When it's all said and done, last week's episode of Homeland might turn out to be the writing feat of the year. 'The Weekend' was simply a fantastically woven narrative built around the compelling ensemble of characters and all held together by a few stunning performances. And perhaps that's why 'Achilles Heel' left a different taste in my mouth and one not often experienced with Showtime's new series - one of disappointment. It was by no means a poor episode and perhaps nothing was going to satisfy after the stellar show that preceded it, however, many things about 'Achilles Heel' left me wanting, especially the ending. But first...
"I fought your war. Iraq. Ring a bell?"
The episode opens with Tom Walker on a busy D.C. street asking random cars for money. While he's playing the homeless vet begging for cash, there's a quick shot of the Capitol Building, which is not only interesting in light of the information we'll learn a little later (it is where Congress meets after all) but also because it draws a visual parallel to the first episode of the series. At the end of the pilot, Brody is out on a run and, in one of the most visually striking shots of the series, he stops there with the Capitol looming large behind him. Now we're there with his partner but the show isn't being similarly ambiguous about Walker's association with the jihadist operation, especially after one of the cars he approaches hands him a little more than just a dollar bill. It's a pretty chilling opening. No words are exchanged, we just see 'Diplomat' written on the plate and the window slide down. The tension between them is clear and only after Walker retreats do we find out that he's been given an address and a key - I wonder what for?
The show cuts from the turned American POW to a sketch of him being shown to his son. The next sequence plays like an extended interrogation scene, beginning with Estes and Lucas Walker and ending with Carrie and Saul. It's brilliantly constructed with the multiple layers allowing them to advance the plot and flesh out several characters. While Estes struggles to get the talkative kid to stay on task, Carrie delicately talks about Walker with Helen outside the office. At the same time, Saul sits in another room with Brody who's obviously been 'hauled back in again' to field more questions, actually the same questions, about Walker-- "all I know for sure is that he's dead." His lies about Walker's death are stressed when Carrie appears through the glass and we remember him confessing to killing Walker with his own hands. A secret that she can't convince him she kept when the two briefly talk in the hallway. I'd say he's still a little pissed but I hope he gets over it soon because I love watching Danes and Lewis together on screen. The excellent sequence ends with Saul coming up to the still shaken Carrie with a lead on Walker.
Brody arrives home from his most recent interrogation at Langley to find lingering tension from his weekend disappearance. It's a nice scene for Morena Baccarin, who thankfully gets more screen time this week. She's initially mad at her husband before breaking down and apologizing for only being able to last six, and not eight years, waiting for his return. Meanwhile, Saul's lead on Walker relates to the show's title and the overall theme of the episode in that we all have our weaknesses, somethings we are powerless to avoid, or stop, or change. Walker's 'Achilles Heel' is his family, whom he still calls often in order to hear their voices on the answering machine (we get to dive into Saul and Carrie's shared 'Achilles Heel' a bit later). While the two CIA analysts are reviewing this lead, Estes brings in the FBI and surprise, Carrie doesn't get along with their Agent Hall ("that's what we told you"). Inter-Agency tension may be a staple in these terrorist thrillers but I'm hoping that the show can do something more interesting with it in future episodes.
"Who's in your life?"
The Brodys are having a fun family night at home when they receive a call from Elizabeth Gaines (the blonde women with some vaguely explained political influence) insisting that they attend her party the following evening. The kids push the couple into it and if there's one thing this episode did really well, it was addressing and advancing Brody and Jess' difficult relationship. Over at Saul's place, he's trying to convince Mira to not only attend the same party but not to leave for India the following day. I'm not in love with this narrative either - I've previously mentioned how Mira's sole existence is to be that cliched spouse who didn't realize that if you marry someone in the CIA, they don't work normal hours - but it does serve the theme of the episode quite well, highlighting Saul's inability to turn away from his work. Knock, knock. Carrie comes over and we're given probably the best and most shocking scene in the episode. In a surprise turn, she decides to come clean to Saul about her relationship with Brody. Patinkin owns the scene, from frustrated fury at her arrival and ensuing confession to his paternal and reassuring calm at the end. Before heading to the party, Saul continues to work his interrogation techniques on Mira but cannot seem to wear her down. It's quite sad really, thanks to the performances by both actors.
