To say that Showtime's Homeland took an interesting turn last week might be a bit of an understatement. The final ten minutes of 'The Good Soldier' were pretty intense and surprising at the time, yet, after digesting, I felt that the events could ultimately hurt the thriller going forward. First, Carrie and Brody hook up sans protection in a parking lot. Then Brody passes the polygraph even though we (and Carrie) know he's lying. And finally, the episode ends with the the two of them driving off together (for 'The Weekend'). There is no question as to the power of those scenes in the moment but in terms of the big picture for the character drama I couldn't help but feel like it somehow already jumped the shark. Did episode six derail the (so far) excellent series or did 'The Weekend' manage to pull things together and continue Homeland's stellar first season run? Well, my fears were assuaged as the episode wasted no time building suspense (and character) that culminated in another perfectly placed twist, once again proving that the Showtime thriller is the real deal.
"I miss you."
There are three stories unfolding in 'The Weekend,' with the most minor taking place largely inside the Brody household. Jess is trying to keep things together, going through the usual motions like cutting her kids' hair but Dana is back to being difficult, especially after finding out that her dad knows about her mom's relationship with Mike. Morgan Saylor, the young actress playing the Brody daughter, handles the material quite well even though the scene comes across as a re-hash of one of their earlier bouts. Even so, looks like Dana can cancel her plans for the weekend (show title!) because she's grounded - if grounded means having friends over and getting so wasted that you jump through the sliding glass door. Again, this scene feels a bit forced but it functions as a nice way to get Mike over to the house so this storyline can finally become interesting and move the character dynamics forward. First, we watch Jess and Mike rekindle their flame (which seems so genuine and nice) before Dana bluntly tells Mike what she thinks of his helpful visits. It's a really phenomenal and sad sequence, that begins with the natural and caring relationship that could exist between Mike and Jess before it's forced apart by the naive belief that they somehow can or should return to their previous lives. However, everything has changed. There is no going back.
The second narrative finds Saul on the road to bring Aileen in FBI custody. The show opens with the now solo terrorist on the run, Aileen, looking for a bus ticket to Mexico (yet, apparently the well-trained terrorist doesn't think asking for any ticket to the country, not caring what city, is suspicious). Upon arrival south of the border she is quickly greeted by Saul and the Federales, and she wisely chooses to join Saul for the ride back to Washington. In a previous scene, the show did it's best to once again make us suspect Saul might have ulterior motives as it's rather unclear why he requests to go pick her up and when he throws in the ominous, "trust me" you know we're supposed to think something may be afoot. However, Saul just sees a misguided and lonely woman, someone whom with he shares a similarly isolated up-bringing and therefore thinks he can reach. After a mostly silent first few hours together, Saul slowly works away at her defenses and she begins to open up. Both actors do fine work, especially Patinkin who oozes empathy with every line, gesture and/or pose.
Eventually, she succumbs to his interrogation techniques (they are the very same ones he highlighted in the Affy interrogation, using knowledge to gain the upper hand) and it feels completely earned. The writers carefully crafted five or six sequences between the two characters, with Saul gaining just a little each time before they finally stop at a jailhouse en route so she can fully spill the beans. And beans she spills! Apparently, the Faisels were visited a week prior by an American terrorist who spent an inordinate amount of time up on the roof. Yes, another American! Saul calls it in to Estes and, as a sketch artist is working away with Aileen, he requests a picture of Brody be sent over for her to inspect. Of course, he has to ring up Carrie but before getting to the Carrie and Brody thread, I want to highlight how this b-story perfectly parallels the way the show as whole has been operating and to such great effect. The narrative builds slowly, with a focus on developing the characters and the relationships between them and suddenly, before we know it, this leads to a major development in the terrorism plot. Oh, and did a major development ever occur as a result of Saul's relationship building with Aileen.
"So you won't be hauling me in again next week?"
As I stated in the opening paragraph, what transpired between Carrie and Brody last week, although incredibly tantalizing in the moment, provided me with a few worries as to whether or not the series would ever be the same. Long story short, it won't be but that turned out to be kind of amazing. In no easy feat from the writers, they managed to turn my trepidation about the development of their relationship into complete awe, with me hanging on every exchange between the two incredible actors as the episode unfolded. But first things first, the show began for the two pretty much where we left them last week, heading away from the intelligence facility together after Brody had just beaten the poly. The two banter with ease before Brody opens up to her about his cheating wife and how he could really use a drink. The scene that follows didn't do much to assuage my fears that show was heading in the wrong direction because the entire fight with the White Suprememcist felt out of place. It belongs it a far inferior show but luckily they don't stay long and instead head for Carrie's family cabin.
Carrie still seems to be pretty suspicious of Brody, since the first thing she does upon arriving at the cabin is find and load her gun. Well, that's not technically true, she does have to phone her sister Maggie to find the key and remind us about her medication (in case we forgot that Carrie suffers from a mental illness - one serious enough that it would not be wise for her to miss a pill). Also of note, is how he genuinely seems to trust her and if he was a terrorist, he would probably be a little more interested in gathering intel from the CIA analyst and not just, well, graduating to cabin sex (unless he's playing the long con). Before they get to the cabin sex, Carrie manages to get him to open up about the lie detector and how he may have learned how to beat the machine in order to stay alive.
The chemistry between Danes and Lewis is palpable. The scenes we spend with them are a delight, first because we get to watch these two incredibly fractured people find a degree of comfort in each other and second because we know that Carrie still believes him to be a terrorist and therefore every minute of the former is tainted. Their relationship is fascinating and I completely regret the doubts I had after it escalated last week. Their weekend continues as they wake up hungover and decide to try a day together sober. This leads to more opening up and it's quite clear that Carrie's suspicions might be giving way to genuine feelings and she's no longer as certain of his guilt.
However, just when things seem to be moving most swimmingly, she slips up and he realizes that she's been spying on him. In perhaps one of the most interesting and series-altering moments, Carrie comes clean and tells him about the American POW being turned and how she suspects that it's him. He tries his best to convince her otherwise, opening up about everything from being a Muslim to killing his partner, Tom Walker, while under duress in captivity. Carrie receives a call from Saul and before she can answer, Brody starts to leave. She picks up and we find out that Walker is not dead, he is the man who visited the Faisel's roof - which happens to be perfectly positioned for a sniper to hit an incoming Marine helicopter - and the American POW who's been turned. Carrie runs to Brody and tries to apologize as she realizes that the feelings she was having for Brody were real. Sorry but, "Hey Carrie, fuck you." She breaks down as he drives away, on his way home to look in on his family where he breaks down himself. It's a shocking and then saddening ending. Truly remarkable storytelling as little things - like Abu Nazir probably using Brody beating Walker to turn him - come to light in retrospect.
A common thread amongst the storylines this week was how a slow start soon gave way to very interesting and engaging sequences. The way the two more important weave together at the end is truly brilliant writing, playing all of our expectations that started building as early as the first episode against us. This doesn't mean that Brody isn't still a terrorist, at least not for sure, but it does add another exciting chase element to the mostly character driven show. Homeland moves so fast that it has no time to concern itself with convention or our expectations, which is probably what makes the series feel so fresh and original. I said in an earlier paragraph, when discussing how the way that Saul makes Aileen talk felt earned, and that can be said about the series as a whole so far. That all small character moments or the biggest twists feel earned. Now with Tom Walker on the loose, Carrie breaking down and Brody, well, as ambiguous as ever what could possibly happen next week? I can't wait.
Homeland airs on Showtime, Sundays at 10 p.m. ET/PT. It stars Claire Danes, Damian Lewis, Mandy Patinkin and Morena Baccarin.