The end of "Achilles Heel," last week's episode of Homeland, didn't just shake up the series, it shook me up. The ending was, without a doubt, the biggest twist of the season and, unfortunately, the least compelling. Perhaps it's because they finally crossed the line from ambiguity to certainty with Brody's character - in terms of his past at least. As far as his future? Well, that's still very much up in the air as he renounced his connections to Abu Nazir only seconds after us having learned (for certain) that they existed. Yet, this week with "Crossfire," it's not about exploring the ambiguity of Brody's future but instead going back to fill in the gaps in his past. Carrie, however, lives only in the present and she fully shifts her attention away from Brody, setting her sights on newly anointed number one threat Tom Walker.
"Please forgive me but my job right now, my only job, is to catch this man Walker."
Carrie's stuck in a tough position this week as she has to try to contain the mess that her (well, the FBI) team created chasing Walker as well as extract any possible bits of information from the Imam of the Mosque - which while be incredibly difficult since he's screaming for justice. More like calmly but firmly insisting on justice, all during a press conference held outside the crime scene/place of worship. Carrie sneaks past the ruckus and meets with FBI Agent Hall inside and, after some cliched jabs at each other, he proves he's not completely useless by pointing out how Walker must have been to the Mosque before because he knew his way around. This is pretty much confirmed when Carrie meets with the Imam to plead for his help but he wants justice - meaning the FBI coming clean and admitting their culpability in the deaths of the two Muslims.
In fact, Carrie's whole narrative throughout the episode is rather repetitive and, uh, less than compelling. She spends most of the time talking with the Imam (and his wife), bickering with Hall or talking with Saul. Yeah, not that exciting. Carrie meets Hall at a crummy diner and they again go through the motions, this time with her trying to convince him, and by extension the FBI, to accept the blame and admit they were wrong. Of course, that's not going to happen and you might be wondering why (we are watching basically the same scene we already saw) Carrie would think she could possibly get them to admit anything but we soon learn that she tapes this supposed off the record exchange in hopes of black-mailing them into coming forward. She brings it to Estes and gets shut down. Obviously. She slips into Saul's office to sneak a pill (ridiculous) and is almost seen by him when he arrives shortly after. Close call.
Saul does give her an idea though - to go to the Imam's home and have the same conversation with him all over again! This time stressing how bad it would be for the Mosque if it turns out he was withholding information on Walker and the Marine sniper does something terrible. Nope. He doesn't budge but you do get the sense that his wife might be interested in the card that Carrie leaves behind. Sure enough, she arranges a meeting to tip Carrie in the direction of the seedy Saudi Arabian Diplomat. This reveal should probably feel more exciting but after the big twists of the last few weeks, it barely registers which is really too bad because it was the small moments like these that made the show so compelling in the first place. In fact, the whole show felt a little off, even though it could really be seen as a return to form. It was definitely a return to a slower pace, yet there wasn't the same emphasis on character development for Carrie's narrative to give it any emotional weight. She just went from point A to point B. However, "Crossfire" took almost the opposite approach to Brody.
"Have you forgotten?"
While Carrie was suffering from repetitive scene disorder, Brody's narrative wasn't much more interesting this week. The show opens with Brody at the grocery store and, in a twist on the usual 'dad lost shopping' gag, they play on the fact that he's been missing for 8 years and our culture has ridiculous things like vitamin water now which he, of course, has never heard of. But enough jokes, in the parking lot things get rough (a little too rough if you intend you release the man back out into Congressional candidacy - but that's just me) as Brody is beaten and kidnapped. Were there more Americans in that group? Perhaps. Anyway, Jess soon tries to reach him but his phone is lying on the parking garage floor. Finally, a legitimate excuse for not being home when he said he would. In an interesting choice, if not without its problems, a large portion of Brody's thread takes place in flashback as he's being drugged in Abu Nazir's care.
The title card tells us that it was three years ago when Nazir moved Brody from his horrible cell to his 'new home,' a nice little apartment complete with a new job. Nazir holds a knife in front of the dirty, hairy and weak Brody but only to cut his restraints. He then sets the knife down and turns his back. How trusting. Note the similar tactics employed by Saul and Nazir, the kill them with kindness (and knowledge) approach - even if Nazir likes to rough them up a little first to wear them down. Actually, Saul probably does too. After he's cleaned up, Nazir shows Brody just how trusting he can be since this new job will be teaching his son how to speak English. And this is where the episode falls apart for me and not necessarily because of the giant leap of faith it would take on Nazir's part to leave his son in this position - unless he doesn't care for him or that is not in fact his son - but because it's the first link a a causal chain that leads to several events that just don't feel earned.
Brody and the young boy's relationship develops too fast for us, it being only over the course of four or five short scenes (that are given the appearance of time by cross-cutting them with Carrie's repetitive encounters), so when the big moment comes and the adorable young boy hugs Brody it doesn't matter that the kid is cute or Damian Lewis is a great actor because there hasn't been time for us to buy into that relationship. We're given maybe fifteen minutes. That leads to an even bigger problem because we're told that the school bombing which kills young Isa - and that the US (allegedly) used Nazir to deflect the blame - is the reason that Brody turns against his homeland (shoe title!). I don't buy it, at least not the way they shoehorned it in there after nine episodes of meticulous development. Also, it's still entirely possible that Nazir is behind the school bombing - a sinister development that I hope to see in the near future especially since it seems that Brody is back on his team after a little coaching - they need to go head to head. But for now, Brody's their good soldier and ready for the final scene when Jess tells him that the Vice Presidents office left him message - something that everyone watching was expecting even if they played it as some kind of big reveal.
"You want to see this thing in action? Just about got it in the sweet spot."
While Carrie is doing her best trying to find Tom Walker, bouncing back and forth between FBI Agent Hall and the Imam at the local Mosque, he's out in the country having a little target practice on office supplies. That is, until Dan the hunter shows up and surprises him. Again, I can't help but feel this thread is wrought with laziness and cliches. How many times have we seen a scene where someone stumbles upon (or does business with) the assassin and then pays the price? Jack Black in The Jackal comes to mind. How about everybody that sees John Malkovich in In the Line of Fire? The second Dan stepped on the scene you had to know he was toast. So, at least that suspense vacuum didn't take up too much of the episode.
As you can probably tell, I'm pretty disappointed with this week's episode. While it was nice to see Homeland return to the slower burn after a few weeks that were very twist dependent, the character work wasn't as focused or believable as it had been in the first few shows. Carrie didn't have much to do this week but bounce from minor plot point to minor plot point before she and Saul finally got a decent tip. And it seems like it should have been a big week for Brody's character and, to be fair, we did get significant insight into his motivations and how he could have been turned - unfortunately, I just didn't get invested in his relationship with Isa and therefore his big reason for plotting against the US seems really thin. "Crossfire" was a pretty mixed bag and I can't help but feel like the writers, for the first time, missed the mark. This is the second straight episode that was worse than the one before it... not a good sign for Homeland coming into the homestretch.
Homeland airs on Showtime, Sundays at 10 p.m. ET/PT. It stars Claire Danes, Damian Lewis, Mandy Patinkin and Morena Baccarin.