Their strained relationship is prodded by Ms. Gaines the moment they arrive, making me wonder if Elizabeth doesn't have a thing for Saul. Anyway, in come Brody and Jess looking like the perfect couple and in a rare moment of levity (at least, I thought it was funny), Gaines asks if Brody and Saul have met. Gaines continues her advances on Saul, telling him that she's a great listener if he's ever searching for an ear. However, he's more interested in what she has planned for the perfect couple (the Brodys), who themselves have begun to notice that everyone at the party seems to be acting a little too nice. They are all ushered into the library and it finally becomes clear what Brody is being groomed for after a congressional sex scandal is put on the television. Where do they hold Congress again? Oh right, the Capitol Building. On the way home from the party, a tipsy Jess laughs about the 'Congressman Dick Johnson Scandal' and the two share another nice moment together, once again muddying the waters as to where the Brody and Jess relationship might lead and proving that Lewis can have great chemistry with both his blonde and brunette co-stars (wait, blonde-brunette-redhead... is Homeland set in Riverdale?). The lovely night ends with the couple joining the kids and watching Ice Age as a family.
“This is a nightmare.”
This is where the terrorist plot starts to ramp up and also where the episode begins to fall apart for me (perhaps no coincidence). At Helen's place, she receives a call in the middle of the night and instantly picks it up. Of course, it's Walker calling and Galvez soon puts a trace on him as well as wakes Carrie from her slumber, - I don't believe for a second that Carrie would sleep through the call. Helen continues to talk to a silent Walker, using Lucas to keep him on the line and eventually he speaks. Just then, the CIA/FBI team locks in on Walker's position but when Helen sees Carrie approaching she decides to warn him. In one of the series' few action oriented sequences, executed quite well, the field agents chase Walker through numerous streets and back alleys while Carrie tries to call the shots through the team at Langley. Realizing that Walker has lead them to a local Mosque, Carrie warns them to back off and instead capture him by setting up a perimeter. However, her orders come through too late and two innocent Muslims are killed in a genuinely heart pounding moment. And then, the show wastes it by cutting away to Walker using the key to find the sniper rifle. Like I said earlier, with what we know about the terrorist plot and Walker's background, everyone must have known was what the key was for, so filming it as a big reveal comes across a little silly. Far from silly though, is the plan that FBI Agent Hall devises for handling the situation, which is declaring Walker a terrorist because then "what happened here won't matter much." Sadly, this is true.
The next morning, Brody is awoken by a text from Carrie. She's outside and has come to tell him about Walker before he hears it from the media in a few hours. The re-hash a lot of the same dialogue we've heard over the last two shows - apologies, confessions - but this time, through the subtle but brilliant performances, some ground has been gained. Perhaps it's just because Brody has learned some shocking and valuable information but he seems much more open to her words and Danes says so much in every little gesture. Jess interrupts the moment, forcing Brody back inside. At the same time, Saul arrives home just in time to catch Mira leaving for the airport in a cab even though he was supposed to have made her breakfast and driven her there himself. He finally realizes his Achilles Heel, "when they call, I go" and in the next scene, between him and his protege, Carrie reveals pretty much the same. She has come to learn that she's going to spend her entire life alone because, just like Saul, she can't get away from the work. It is her life and it's a solitary one, full of classified information and very few people to trust. Oh, and it looks like you can put Brody back on that list of people not to trust.
At the end of the show, we watch 'The Diplomat' arrive home to find his security has been breached. Someone is sitting in his chair, all Bond-villainy, and it's Brody. And he's just now had enough with Abu Nazir. Yes, Brody has been in contact and working with Abu Nazir but it seems that they've not been completely forthright with him. I must admit, it was the first time I found myself almost completely detached from a plot twist. The ending played out and instead of being punched in the gut, as the show tends to do, I was, well, kind of scratching my head. Really? I think that was the word that popped out of my mouth instead of being left speechless like usual. Still, there were plenty of moments to enjoy before the ending; the intricately structured opening interrogation sequence, the few scenes between Danes and Lewis or any with Patinkin and an increasingly intense terrorist plot. Also, we leave Carrie in a very vulnerable place at the end of the episode but, with what came next, I'm sure her resolve will be strengthened in the coming weeks. Even though I was happy where we stood at the end of 'The Weekend' and the twist at the end of tonight's episode seems too much, I'm still really interested in seeing how this all unfolds. That's what I think is important to hold onto even if the final twist left me a bit sour - namely, waiting for the show when Carrie's suspicions are focused back on Brody, which will hopefully lead to a satisfying showdown. Something tells me, that may be seasons away and yet, every time you think you have Homeland pegged, it likes to prove you wrong.
Homeland airs on Showtime, Sundays at 10 p.m. ET/PT. It stars Claire Danes, Damian Lewis, Mandy Patinkin and Morena Baccarin.