Review: 'Homeland' - 'Q and A': Turn, turn, turn?
A review of tonight's "Homeland" coming up just as soon as I specialize in widescreen agony...
"Are you sure you're not a monster, Brody?" -Carrie
Sgt. Nicholas Brody was a captive of Abu Nazir's for eight years. More than half of that was spent breaking him down with brutal physical and psychological torture, the rest on — as Carrie so eloquently puts it — putting him back together as someone else. Nazir needed that much time to take a loyal, patriotic soldier and turn him into someone willing to strap on a suicide vest and blow himself up along with Vice-President Walden and a few dozen other top officials.
"Homeland" doesn't have that kind of time to reassemble Brody into the man he used to be. Nor does Carrie Mathison. The show's been moving at warp speed all season, and there's a classic "24"-style ticking clock scenario to all of this: if the CIA wants a shot at turning Brody into an asset, rather than just sending him to prison, they can't keep him off the grid for too long without alerting his contacts in the local terror cell. I would certainly be happy to watch a half season of Carrie interrogating Brody, particularly when the show has Henry Bromell — who wrote for the greatest interrogation show of all time, "Homicide: Life on the Street" — on the staff(*), but I also understand the need to get this done with and move on to the next phase of the story.
(*) A good deployment of resources the last few weeks: Meredith Stiehm, who wrote "The Weekend," was assigned to write the "Brody and Carrie reconnect" episode, while Bromell got this one.
Asking Carrie to undo eight years of Nazir's work in a single day should be too high of a hurdle for even "Homeland" to clear.
Or, it would be if the show didn't employ Damian Lewis and Claire Danes — who, when they're acting at a level they are in this episode, could sell sand to nomads.
Certainly, the show has the past on its side. We saw at the end of last season, and at times this season, that Brody isn't entirely on board with his new life. He pulled the trigger on the bomb once (when the mechanism was damaged), but couldn't do it a second time after he heard Dana's voice on the phone. He objected at first to Roya's order to break into Estes' safe, and he wrestled initially with whether to warn Nazir about the assassination attempt. His time at home with his wife, his kids, his friends — and with Carrie Mathison — had already started dropping bread crumbs back to the person he used to be. Carrie had to do a lot of work in a day, but she didn't have to do all of it.
Mainly, though, this episode leaned on the work of Danes and Lewis who may (Lewis in particular with this episode) have just shut the door on anyone dethroning them at next year's Emmys.
Though the episode doesn't take place entirely in that interrogation room, it might as well, given the intensity of each moment Carrie and Brody share once she replaces Quinn. It's a masterfully-constructed sequence by both Bromell and Carrie. She can't come at Brody directly, having seen how he responded to Quinn, so she has to play into his perceptions of her as the crazy, spurned lover. She starts not by asking about terrorism, but by telling him, "You broke my heart, you know. Was that easy for you? Was that fun?" She lets things feel incredibly intimate as she holds the bottled water up to his mouth, then shuts off the cameras (but not the microphones) and begins slowly but surely walking him up to the realization of what Nazir did to him.
And as she cajoles and he resists, we get two incredible performances by Lewis and Danes, beautifully complementing one another, and shot gorgeously. I particularly liked the contrast between Carrie's very large, very white eyeballs, always popping half out of her skull in incredulity at Brody's lies, and the way Brody's eyes are so in shadow, and so wounded, that they look like two black, wet orbs, floating in pain and confusion over what he's been through.
And good lord, listen to all the emotion Lewis is able to convey when Brody finally says "Yes" to Carrie, or as he tells Jess over the phone that he thinks he found some answers.
I imagine the show isn't going to settle down into a straightforward triple-agent arrangement now — Brody spent too long on the other side to not be tempted at least once more — but I don't think it's possible to read this conversion as anything but genuine. Abu Nazir took eight years to turn Nichols Brody into someone else. Carrie Mathison took a day — on top of the months that she, Dana, Jessica and others had spent — to remind the congressman who and what he used to be.
When the interrogation finishes, Brody first collapses into a fetal position, exhausted by all he's been through (and also from the stab wound) before he's eventually helped up the steps — led up from another pit like the one he was kept in for years by Nazir's people — and back out into the world.
Our story has many twists and turns to come, but when you have actors this good, playing characters this well-written and directed, that's enough to make almost everything else work.
Great episode. May even top "The Weekend" as the series' best so far. Put Danes and Lewis together and turn 'em loose, and you always get something special.
Some other thoughts:
* "Q and A" had the benefit not only of Henry Bromell on script, but Lesli Linka Glatter — a director with a long, ecelctic and impressive resume (including the lawnmower episode of "Mad Men," the "Gilmore Girls" pilot, and the episode of "Freaks and Geeks" that NBC was afraid to air) — behind the camera.
* I'm pleased Quinn's stabbing of Brody was revealed as a calculated gambit he tried once he decided Carrie had a better shot than he did. We don't know the character well enough yet for it to work as him suddenly snapping.
* Loved the silent sequence towards the end of Quinn and Saul taking down every photo on the board but Roya's, then adding a card for the tailor. They have fewer leads than before, but they're the right ones now.
* One drawback to this episode — or, at least, to how the season has been constructed to this point — was how the show skipped past the moment when Carrie connected the dots about Isa a second time. Here, it's just treated as something the group collectively pieced together once they all got a look at the confession video.
* I'm also trying to withhold judgment on what's going on with Dana and Finn Walden — who here drive away from the pedestrian Finn hit while evading his Secret Service detail — until we see where it's going. Is this just setting up a like father, like son parallel: two men who both act recklessly and don't think about who will be collateral damage of their actions? Or is this going to be a plot point where Brody and/or the VP get blackmailed as a result of the hit-and-run?
What did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at email@example.com