Wednesday, 10 October 2012

HOMELAND, 2.2 – 'Beirut is Back'

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

written by Chip Johannessen / directed by Michael Cuesta

Last week's premiere was a placid explanation of where the characters are six months after season 1's white-knuckle finale, but "Beirut is Back" was Homeland approaching its best. I'm not going to dwell too deeply on things this week, for one reason or another, but suffice to say this episode had plenty to recommend. Carrie's (Claire Danes) self-doubts were brilliantly portrayed, as she listened to Saul (Mandy Patinkin) and Estes (David Harewood) debate her trustworthiness through their safehouse's thin ceiling, and we also had a great reminder that she's still mentally fragile when she shakily made her way to the building's rooftop.

Cleverly, while the episode concerned itself with stressing the fact Carrie's unreliable and a risk to a smooth operation, the episode ended with an astonishing reveal that vindicates her "paranoia": when Saul discovered a memory card from Hezbollah commander Abba Ali's satchel (that Carrie risked her life to retrieve), containing Sgt Nicholas Brody's (Damian Lewis) taped confession of the bombing he didn't go through with. It was such an unexpected turn of events that I still can't believe it's actually happened (certainly not so early in the season), but it's a huge game-changer for the show.

There appears to be only three directions Homeland could take now: (1) Saul keeps the information to himself for some reason and dies before he can confront Brody or tell anyone else; (2) Saul brings Carrie into his confidence and they spy on Brody without telling the CIA about it for some reason; or (3) the story totally shifts gears and everyone's on the same page about Brody's guilt, but they start using him to try and catch the bigger fish of Abu Nazir. Each path has its pro's and con's, but I'm fascinated to see which one the writers decide on next week.

To backtrack from that incredible surprise, "Back is Beirut" was already doing a great job in most respects. I loved the sequence with Brody unwittingly sitting in on a live-feed with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as Abu Nazir was almost assassinated in a backstreet until Brody texted him an alert ("May 1", i.e. May Day). It was obviously inspired by the real-life event when President Obama watched a Special Ops kill Osama Bin Laden, and sometimes you have to remember that Homeland's Abu Nazir is essentially this show's equivalent of that renowned global terrorist. It was also interesting to think that Nazir's death would bring Brody an easier life, so his actions are the clearest evidence we've had that he's 100% committed to Nazir's cause. He isn't someone in over his head who can't see a way out of this situation, and he hasn't had a change of heart that's going to actually last.

Away from the more compelling aspects of this episode, it was interesting to see that Jessica's (Morena Baccarin) falling for the swanky lifestyle of being a Congressman's wife, and also notable that Brody's political status is bringing its own pressures (his old marine pals think he can unearth the truth about their dead comrade Walker; people want him to be a keynote speaker at fundraisers, etc). I'm also sure the fact Dana (Morgan Saylor) is falling for the cute Vice-President's son is going to factor into things more strongly.

Overall, this was a really strong episode that reminded me of the Homeland I fell in love with last season. The fact the writers have decided to reveal Brody's secret to Saul is undoubtedly a courageous and exciting move for the writers, but also something of a gamble. Can the story really continue for a whole season now? Mind you, that's a question people keep asking of Homeland. I just have a big suspicion we're closer to the end of Brody's story than the beginning, and the likely third season will have to focus on a brand new storyline. If so, I'm more than happy to watch the remainder of this season resolve itself in a manner that won't cynically tease us for weeks. There's real progress here that many fans, myself included, wouldn't have expected to see so early in the season—and that's exciting and respectful of viewers.

7 October 2012 / Showtime