Homeland’s Smashmortion Problem

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Nov. 17 2013 10:00 PM

Homeland’s Smashmortion Problem

Would Carrie Mathison really have a baby?

Jason Butler Harner as Paul Franklin and Claire Danes as Carrie Mathison in Homeland.
Jason Butler Harner as Paul Franklin and Claire Danes as Carrie Mathison in Homeland.

Photo by Kent Smith/Showtime

We’re all the way through the looking glass with Homeland at this point—the looking glass being the divider between a serious-minded, thoughtful, TV series and a gonzo show that makes only occasional sense anchored by a great performance and some effective, cheap thrills. If I stop looking over my shoulder back at what once was and could have been, and just embrace the reduced reality of current Homeland—that it is now a show where the boyfriends of minor characters turn out to be spies and Carrie and Quinn quote Speed to one another (“Yeah, no shit, you shot me!”)—I can admit that I found this episode goofily entertaining. If Homeland isn’t going to be mentally nutritious in any way, then, yes, please, let’s get Brody back in the continental United States! It’s where we’ve been heading all along.

Willa Paskin Willa Paskin

Willa Paskin is Slate’s television critic.

Saul Berenson continues to behave like an ambitious careerist who doesn’t care very much about Carrie. For the duration of this episode, and probably earlier, Saul knew Brody’s whereabouts and was scheming with Dar Adal to nab him. When Saul brings Brody home, he will not be an acting CIA chief on the way out; he’ll be the acting CIA chief who 1) caught the most wanted man in the world and 2) has a top secret and convincing (“convincing”) plan for regime change in Iran. (To me, this particular plot point is the most LOL thing that Homeland has done all season. America topples the Iranian government from the inside with a bloodless coup dreamed up by CIA, the specifics of which can be contained in a file folder.) Saul may claim he’s OK with being out of a job in nine days, but his actions suggest otherwise. He’s hanging onto his title with everything he has.

And Saul is not, I don’t believe, bringing Brody home with any intention of clearing him. Instead, the “something’s not right” that Carrie is sensing is not a symptom of Carrie being completely irrational about Brody—even though, of course, she is—but her superspy Spidey-sense jangling. After Saul and Carrie fought about Brody, Saul soothed her, apologized, told her he wanted to clear Brody too—all while he was plotting to reduce the evidence that could clear Brody into an acid-covered corpse.

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This furthers the dynamic that has been at the show’s forefront all season, even though during the first four episodes it wasn’t “real”: Saul vs. Carrie. Saul and Carrie pretended to the world that they were at odds, with Saul selling Carrie out to committees and then committing her. Now they will likely cease pretending and go at it for real. Carrie is more dedicated than ever to clearing Brody’s name. Saul gave her his assurances he wanted to clear Brody’s name too, but those were likely insincere. Soon, a heroin-addled Brody will be back on American soil, awaiting a show trial that will restore the glory of the CIA.

Meanwhile, Carrie, who just willingly got herself shot trying to remove Brody from suspicion, will do everything she possibly can to free him, more motivated than every because she is carrying his child. Which brings up, in the immortal words of Knocked Up, Homeland’s shmashmortion problem. When Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up was released, there was much discussion about the lack of discussion of abortion as an option for Katherine Heigl’s pregnant character. Knocked Up, at least, was a movie about two people who don’t know each other very well who decide to have a baby, so not having an abortion was the plot engine of the entire movie. The same cannot be said about Homeland.

To state the obvious: Carrie Mathison is a fictional character. I do not “know” what she would do, because she doesn’t “do” anything a room full of writers don’t write for her. She’s not a real person. And if she were a real person it would still be difficult to predict how she would react to finding herself pregnant with her true love’s baby. And yet, the Carrie Mathison we came to know over the first two seasons of the show would, I think, have an abortion— or at least very seriously consider having one, and not in an “I just got so wasted for six weeks hoping this situation might take care of itself” kind of way.

This is what I thought I knew about Carrie: She is a spiritual workaholic. Not only does she work all the time—which she does—but she is zealous about that work. She is a believer. Other people go to church; Carrie worships at the altar of the CIA, monastically devoted to stopping another attack. We know that Carrie is aware that her mental heath condition is inheritable. And we also know that she is aware that living with and relying upon someone with her disease is extraordinarily difficult. Last year, she told Brody that her own mother had left right after Carrie started college and never reappeared. Carrie said she could hardly blame her: Living with someone as unstable as her father was beyond difficult. Imagine, as Carrie surely has, an infant being entirely reliant on someone as unstable as Carrie.

But, now, Carrie, apparently, is going to have a baby. I think that this is pretty aggressively at odds with what the Carrie of the first two seasons of this show would have done, but it makes a certain amount of sense when you remember what Homeland has become: a love story above all else. All season, Carrie has been heartsick and sick, wounded and worked up. Even in private, when she should have been crowing about her incredible scheme, she has seemed broken—and that’s because she now cares more about Brody than anything else, and can never be satisfied while Brody is the most wanted man in the world. Carrie is now a zealot about Brody, not for foiling the next attack.

People change. Carrie’s priority was once America’s safety. It is now her on-the-lam-terrorist baby daddy. The people who write Carrie continue to believe that this Carrie, the love-struck, star-crossed Carrie, is the most compelling, interesting, resonant Carrie. I disagree. I want the old Carrie back, the one who would have had an abortion and then gone back to desperately trying to make the world a safer place in her own crazy way. I guess this means, all well-intentioned apathy aside, that I still wish Homeland would get back on the right side of the looking glass.

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