter Dana (Morgan Saylor) will be the one to expose him, as she's started noticing her father's odd behaviour; including his freakish inactivity while staring across a battlefield (capture on timelapse camera), and his obvious concern when she found a parcel hidden in his car (containing his suicide vest).

But back to Carrie, who's in no fit state to get back to work, as much as she'd like to. It's been such a long time since Homeland introduced the idea that Carrie's been keeping a debilitating mental illness at bay with non-prescription drugs, but I'm glad it's come back in such a compelling way. It's fantastic when a TV show plants a seed early and gives the audience satisfying pay-off like this. Saul's reaction to the news that his protégé has been keeping such an enormous secret from him was brilliantly played, and I loved the idea that Carrie's weakness is also a strength after she almost cracked the case in a day of hyperactivity at home. And the episode's final twist, with Carrie making the mistake of contacting Brody to act as her sounding board with her theory about Nazir, was excellent—as he instead realised she's getting closer to the truth and contacted Estes (David Harewood), confessing to them having an illicit relationship and detailing her unlawful intrusion into his private life. Given Carrie's half-crazed reaction when Estes arrived with a team to have her house searched and her work confiscated, it's feasible her bipolar disorder may even come to light and destroy her career for good.

So we had sweeping changes to the show's two main characters; Brody on a high and about to carry out his mission, while Carrie flounders at the mercy of her illness and past indiscretions. This is exactly how you want things before a finale comes along to resolve things, while hopefully giving us a sense of what season 2 may bring. One big question looming over Homeland is how the show, now it's a popular and critical hit, will possibly continue its story next year. As for the finale itself: I'm predicting Brody's mission is to detonate his explosive vest while in the company of the Vice-President, but his daughter will be the one to alert the CIA to the fact her dad's been turned. It's less clear what Carrie can do now, unless it's something unsanctioned by the CIA with the help of a sympathetic Saul, who's the only person who still believes in her.

Overall, this was another cracking episode to the add to the pile. Danes was magnificent playing a Carrie coming apart at the seams, and Lewis is still managing to give us a three-dimensional character you can't lazily label "the villain". In some ways he's the victim. It's rare to have a spy thriller like Homeland, where you hope the man wearing a suicide vest comes to his senses and steps back from the brink before it's too late. I'm not entirely sure the finale will be the rousing and rewarding end we deserve, because so many things could go wrong, and the writers may struggle if they're forced to keep threads dangling for a second season continuation, but I also have a lot of faith in this show. It hasn't failed me after eleven weeks, so why should it fail me after twelve?


  • I don't want to devalue Carrie's work, but have the CIA not compiled a thorough timeline of Abu Nazir's activities before now? That seems to be a really obvious thing to do!
written by Meredith Stiehm & Chip Johannessen / directed by Clark Johnson / 11 December 2011 / Showtime