Homeland, Season 2

Homeland 210, On Soldiers and Suicide
Talking television.
Dec. 3 2012 9:54 AM

Homeland, Season 2

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Saul Berenson is George Smiley with an Old Testament beard.

Jackson Pace as Chris Brody and Damian Lewis as Nicholas Brody in Homeland
Jackson Pace as Chris Brody and Damian Lewis as Nicholas Brody in Homeland

Photograph by Kent Smith/Showtime.

June Thomas: Chad, last night's IM was so much fun, and there's still so much to talk about, let's go another round.

The word soldier was bandied about quite a bit in this episode. Dar Adul even used it to question Saul’s manliness. Peter Quinn’s a soldier, he said, but Saul’s “afraid to get his hands dirty.” Saul counters that he prefers to “figure the problem out, not obliterate it.” The more I think about it, the more that seems to be the crux of the episode. Dar Adul’s crew—Estes, Quinn, and whoever else we’ve not yet met—are soldiers, ready to obliterate our problems without addressing the underlying causes. But what’s Saul in this great game of professional analogies? A doctor? A poet? (Adul did say he was "too sensitive for this line of work.")

Chad Briggs: Abu Nazir also claimed the term soldier for himself. I interpreted it as a way for him and Dar Adul to justify what they did, though it is really a dodge, since soldiers by definition have to play by rules and wear identifiable uniforms (Hague Conventions and so forth). It's a stretch for Dar Adul to complain about the loss of rules when he doesn't play by them in any case and when he denigrates Saul's commitment to his job and his ability to carry it out. When Dar Adul remarked that he was surprised that Saul has lasted as long as he has, Saul's agreement was almost an admission not so much that he wasn't skilled enough, but that his conscience often got in the way. In the case of Nazir, his targeting of civilians is in many senses the very definition of a terrorist, and his use of soldier, I think, is meant to describe his commitment more than anything.

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Is it ironic, then, that the only two real soldiers in the show, Brody and Mike (who in fairness are Marines, not soldiers), suffer from much more self-doubt than Nazir or Dar Adul?

Thomas: Yes, it's interesting that Brody and Mike, the only ones, other than Carrie, to question the system's sneaky workings—Brody many times, but especially around Dana's hit-and-run predicament, and Mike with the Tom Walker situation—are also the only ones who have been in conventional combat. It reminds me of Rex the Rich Guy's dismissal of Walden and others who haven’t been to war a few weeks ago—they just don't understand.

Briggs: Yes, we can contrast the cold-bloodedness of Dar Adul, Nazir, and Quinn with the worries and conscience of the others. I've wondered about the ability of Brody to keep it together, or at least to give the appearance of keeping it together, after all that's happened to him. To be a POW, broken to turn against his own country, forced to kill his sniper partner (twice!), then broken again by his daughter and then Carrie to work for the CIA ... I could not imagine anyone not being suicidal by that point, especially for a Marine for whom loyalty is everything. Either Brody doesn't show it, or the writers have dropped Walker as his ghost. I have to believe that it would continue to haunt him.

As to what Saul is, do we even know yet? Much of his history is still a mystery, though in the context of the show, he's sort of the George Smiley of the CIA.

Thomas: George Smiley with an Old Testament beard is a great description of Saul. As far as Smiley’s enemies (and frenemies) were concerned, Smiley’s Achilles’ heel (that term again) was his unfaithful wife Ann. Saul’s weakness is Carrie, who, judging from the “Next week on Homeland” coming attractions reel, is about to return to full Cassandra mode. And will Saul be in a position to help her?

Briggs: I think Saul's wife Mira was also his Achilles' heel, and he took on Carrie as an obvious devotion after she left. You mentioned in an earlier IM that everyone should have just stayed at home, and had they done so they would not be in such precarious positions now. (That even applies to Dana.) I think Saul, in failing to do the right thing with Mira, ended up trying to do what was right for Carrie (even passing her classified info to show that she was right about Brody), but that put him at odds with Estes and the other Lord Voldemorts of Langley.

Thomas: I just had a vision of Carrie and Brody, together at last, but spending the rest of their lives in an institution. For both of them, it would be a sort of Catch 24: going insane would be a sign of sanity. They've gone through more than any person should.

