Apparently There Are Only Four CIA Agents in All of America

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Dec. 9 2013 9:08 AM

The Creepy Incompetence of the CIA

Apparently there are only four agents in all of America, but still, why send Carrie to Tehran?

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Damian Lewis in Homeland.

Courtesy of Showtime

Around the time Carrie drove Brody into the Canadian wilderness, she stopped being a good CIA agent. Her priority ceased to be the CIA and became Brody. Never has that been quite as clear as in “Big Man in Tehran,” this season’s penultimate episode. She allowed Brody to destroy a CIA mission (though by a fluke it did not get destroyed) and she did it not because deep in her genius guts she “knew” he was still a CIA asset, but because she absolutely could not bear for him to die. Her feelings do her credit—everything else aside, I really believe she’s stupid in love with the guy—but she should never be able to work at the CIA again. That she will, somehow, likely still be working for the CIA come Season 4 is now one of the crazier things about Homeland, which is really saying something.

Carrie has also helped turn everyone she works with into terrible CIA agents. All season, Saul has been undercutting and undermining Carrie, yet he has left her on an inexplicably long leash with regard to Brody. Why send Carrie to Tehran at all? Judging from Homeland, there are only four CIA agents in all of America, but even so, one of those other two have got to be better suited to orchestrating logistics than Brody’s true love. There’s no CIA asset already embedded in Tehran who could have met with the Mossad agents to pick up a poison needle? And while Saul is acting like he didn’t know Carrie would do anything for Brody, Quinn is keeping her very relevant pregnancy a secret. Despite her denials last week, Carrie’s feelings are even more subjective about Brody now that he is also her baby daddy.

All of this incompetence, coupled with a cuckoo extra-legal scheme, is making the CIA feel really creepy—which I like. Carrying out “close quarter assassinations.” Using Israel in complex and uncomfortable ways (Javadi’s sneer when he recognizes the cyanide shot as “Israeli” was more geopolitically complex than anything else that’s happened this season). Always trying to play catch up with violence. They’re starting to seem like a sinister organization again! Against this backdrop, Carrie’s conversation with Fara’s uncle takes a menacing tone. “So [Fara’s] CIA too. Working against her country,” the uncle says to Carrie. Carrie assures him that working for the CIA is “working for her country.” But given the CIA’s record in deposing foreign governments that’s pretty rich. And coming from Carrie, it’s even richer: 15 minutes later, she completely ignores a CIA order and foils their attempt to kill Brody because she thinks that, of all things, is unacceptable. (Maybe next season, instead of Carrie and the CIA, it’ll be Carrie and Brody vs. the CIA.)

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As for Brody: I had a hard time following his emotional arc this week. This is a little unfair, but watching Damian Lewis do his thing, I just kept thinking about Bryan Cranston on Breaking Bad. Cranston’s performance as Walter White is monumental for many reasons, but one is that he was TV’s all-time best liar. His lies were totally transparent to the audience, while being utterly believable to the show’s other characters. Since last year’s bonkers episode “Broken Hearts,” Lewis has been the opposite: opaque to the audience and seemingly unbelievable to the other characters on the show. Watching Brody try to convince the Iranians of his backstory, I couldn’t believe that they would have believed him. As with “Broken Hearts,” something was off: Was it supposed to seem like he was lying, because he was, or was it supposed to seem like he wasn’t, which it didn’t?

I had even less of a handle on what was going on in Brody’s head afterward. I think there are two options. The first is that Brody was with the CIA the whole time and refused to be flown out of Tehran without killing Akbari because that would have denied him his chance to be “redeemed.” And, on a tactical level, if he left Iran before killing Akbari, the chances that the U.S. government would continue to be kind to him were very slim. The way Brody says “redeemed” to Akbari—like he has a very clear idea of what qualifies—supports this theory, that he always planned to kill Akbari. But if that were true, Brody could have said as much to Carrie when she called him, instead of telling her to scram.

The other option, and the one I prefer—which, by the way, means it is almost certainly not what was intended—is that Brody had doubts. After his first chance to kill Akbari vanished, Brody realized that the place where everyone calls him “Nee-ko-las” is the place he wants to be. Then the CIA tried to kill him, and he decided he might as well go all in with the Iranians. As he told Carrie, he couldn’t really live in America anyway. So he went to Akbari with the intention of selling Javadi out. He took a huge risk telling Akbari the CIA’s plan—Akbari could have just walked out of the room immediately after getting the intel. But, instead, Brody changed his mind and re-committed to killing Akbari, after Akbari brought up Nazir. Right in Akbrai’s office, Nazir and Akbari had discussed turning Brody into a “sword,” right in that room they weaponized Brody and destroyed him and Dana. And so Brody flipped back, smashed Akbari over the head with an ash tray, strangled him, and then called Carrie to get him out of one more insane fix.

Willa Paskin is Slate’s television critic.

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