Review: 'Homeland' - 'Broken Hearts': Whatever it takes
A review of tonight's "Homeland" coming up just as soon as I find a magnifying glass...
"Actually, it's not for my family. It's for you." -Brody
I've written a lot about this season about how the character work on "Homeland" of late has been outpacing the plot. But rarely was the gap starker than in "Broken Hearts," where the scenes where the characters were just talking to one another about who they were and what they believed in were terrific, while the ones where they had to take action often required a suspension bridge of disbelief.
So on the positive side, you had the epic beard-off between Saul and Dar Adal — and between Tony Winner Mandy Patinkin and Oscar Winner F. Murray Abraham — in which two old, weary, smart men (played by two wily ol' character actors) talked about their experiences and their philosophical differences. And you had a similar(*) debate between Carrie and Abu Nazir, as they clashed over which side was both more righteous and more committed to their cause. Outside of the Isa flashback episode last season, Nazir has largely existed on the show as a bogeyman, and it was very satisfying to get at least a few minutes with him interacting with someone not part of his organization and not broken from years of torture.
(*) In both cases, there was talk of what it means to be a soldier, in an episode where the only actual soldier (Marine, technically) killed someone in a way that the United States government did not train him for.
But as for the plot — both the story of the episode and Nazir's Plan B once the CIA seized his explosives and most of his American terror cell — I spent a lot of the episode scratching and/or shaking my head.
I recognize that 1)the CIA just put a big crimp into Nazir's operation, and 2)he really wants Walden dead (for killing Isa and for the drone strikes in general), but the pacemaker scheme strikes me as more of a supervillain scheme than that of a man whose terror aesthetic — as Carrie has told us over and over and over again — involves mass casualties of civilians in a symbolic way that will both inflict maximum psychological damage and make it absolutely clear he was the man responsible. Killing Walden in this complicated, stealthy way eliminates a man Nazir wants to kill, but not in a way that accomplishes any of his other goals.
And blackmailing Brody in this way to get him to do it felt like one of the many, many "24" instances where Jack was forced to turn on CTU, his partners, his government, etc., because the bad guys were holding one of his loved ones hostage. Now, I liked "24." At times I loved it. I included it as one of the 12 main dramas in my book. But "Homeland" is a different kind of show — or feels like it should be. It's a thriller about government agents battling terrorism, but our heroine is an analyst, not a trained killer, and it's a show driven by words and not action. And though events on both shows are implausible, the tone of "Homeland" is much more down-to-earth — there's a greater illusion of plausibility. Carrie getting t-boned(**) and turned into bait to force Brody to murder the vice-president feels like it fits in the older show and not in this one.
(**) And by who? Nazir himself? Does he have any other local operatives at this point? How does he time such a thing just right operating alone?
And I hate to say it, but I really didn't like Damian Lewis' performance in much of this episode.
Lewis is a great actor. He was a worthy Emmy winner last year, and if he wins again next year on the back of, say, "Q And A," I'll have no complaints. But he's much better at internalizing emotions than externalizing them, which makes a nice contrast with the performance Claire Danes is giving. But when Brody was the one making with the bug eyes and grimaces and idle threats as he's reacting to this terrible situation Nazir has placed him in, it just didn't play — not that this isn't how Brody might react under that circumstance, but that for the first time of the series, I was watching Damian Lewis and not Nicholas Brody. It wasn't the whole episode — the moment when Brody drops the mask and gets to tell the dying Walden what he really thinks of him was quite nice — but enough that, when you add it together with Nazir's new scheme, Brody having the run of the VP's residence, etc., it was an episode where, for once, the flaws outweighed the strengths, and left me questioning the action more than usual.
I wouldn't question Brody's desire to save Carrie, and also the recognition that he'd also kinda like Walden dead, but at the same time this wasn't a "24" situation where Nazir had eyes on him the whole time, because he had no resources. Brody could've told the CIA, they could've tried triangulating the call, etc. I'm not saying he had to do that, but it was at least something I was thinking about.
And then there's Carrie not telling Saul and the others to protect Walden. I imagine they'll deal with this next week, and we'll find that Carrie wanted to protect Brody's reputation and future more than the VP's life, but it doesn't even seem to be a consideration for her when she's on the phone.
In both cases, you have characters working under a ("24"-like) ticking clock scenario, and with no one they can really talk to, but at the same time they're making big damn decisions that the show is just racing through because it has to, and hoping that the actors will be good enough to tell you what their characters aren't saying aloud.
At least Saul all but inviting Estes to detain him felt entirely in character. Saul is, as Dar Adal noted, too sensitive, and too willing to believe in the goodness of of others. (As Bill Hader-as-Saul said in the "SNL" parody, "She's only let me down every time I've trusted her. Give me one reason not to trust her again.") I believe that he would openly poke and prod Estes — a man whom he knows has gone to very illegal lengths to cover up that drone strike — never for a moment contemplating that David would resort to using similar tactics on him. Then again, we'll see what's waiting for him in that interrogation room next week. (Can it be James Urbaniak? Pretty please!)
We're approaching the end game not only of this season, but Abu Nazir and maybe Brody himself, barring the writers having a surprising but convincing reason to keep him in play for additional seasons. For much of the season, the show has tip toed up to the edge of problem territory, and occasionally (the stealth ninja attack, for instance, or Roya risking Brody's cover to deal with the tailor) crossed over; "Broken Hearts" is the first episode that felt like it took place primarily on the wrong side of that line.
Some other thoughts:
* Last we heard about Galvez, he was basically so close to death that neither Saul nor Quinn could stomach the idea of even going to visit him. And now he's just moving about as part of the Estes team again, without any comment at all? Huh?
* I know Dana has become everyone's favorite target of complaint this season, and I certainly haven't loved a lot of what they've done with that character. But Chris Brody, frankly, is a lot more distracting to me, even though he's around much less. With Dana, at least, they've put the work in to establish who she is, how she thinks, and what her relationship with her father and mother are like. Chris is just... there (or off at karate), so any scene where he's in the middle of the tension between Brody and Jessica, or Brody and Dana, or Dana and Jessica, becomes oddly distracting, because he barely even qualifies as a character on a show that usually distinguishes itself with how specifically everyone is written.
What did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at email@example.com