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Homeland Watch: Episode 11 - The Vest

"The Vest" is the second to last episode of the season and short of sounding repetitive, it was excellent. Homeland is at its best when it's about the characters because, well, that's what separates it from the rest of the plot-driven, action heavy thrillers on television (like Gansa and Gordon's previous work with 24). That's not to say that the Showtime series isn't also thrilling, it's just the thrills come out of the tension built from both the plot and the characters, not just from watching a guy break fingers in the interrogation room week after week (that's not fair, sometimes Jack shot them). Homeland is deceptively quiet. Slow burning. And then, like last week, it explodes. No explosions this week, literal ones anyway.

”One last weekend with the four of us.”

The show opens with close-ups on the titular vest being made. Funny enough, we find out later, that this is all taking place inside an actual tailor’s shop (a vest being made by a tailor) but for now it’s just hands putting all the parts together - the most terrifying probably being the ball bearings dropping into place. Meanwhile, at the Brody household the family is gearing up for a trip to Gettysburg before things get too crazy with the election, or, you know, the impending terrorist attack. This is the first scene of many that serve to tempt Brody to stray from the path he has chosen with Abu Nazir and yet, the writers are careful to also include the whole Civil War backdrop which allows Brody to constantly talk about ‘sacrificing yourself for what you believe is right.’ He's stuck balancing his new life with his family, the one he always should have had if not taken hostage, against the one he built with the terrorist and his son while captive in Iraq. Will he be able to perform the duties he has sworn to do in the Isa's name?

The trip begins with a scene in the car and we’re not only introduced to the first of many tidbits of Civil War information that Brody knows but we also see that his smart and rebellious daughter Dana has brought a little video camera along as well. She’s intent of taping pretty much everything which obviously means she’s bound to capture something she wasn’t supposed to see. The family tours Gettysburg, all with Brody functioning as a sort of tour guide, his dialogue dripping with subtext relating his cause to that of the 'traitorous' North, highlighting Joshua Chamberlain and how "he was a man who was willing to do what was necessary for a cause that he believed in." Did I say subtext? Okay, so perhaps a lot of this half of the narrative is a little on the nose but once the Marine Sergeant starts sufficiently creeping out his daughter, telling her that she'll have to look after her mother once things get wild and he's not around.

She also spies him returning from the tailors after his first fitting with the vest, a scene where we are cleverly left out of a portion of the conversation which only heightens the mystery. Dana asks about the package but he seems to convince her it's just a gift for Jess and they return to the diner for lunch, where Brody's will for the cause is once again tested. Lewis is great throughout the episode (as usual) but Morgan Saylor as his daughter once again shines. It's not easy to go toe to toe with Damian Lewis and she does a great job.

This time a 'joe six-pack' type comes up, calls him a hero and then tells him how he 'd surely vote for Brody if he had the chance. It electrifies the whole place and he looks like a real politician not a man masquerading. That night, Brody shares a moment with Chris (doing a similar 'when I'm one speech' as he did earlier with Dana, only his son isn't as sharp as his sister) before successfully having sex with his wife which is a pretty significant step for him. In fact, I feel like they should have shown more of that scene only because they've stressed so far his inability to make love with her and it seems too important a scene to gloss over.

Oh well, that's soon forgotten because the next time we see the Brodys, Dana is snooping in the back of the car, slowly tearing open the package to see what her father is hiding. He arrives just in time and grabs her arm hard enough to make her wince. Dana's not stupid and she plays it cool even though something is clearly amiss. When they get home, Dana retreats with her boyfriend and Brody received a call from Carrie. Dana's camera did catch something, and thankfully it wasn't as cliche and ridiculous as I feared when first seeing plot device. In fact, what the camera captured was subtle and chilling - a creepily still Brody at Gettysburg - as well as enough to convince Dana that all is not well at home.

”I just came this way.”

While Brody was doing his best to make preparations and stay steadfast to the cause on 'vacation' with his family, the explosion at the end of "Representative Brody" knocked the already loose screws all the way out of Carrie's head. She is stuck in the hospital recuperating and seemingly off her meds although I'm sure her sister would have been told/found out about the explosion and been there already. As you can see, there are a few logistical problems with the episode that keeps it from being truly great, but the performances are so wonderful, especially from Danes and Patinkin, that I'm willing to allow such missteps (are you?).

