Episodes of Homeland do not tend to drag. If anything, the show’s plot could be said to rocket forward almost haphazardly quickly, and even its more contemplative episodes are consistently engaging. But I’m not sure there’s been another episode this season that went by as quickly as “Broken Hearts.” It was such an extraordinary, intense hour of television that I was shocked when I realized there were only a few minutes left. Some people will surely complain about plausibility, but I was so wrapped up in what was happening – all of which felt utterly psychologically plausible to me – that I just didn’t care about whether Brody would realistically have been able to sneak around the Vvice Ppresident’s residence like that. If that’s what it took to get us that last scene between him and Walden, I’ll take it.
One of the things that makes Homeland such fascinating and addictive viewing is its eagerness to constantly redefine its own terms, both narratively and morally speaking. You never know quite where any of the characters stand in relation to one another, or how you as a viewer stand in relation to the characters and their actions. Is Brody a sympathetic victim of trauma or a terrorist who deserves our condemnation? Is Carrie a brilliant-but-flawed operative or a dangerous lunatic? Is Abu Nazir pure evil or merely misguidedly heartfelt? Week to week, our answers to these questions might change multiple times – and yet this never feels like the show failing to commit. It’s a testament, rather, to its commitment to the moral gray area in which its characters tend to reside.
All season, we’ve watched the messy consequences of the invasion of the political into the personal sphere. Brody’s family life has suffered enormously as a result of his involvement first with Abu Nazir and then the CIA. Carrie has no personal life to speak of, and nor does Saul, because they allowed their (inherently political) work to consume their lives. So the personal necessarily develops within the political. Most notably, Carrie and Brody’s love affair is couched within the framework of their technically professional engagement with each other under the auspices of the CIA, but as this episode showed, their inappropriate conduct is not the sole instance of the political becoming personal. In the universe of Homeland, everything political ultimately turns on the personal. The world is driven forward not by rational thought but by emotion. Dar Adal tells Saul in the episode’s opening scene that he misses the Cold War, because there were “rules. The Soviets didn’t shoot us, we didn’t shoot them.” A conflict can have rules when it isn’t mired in sentiment. When it is, they go straight out the window.
The overarching impact of this thesis is the undermining of ideology – both of Abu Nazir’s jihadist rhetoric and Carrie’s patriotic equivalent. These are characters who claim to care deeply about big ideas, who trade in the annihilation of an entire way of life and the protection of that way of life, respectively. But what really animates them? They began as idealists, it seems: Nazir was an active terrorist before his son’s death, and Carrie was an obsessive CIA operative long before meeting Brody and falling for his dubious charms. But they are older, now, and they’ve been in this game a long time. They may believe they are still ideologues, but they aren’t, really: the things they care about have changed.
The scene between Carrie and Nazir in the warehouse was one of the season’s strongest, and it drew its power from the fact that these two characters are so very similar, despite Carrie’s protests to the contrary. Her outraged protest that they “have nothing in common!” when he suggests they both love Brody is sadly misguided. The stories they swap about attacks the other’s side has launched against their people show this. The fundamental difference between their organizations is that Nazir trades in deeply emotional, personal rhetoric, and demands deep personal engagement and sacrifice from his followers, and that the United States commits horrific acts of violence remotely from thousands of miles away. Carrie sees his emotional manipulation of his followers as barbaric; he sees America’s cold-blooded, impersonal annihilation of his people as inhuman. But though that may be Carrie’s country’s MO, it’s not hers anymore. She’s too wrapped up in her own life and feelings.
And so is Brody. In last week’s episode, his conversation with Abu Nazir was carefully edited so the audience couldn’t tell whether or not he was telling the truth. I was inclined to believe him; many others were not, and with good reason. But we find out pretty early on in this episode that he was telling Carrie the truth, or at least most of it. He did betray Nazir – and has paid the price for it, not politically but personally. Nazir hits him where he knows he’ll hurt: he uses Carrie to get to him. But because of who these people are and the positions they occupy, the two are inseparable. There are no casual dalliances for these people, no inconsequential love affairs.
There’s no escaping this kind of personal engagement – not specifically of the kind Carrie and Brody are engaged in, which is undeniably inadvisable, but in a more general sense. The political system can’t escape the personal; it simply has to be strong enough to accommodate and then withstand it. But that’s not how politics work, certainly not now, in this country. When Brody tells Vice President Walden that he’s withdrawing his name from vice presidential consideration because of his family, Walden can’t believe him: “Fuck your family!” he says. “This is the second-highest office in the land.”
Brody gave up Walden to Abu Nazir in order to protect Carrie, and he aided and abetted that murder after Walden undercut his relationships with his family. Brody remembers, as do we, that this is a man who callously murdered countless children, including Nazir’s own son. Brody knows he should get somebody to help Walden when his pacemaker begins to fail, but he takes a sick pleasure in watching him die instead. Walden was a cancer, and that showed in his personal life. Dana may think she’s gotten the short end of the stick with her family, but she doesn’t need to look farther than Finn to find somebody whose luck has been infinitely worse.
It’s easy to root for Brody in this scene, even while simultaneously understanding that what he’s doing is wrong. WBecause we’ve gotten swept up in the personal side of things, too. We want him to give in to Nazir to save Carrie because we love Carrie; we don’t much mind him killing Walden because Walden deserves to die. That’s the real danger of this mindset. It’s a kind of magical thinking: murder is murder is murder, no matter who commits it, and why. Dana knows that, and it seems like Finn does, too. But do their fathers? Does Carrie? Do we?
Odds and Ends
For a CIA director, Estes is really a remarkably bad liar. (Insert timely joke here.) This episode featured some of the most (amusingly) impressive blocking to hide Claire Danes’ pregnancy thus far. The scene where she was trying to get herself loose from Nazir’s restraints was a feat. The little smile on Brody’s face as he watched Carrie run away was downright heartbreaking. That man needs to be in so much therapy. So basically the show killed Dick Cheney. I wonder how satisfying that was for the writers? Next week’s episode is titled – I am not making this up – “The Motherfucker with a Turban.” Long live cable television.