Speaking of suicide, it was cheeky of Carrie to razz Abu Nazir’s suicidal tendencies—you knows you’ll never leave the United States alive, she tells him—given what she attempted just a few weeks ago. She knows from nihilism. And despair.

Briggs: It's hard to imagine a future for Carrie or Brody, especially when we're left wondering how they will survive to Season 3. Perhaps Homeland will be like Hamlet, and we'll lose all the characters by the end and have to witness the collapse of the U.S. government by some visiting officials.

Thomas: The last line of Hamlet, of course, is "Go, bid the soldiers shoot."

It was striking that when Brody finally knew he could speak freely to the vice president, he told him that he was breaking with him because he wanted “to feel clean again.” And when Finn had his confessional with Dana, he talked about those “few brief seconds” every morning when he felt free. Maybe, like Saul, Brody and Finn are “sensitive.” (Dana is the most sensitive of all, of course, because she won’t take on the pollution of deception even for a short time.) These sensitive types can’t live in the dirty world that people like Estes and Quinn inhabit.  

Briggs: That was one of the rare moments of honesty in the show, particularly for a character like Brody, who has been so mysterious all throughout both seasons. The intensity of Lewis' portrayal there was striking, and I'm not sure how many actors could pull off what he and Danes do in this show. He went from being indecisive in the apartment and the car, to frantic in the office, to dangerously lucid once the VP was having the heart attack.

I wonder how much Vice President Walden is meant to be a caricature of a certain former vice president, perhaps as a way of addressing the U.S. actions in Iraq? After a conflict it's always difficult to revisit the issues it raises, much as M*A*S*H tried to talk about Vietnam while being set in Korea, is Homeland looking into the collective conscience of the U.S. and its actions the past 10 years?

Thomas: The evidence being Walden’s dicky ticker? That theory strikes me as right. In the oddly ahistorical world of Homeland (some bits of the real world pertain-—like Attorney General Eric Holder's photo on the penitentiary warden's wall a couple of weeks ago, and last week Nazir mentioned Osama Bin Laden—but for the most part real issues and people are absent), that kind of distance is exactly what the show needs to examine live issues. It's a flaw, though. Walden never seemed like that strong of a presidential candidate in the first place, but if he had a bad heart—and his medical records would be released, so his pacemaker would be public knowledge—he'd surely be doomed. That certain former vice president was viable only because his age and health issues guaranteed he'd never run for the top job.

Briggs: I think it's very difficult to raise questions about the legality and ethics of actions like drone strikes, and in the past comedy or satire was the safest way to approach thorny issues. To do so in a drama is far more challenging, especially when the show is meant to be both contemporary and portraying a historical-type character at the same time. It’s obvious why the president is never shown, except in the opening credits, and why the Homeland vice president is a very different man from one would expect of Joe Biden. But the pacemaker plotline seemed too obviously a way of saying, "Hey, before this guy leaves the show, we're really talking about Dick Cheney here."

Thomas: It wasn't all gloom and doom, though. Even in the middle of this very tense, super-serious episode, I loved the swipe at jazz: Carrie fiddles with her radio dial, and as soon as she finds a trumpet solo, her car gets “smashed to shit,” as I believe Saul put it.

But my favorite line of the episode was when the CIA analysts looked at photos of Abu Nazir driving a rental van. “Probably used a fake ID,” someone said. You think? I love the idea of Abu Nazir using his real ID. He’d tell the rental agent, “I need something I can broadside a former CIA agent with. Nothing too big, I want to stun, not kill, her.” He’d show his passport. And under “Profession,” it’d say, “Terrorist.”

Briggs: I'm sure he would have requested the loss-damage waiver, too, knowing that he would likely need it.

Getting back to our conversation about technology last night, is it odd that we can clearly see “Skype” on the telephone video feed? It was one thing when Fringe did that with Sprint, but what are we supposed to think here? "Nine out of 10 terrorists rely on Skype when needing a secure ransom call."

Thomas: I didn't even notice that! Television has had some truly heinous product placements of late (a ridiculous Surface spot ruined the normally great Suburgatory last week). At least we know the company didn't pay for that particular endorsement.

June Thomas is a Slate culture critic and editor of Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section. 

Chad Briggs is the strategy director at GlobalInt and former chair of the U.S. Air Force Minerva Initiative. Follow him on Twitter.

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