Homeland, Season 2
Did the teen plot spoil an otherwise amazing episode?
Photograph by Kent Smith/Showtime.
For critics and Slate commenters alike, this week’s episode was all about the bravura 15-minute interrogation scene between Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) and Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis). Critics from Salon’s Willa Paskin to the TV Club’s Todd VanDerWerff rhapsodized its dramatic intensity and astonishing performances. Time’s James Poniewozik focused on Danes:
She demonstrates Carrie in control (her shutting off the cameras shows both sympathy and power), leading Brody through his cover story, taking it apart and then bringing down the hammer—Dana—before walking him to a place where it’s OK for him to confess, telling him that she knows he’s a good man. At the same time, she shows Carrie’s delicate state in the moment, drawing on the feelings for Brody that she has, or at least once had. If she’s fooling Brody with her sympathy now, she’s fooling me too.
Some of our commenters didn’t buy it, though. readresp asked, “Why would someone who withstood 5 years of horrific torture crumble after a 20 minute session in which a fraternity boy stabbed your hand and then a smitten girl told you she loved you? And how, when Brody is trying desperately to cover up everything and return to his wife, would he accept a cover-up that [he’s] having an affair with the very woman his wife hates?” (My favorite Homeland-related tweet of last night came from Alex Blagg: “Surprised they called it Homeland instead of The World's Dumbest Wife.)
BriefWit was won over:
I started out thinking that Brody would not give anything up: he had been through way worse over 8 years as a POW. But that was physical. This was emotional and personal, and he has not had to deal with that before. Carrie could use his family against him, unlike his interrogators in the Middle East. She knows him well, builds trust, and shows she is not afraid of him (turning off the cameras). By leveling with him (admitting her love) and empathizing with him (telling him he is a good man, imagining his burdens and how great he might feel if he could stop lying to everyone in his life), she breaks him. Jack Bauer could never do that!
Speaking of Jack Bauer, Esquire’s Alex Berenson pointed out that Homeland executive producers Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon, who also ran on 24, “threw in a sly reference to their former lives—"I figure we got 24 hours, tops," [David] Estes said, straight-faced. Then a reference not so sly: Peter, Carrie's new boss, put a hole in Brody's hand and demanded the truth. Uh, Jack Bauer would like his knife back, and maybe another show. Have you seen Touch? Me neither.
Several critics pointed to this episode’s impressive pedigree. It was directed by Lesli Linka Glatter, whose résumé, Hitfix’s Alan Sepinwall reminded readers, includes, “the lawnmower episode of Mad Men, the Gilmore Girls pilot, and the episode of Freaks and Geeks that NBC was afraid to air.” Vulture’s Matt Zoller Seitz also noted that “Q&A” was written by Henry Bromell, who “worked on NBC’s Homicide: Life on the Street, in which whole entire acts—and it least one case, an episode, 'Three Men and Adena'—were set inside a police interrogation room colloquially known as The Box. More than half of Homeland’s ‘Q&A’ is set in The Box.”
The story of Dana Brody and Finn Walden’s hit and run was less positively received. Alex Berenson said, “Car crashes are always a forced way to generate dramatic tension, and in this case the setup for the accident felt especially problematic. Finn and Dana Brody seem like solid kids. Nothing in their history suggested that they would suddenly decide to lead Finn's Secret Service agents on a high-speed chase through downtown D.C., culminating in a hit-and-run. Now Finn and Dana have a shared secret. How convenient.” Alyssa Rosenberg, writing at ThinkProgress, also disliked this twist:
In a domestic or teen drama, Finn and Dana’s wild ride would have been the devastating climax to the episode, both for the death they may have caused and the fundamental differences it revealed between them. Dana, the agent of her own father’s decision to choose mercy, wants to take responsibility and offer help to the person she and Finn struck after she urged him to go “Faster, faster!” And like his selfish, ambitious father, Finn sees the woman he hit only as potential collateral damage in the ruin of his own life. … The parallels between their fathers is reasonably interesting—and the decision to score their drive to Neon Trees’ “Everybody Talks” is clever as hell—but it’s unnecessary in the context of tonight’s powerful interrogations. The sequence made Homeland feel like a cheaper show, instead of the sleek, lethal emotional strike it’s capable of being.
Rolling Stone’s Sean T. Collins was outraged that the interrogation scene, “a finely calibrated work of television,” was immediately followed by “an out-of-nowhere plot twist yanked straight from the soaps. Seriously: ‘Alienated teen daughter hits someone with her car’ was the big twist on The Young and the Restless just two weeks ago. And it sucked there, too!" Collins went on:
[W]hen we use "soapy" as an insult, we mean soaps at their worst: overheated melodrama and sudden, out-of-a-blue-sky shocks and surprises, inserted independently of whatever else is already going on, just to juice up the drama or shake up a stalled storyline. And for God's sake, why do it in an otherwise stunning episode, one that gains so much from its otherwise relentless, claustrophobic focus on two people in a single room? Will Homeland ever learn to get out of its own way?
June Thomas is a Slate culture critic. Follow her on Twitter.