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Things are escalating fast after passing the halfway point in the debut season of Showtime's Homeland. The sixth episode, titled "The Good Soldier," is wrought with tension from beginning to end as it not only features polygraphs for most of our key players but it also finds our two leads - CIA Analyst Carrie Mathison and Marine Staff Sergeant Nicholas Brody - getting to know each other a little more than anyone might have guessed. When you weave those two storylines together, well, you have a narrative thread that knots (in your stomach and) at episode's end in the most explosive and chilling moment in the entire series. So far.
"I'm just saying we should polygraph everyone who came into contact..."
At the end of last week, Carrie was beyond frustrated and, after getting into a heated argument with Saul was ready to say "fuck this" to all of it. Well, technically she did say it but after a night of recovery at her sister's and assuring her nieces that it was her job to keep everyone safe, that's exactly what she got back to doing, her job. She starts reviewing the surveillance tapes of the dust-up between Hamid and Brody to see if she can spot our Marine Sergeant slip the prisoner the razor blade. Nothing (but it looked to me like Estes put something down on the table while the two were fighting... just saying). Although reviewing the tapes doesn't help, Carrie does get the nerve to tell the higher-ups her 'slipped razor' theory and therefore that they may have a mole or tuned agent - not Brody specifically - in their midst. Saul agrees with her, seemingly burying the hatchet from last week, so that means it's time for some polygraphing!
As Saul says, "what a surprise, Agent Brody is on this list." There's actually a moment that, in retrospect, is perhaps key to understanding why Carrie would allow things to go as far as they do in the scenes to come. She tells Saul she is 100% convinced that they will get Brody if he takes the polygraph, that she's willing to bet anything and she ends up putting up quite a bit (more on that later). Carrie is also the first to go in the polygraphs and, not surprisingly, the writers use some of the weapons they have on our lead to ratchet up the tension. We see her spike when asked if she has used illegal drugs since starting at the CIA. We also see her realize that not only was she possibly caught lying but that both her belief in and pursuit of Brody's guilt is blinding her judgement. She didn't even consider the fact that she has details about her life that are also best kept hidden. Soon, some more will be added to that list as Carrie continues to spiral out of control in what is both an excellent terrorist thriller and character study.
Carrie's not just flawed but pretty fucked up and Danes handles all aspects of her shattered psyche very well, from the charming and seductive to the beaten and broken. There are also moments of levity in the series, like how she 'hates' to inform Brody that he has to come in and take the poly. However, those moments are pretty rare as the pace is only quickening and the consequences more dire as the CIA team is not only running the tests to determine if there is in fact a mole in their detail but also trying to track down the only real lead they have in the Abu Nazir terror plot, namely the Faisels. The show throws in some 24-style operation room moments, where Carrie and Saul lead the team in piecing together the information on the two, yes, two terrorists on the run from everyone. Right when Carrie is in the thick of it, she gets a call from Brody, who is now no longer interested in doing the polygraph. Against all better judgement, she goes to convince him otherwise and in person but first...
"Meet Aileen Margaret Morgan."
Back to those 24 moments and the investigation into Professor Raqim Faisel. After the initial briefing that sets up the polygraphs, Saul and Agent Galvez are at the Faisel house by the airport looking for evidence on the whereabouts of the fugitive couple. Saul spots a overly curious neighbor who lets them in on the secret, Raqim isn't alone, there's also a Caucasian woman! Shit just got real. We cut to the Faisels on the run and we're given some backstory that not only fills out their characters but also serves to humanize the terrorists - an interesting choice by the show. Saul returns to Estes with the news that there is a Mrs. White Faisel (while also slipping in a request for a position that would allow him to follow Mira to India) and now that they know what are looking for the investigation kicks into high-gear, quickly returning a border patrol camera snapshot of the two fugitives.
Raqim and Aileen arrive at a remote safe house and we immediately learn who wears the pants in this relationship. Aileen's instincts kick in and she starts doing a sweep of the place, which lets both us and Raqim know, especially after she notices the trip wire to a bomb that would have killed them both, that there is more going on with this woman than we've been told. All she admits at this point is that they 'trained' her and, by the looks of it, very well and now much to their chagrin. Of course, at first this had me thinking that she had previously been in the military ("an American POW has been turned") but that macguffin is soon dispelled as just that, a false lead. Ilene and Raqim add a compelling story to be explored, especially now that they are 'burnt' as terrorists and wanted by the government. He wants to turn themselves in but she knows that means a life of interrogation, buried in some hole where the laws aren't upheld in the strictest sense. So, they do they only thing they can do, run. The Faisels run and the CIA follow. It was only a matter of time after the CIA had the photo that they would also have a name to go along with it - Aileen Morgan.
