Homeland’s Back, and So Is Crazy Carrie

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Sept. 29 2013 11:07 PM

Whoa, Saul

Bonds are broken and crazy Carrie is back in the season premiere of Homeland.

Sarita Choudhury as Mira and F. Murray Abraham as Dar Adal in Homeland
Sarita Choudhury as Mira and F. Murray Abraham as Dar Adal in Homeland.

Photo courtesy of Kent Smith/Showtime.

The last scene of the season premiere of Homeland, in which Carrie Mathison watches Saul scapegoat her to save the CIA, is the bravura action sequence of the episode, all due respect to Peter Quinn’s ethical boondoggle of a covert mission. Danes’ face, which all episode has been communicating Carrie’s heightened, manic state, flashes through disbelief, anger, and hurt without Danes saying a word. The scene, painful as it is, is a relief. Look! Homeland can be moving without crazy plot twists, Abu Nazir, or Brody. Moreover, as sad as Carrie’s predicament is, the premiere makes a pretty convincing case that selling Carrie out is exactly what Saul needs to do. Homeland, welcome back to the land of psychological complexity

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Willa Paskin is Slate’s television critic.

As the episode begins, 58 days after Brody’s car exploded at Langley killing 219 people, Saul, acting head of the CIA, is still steadfastly supporting Carrie. Has he put aside his own questions about where she spent the 14 hours after the explosion? Has he bought her bogus “I passed out in the bathroom” line? Or does he not want to know? Whatever it is, he’s fielding unhinged phone calls from his protégé and avowing he “won’t throw her under the bus.” But every reality TV watcher knows what that means: He’s going to throw her under the bus. And the episode, even though it’s told largely from Carrie’s point of view, explains why.

The big theme of “Tin Man Is Down” is the consequence of blindness. “There’s a real issue other than that my daughter tried to kill herself?” a stressed out Jessica Brody asks the psychiatrist, who maybe a little too sternly replies, “Yes, you missed it.” Peter shoots without looking and ends up killing a little kid. (That’s the second instance of Homeland using the death of a small boy to traumatize a main character and question America’s military integrity. Hopefully it’s the last.) Carrie tells her father she’s gone off her meds because they made her miss the bombing: “It was right in front of my eyes and I never saw it coming.”

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But this line of reasoning is a symptom of Carrie’s madness—evidence of an overblown faith in the genius of her own insanity. Yes, last time Carrie went off her meds, she built herself a wall of crazy and figured out that Abu Nazir’s “fallow period” was when he was indoctrinating Brody. But that past success does not ensure she would have “seen” something this time around. We, in the audience, have become accustomed to thinking of Carrie’s skills as a CIA agent as inextricably linked to her mental illness, but that doesn’t make her bipolarity a superpower. When she tells the congressional committee that she was outsmarted by Abu Nazir, what she really means is that medicated Carrie was outsmarted—she’s still holding onto the self-preserving notion that unmedicated Carrie would have outmatched him. Saul, Jessica, Dana, and the CIA may be dealing with disaster using assassinations, denial, and topless photos, but Carrie’s the one who is intentionally going crazier, because she believes her insanity makes her a seer.

The unsoundness of this strategy is all over the episode: Carrie can’t see a damn thing, including just how unstable her new routine of running, alcohol, and casual sex makes her. (The man who appears for about 20 seconds on-screen, 10 of which are to bang Danes on the stairs, is referred to in the credits as “Guy,” which is very polite.) She shows up to a congressional hearing, where members are looking to crucify the CIA, and she can’t stop defending her most-wanted boyfriend. When word of Brody’s affair with an unnamed agent leaks to the papers, Carrie runs into a crowded restaurant in the middle of D.C. and starts threatening Saul, throwing around Brody’s name and a copy of the newspaper. (I assume Homeland omitted the part of the story where a D.C. blogger ID’d Carrie Mathison as the previously anonymous woman.)

In addition to making things worse, Carrie is not blameless. Yes, Nazir outsmarted the entire CIA. Yes, the entire CIA knew all about Brody’s past. Yes, Saul was running the op. Yes, if Carrie had once lied to her superiors about being mentally ill and having a relationship with Brody, she wasn’t lying at the end. And yet, Carrie has never shared with the CIA the fact that Brody killed Vice President Walker. In the scheme of things, the death of the drone-happy VP seems like no big deal, but if the CIA knew about it, do you think they really would have let Brody attend his memorial service? Without checking his car?

The commanding committee chairman Sen. Andrew Lockhart (Tracy Letts) may feel like a jerky Walker stand-in, a suit who just doesn’t understand the complexities of intelligence work, who is looking to get some hard truths when there are only squishy partial truths, but he’s in the right: The CIA is in full ass-covering mode and if there is no “truth” they are still telling a bunch of lies. (An aside: Someone at Homeland must have seen and loved the recent Broadway staging of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, which starred both Letts and Amy Morton, who appears in this episode as Carrie’s lawyer.) If there had been no bomb, the twists and turns and risks of running Brody would have paid off. There was a bomb. Those risks didn’t pay off. We know that Saul and Carrie and David Estes (RIP) did their best, but their best was, actually, not good enough. Even if no one else could have done better, they all deserve to be fired.

Saul does not want this, and so over the course of the episode, he comes to the conclusion that Dar Adal has been pushing on him: Carrie, bus, under. Saul is righteous and reasonable, but like the tin man in the episode title, he can forgo his heart. He may have angst about the agency assassinating people, but he still orders six assassinations. I believe in Saul’s integrity enough to think that if he’s willing to kill six men to give the CIA a “big honking victory,” he is willing to sell out Carrie Mathison in order to save the CIA from dissolution. As much as he cares about both Carrie and her career, neither can matter more to him than six souls.  

If Saul is still on Carrie’s side when she storms in at lunch, beyond unhinged, it’s his conversation with Mira that changes his mind. “Your indecision is paralyzing you,” Mira tells him, speaking not just about his job, or the potential op, but their personal relationship. “Apparently,” he replies, while still not kissing her. If Saul can’t screw his wife, he can screw Carrie, and he does, sacrificing her at the congressional hearing to save the CIA. It’s a horrible moment to watch, a breach of Homeland’s real love story—the friendship of Saul and Carrie—but we’re not as crazy as Carrie: If we can understand her pain, we absolutely should not share her disbelief.

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