Anyway, Carrie is distraught that she cannot locate a new green pen and Saul is clearly pained to see her like this, finally realizing that all is not well with his protege. Despite her appearance and the half-gibberish coming out of her mouth, Carrie is able to get one point across and it's that the assassination plot doesn't fit the Nazir profile. Saul agrees but finds it hard to see past the wild eyes and alliterative ramblings. It's a pretty heartbreaking moment when Carrie finally admits to him and the doctor that she requires medication and they should call her sister. However, it's an equally big moment for Saul when he commits to being home to watch her at seven o'clock because, from what we've learned of him and his relationships, being home was never his strong suit.

The terror plot won't rest just because the lead CIA analyst on the case is currently a head case. Estes has to pay a visit to he Vice President's bunker and again it doesn't seem logical that the VP (or the President earlier) would be arguing against the security measures when five people were just killed in an explosion and the man responsible, Walker, is still on the loose. However, the Vice President is antsy and wants out of his bunker in order to announce his candidacy for president. A date that is set and will not change - and therefore is clearly where the final showdown will occur and the terrorist attack is scheduled to take place.

Estes wants Carrie back to work but Saul covers for her and still passes along her suspicions that the plot must be bigger than one sniper. Carrie clearly is not ready for work as she's too busy ditching out of cars, talking in alliterative phrases and lost in a color code that no one understands. That is, until Saul starts mapping the colored papers out on the board. In what could be a pretty boring scene (it is pinning papers on the wall), I was fascinated watching Patinkin's Saul piece together the puzzle and leave a rather beautiful mural of information on the wall.

When Carrie awakes you can see she's more level headed (a testament to Danes' acting that it only takes a second to see it) and it's another nice moment between them when she explains to Saul that, despite what he thinks or blames himself for, she's always been this way. And even though she's kind of crazy, she's still one hell of an analyst, piecing together the plot and noticing that pieces are in fact missing. A whole section of Abu Nazir's timeline has him inactive and they want to to know why. Carrie already starts speculating about a loss, a period of mourning when her sister and father (more James Rebhorn, always a great thing) arrive for the morning watch.

After Saul leaves, Carrie realizes that the period of inactivity overlaps perfectly with the time that Brody spent there (sadly, she doesn't realize the real connection) and decides to give him a call. With only her father there to stop her, and he does his best (I totally bought the good gut-bad gut speech) she makes the call and says way too much to Brody. He's obviously worried and, in another surprising move, Brody calls Estes and tells him everything. Again, I'm not sure I completely follow the logic here because it might jeopardize his candidacy and getting close to the VP during his announcement next week (which hasn't been announce but, come on). Again, another one of many small miscues in the episode that didn't necessarily derail it or the building tension for next week's finale.

”You don't know what you're doing!”

Remember how someone had to be fired? Well, it looks like that decision is easy for Estes after Brody fills him in on his and Carrie's relationship, not to mention, adding the bit about the harassment. When Estes finds the confidential files on the wall and Carrie, well, off the wall, it's even easier and he orders for the entire board to be taken down. Carrie obviously loses her mind, more than she already has, and breaks down to a depth we've yet to see, one that she might not be able to recover from professionally or personally (who am I kidding, she's going to save the day next week... right?).

"The Vest" was a very solid episode. Sometimes perhaps lacking in narrative cohesion and believability and yet also a rather gripping 50 minutes as well as a brilliant acting showcase - and not just for the two leads, Claire Danes and Damian Lewis, but also Morgan Saylor and Mandy Patinkin. Nothing too big may have occurred. No explosions, chases or shoot-outs but it's the small moments between characters that are the most gripping. Flaubert said, "pleasure is found first in anticipation, later in memory.” Next week is Homeland's first season finale, the pleasure is killing me.

Homeland airs on Showtime, Sundays at 10 p.m. ET/PT. It stars Claire Danes, Damian Lewis, Mandy Patinkin and Morena Baccarin.