But first, Saul is pulled away for his polygraph and it seems like he's done this a few times ("Hello, Larry"). That doesn't mean he's comfortable doing it as it also seems he always 'flubs' the first one. Oh? And does he always suspiciously spike on the most important question - did you hand Hamid a razor - before tearing the wires off? One thing seems clear, they are throwing way too much heat on Saul for him to actually be a terrorist, so I'd say it's safe to say he's safe. While he's being 'grilled,' Carrie is briefing the room on this Aileen Morgan, the daughter of a rich oil-man who not only lived a number of years in Saudi Arabia but also frequented there on vacation. And a number of the years and vacations happen to correspond with Raqim Faisel's visits to The Kingdom, indicating that these two have known each other for a long time. That's kind of sad because after he pleads with her turn themselves in (again), Raqim is shot to bits by their handlers while hiding out in some dingy motel. Ilene manages to escape just as Carrie starts to suspect that it's her and not Raqim who's always been the real threat. Cue phone call.
"Have you ever been unfaithful to your wife?"
We catch Brody for the first time as he struggles to write a eulogy for a memorial service in honor of Tom Walker, his former partner that he may or may not have beaten to death. Jess is wandering around the backyard, playing hostess and making sure that everything will be set-up perfectly. She comes inside and the couple share a nice moment, even if it is over the 'wife ties the tie' cliche. At the service, Corporal Thomas Patrick Walker's widow hands the reigns over to Brody who comes up with one of the oddest and most awkward tributes I have ever seen. But hey, at least we're introduced to the rest of their squad - like the scruffy vet-stereotype who drops his crutches in the middle of Brody's speech. This is where Carrie shows up to inform him that he's wanted for the polygraph the next morning.
Back at the house, the old squad are having a few beers and throwing down a couple verses of Eminem when one of the guys asks Brody what all went down when he and Walker were taken hostage. However, story time is interrupted by the scruffy vet stereotype (Lauder) who confronts Brody about being a shill for the military before spilling the beans about Jess and Mike. Mike punches the guy with no legs and then Brody beats Mike up pretty badly for everyone at the party, including his kids, to see. Brody storms out past Jess and straight to a bar where he makes that call to Carrie. All it takes is a little waffling about taking the polygraph and Carrie is quickly there drinking shots of bourbon with the very man she suspects is a sleeper terrorist and telling him how, when she used to play chicken, "no one could ever beat me, not even the boys." That's Carrie in a nutshell and why she's willing to go out in the parking lot and have sex with Brody. As for him, it's the first time he's been able to perform sexually, probably because he just got all the 'Mike weight' off his shoulders. Either way, that scene was shocking, yet over so fast there was no time to take it all in, that comes later.
That comes the next morning when the polygraphs resume and Carrie arrives to take witness. Saul is back in the hot seat and passes with ease the second time around, taking a polygraph isn't so hard after you've just been dumped by your spouse. Technically, Saul got dumped last week but he didn't read the situation correctly, again the show highlights how even our most highly trained investigators are still human and can miss things when emotions are involved. Sadly for Carrie emotions are always involved because her job is her life (she's willing to sleep with men to further her investigations, how very James Bond of her), so in a way it's understandable that she's basically shaking when Brody straps into the polygraph. It's even more understandable for her to be distraught when he passes with flying colors despite the fact that she (and we) know he's lying. I'm pretty sure what they did in the back of her car constitutes cheating. That moment packed quite the punch. I was still reeling a bit from the two of them hooking up that I didn't see the intricate set-ups at work. Carrie stumbles out of the building, still noticeably rattled only to have Brody pull up beside her... "hop in." She does.
The longer the episode sits with me, the less I like it. There is no denying the immediate power of some of tonight's scenes and the way that the episode was so expertly structured but the show is also opening quite the can of worms. I can't help but think of the ways in which it may have limited itself by going too far with Carrie and Brody. However, it is interesting to play with the genre conventions and have our female spy use sex and sexuality - like James Bond BUT he exists in a completely different world, one with tuxes, gadgets and martinis shaken not stirred. She exists in this world and it has consequences, as does unprotected sex with potential threats to national security. I just don't buy it as much as I've bought everything else and I don't want anything to sour the best new show on television right before the finish line. Homeland has been so good for six episodes, I hope it doesn't all come crashing down in the last two. Expect a lot of excitement next week as it gears up for the second half of the season.
Homeland airs on Showtime, Sundays at 10 p.m. ET/PT. It stars Claire Danes, Damian Lewis, Mandy Patinkin and Morena Baccarin.