If the goal of Sunday's "Homeland" was to turn a substantial portion of the audience into characters from the show, mission accomplished.
Since "Broken Hearts" aired, my Twitter feed (which is admittedly full of TV addicts) has been jammed with talk of hurt, betrayal, confusion, love, hate; the intense reactions (which mirror visceral mood shifts characters on the show have experienced) have lasted for two days now. A huge number of critics I respect (including Ken Tucker, Todd VanDerWerff, Willa Paskin, Alan Sepinwall, James Poniewozik, Alyssa Rosenbaum and Andy Greenwald, among others), have made passionate cases for and against not just the episode but the show in general and even serialized TV as a species. I can just picture Saul listening to our frantic chattering and making the face you see on Poniewozik's Twitter profile.
Hoo boy. Now comes Emily Nussbaum with her Season 2 endgame theories, which she willingly admits makes her sound like a version of Carrie Mathison who's been up all night, frantically adding notecards, pushpins and yarn connections to an obsessive's corkboard.
I'll try to keep this post more or less centered on Emily's theories about where the show might be going, because any attempt to substantially rebut, refute or augment the smart critical opinions listed above -- or to try to come up with a Unified Theory of "Homeland" -- is a surefire way to fall down the rabbit hole and spin out into a 5,000-word post that will only prompt people to wish that someone would give me a glass of white wine and a Xanax.
On top of all that, I agreed with elements of every one of those pieces. Every case for and against the hour had merit -- how's that for great show of decisiveness? All of it tends to give me a glimmering of what it must feel like to be a CIA analyst: There are pieces of intelligence that form a beautiful mosaic, but am I too close to this thing to see it clearly? I can't know what I can count on and I don't know what will happen in the future -- I can only go on gut instincts, and my gut says "Homeland" is going to do something interesting with all this.
But whatever happens in the next two weeks, I do know that I feel giddy that this many people feel so deeply about a piece of entertainment. I swear on the soul of Issa that watching these debates unfold is as fun as being toyed with by "Homeland."
I'll get to my (hopefully concise) thoughts on why I remain hopeful about "Homeland" below, but first, Emily's theory.
When she first proposed the idea that Carrie would end the season by killing Brody, that made instinctive sense to me. First of all, I do think Brody will be dead or largely out of the picture by the time Season 2 is over. This show can't continue to be driven by the twisted Carrie-Brody relationship; it has to evolve or it could easily become a parody of itself. I think that relationship has to reach a conclusion of some kind, if the show is to remain true to the intense storytelling method I wrote about here.
And it's not such an out-there idea if Carrie finds out Brody betrayed her. What if, during his 12-hour abduction by Nazir, Brody cooked up a scheme with Nazir, and what if that plan consisted of the abduction of Carrie and the killing of Walden? And what if the ultimate goal of was to implicate Carrie in Nazir's schemes and set her up as his pawn?
Stay with me here. A lot of people have objected to some of the things that happened in "Broken Hearts": There was the oddness of Nazir abducting Carrie on his own (was that merely a scenario designed to make her think Brody would do anything for her?); Brody's weird, hyperactive state (was it overacting for Carrie's benefit?); and Nazir talking openly of the plot to kill Walden right next to Carrie (he sure wanted her to hear all the details). Did Nazir give her knowledge of the Walden plot knowing that she would not report Brody's actions to the authorities -- thus implicating her in terrorist activity through her silence and/or covering for Brody?
There are things that don't jibe with this theory. As Emily freely admits, the whole thing becomes more wobbly when you think about the fact that Brody wanted proof of Carrie's escape long after she was in earshot. If Carrie's kidnapping was a show for her benefit, why bother continuing the ruse after she's out of the building? (Of course, Brody may have been in on the whole thing but he still might not have trusted that Nazir would let Carrie get out of there alive.)
To me, there's a larger objection that I have after re-watching those crucial scenes. Once Carrie is gone, Brody hesitates. Nazir demands the number that would give him access to Walden's pacemaker, but Brody pauses, and Nazir becomes angry with him. Taking the scene at face value, which is the only way I really can take it, it looked to me like Brody wasn't sure he wanted to help kill Walden, and he only did it because he swore on Issa's name that he would.
Oh, the hell with it, I'm going down the rabbit hole. (So many words already in this post, and nothing about the epic beard-off that began the hour! In the name of Saul, I ask forgiveness.)
Here goes: Let's say Brody and Nazir cooked up this scheme to put on a show of abducting Carrie and making her think she was in danger. Perhaps Brody was in on the scheme to give Nazir leverage over Carrie, a well-placed CIA insider. Perhaps, even once they'd completed the Carrie part of the plan and she went free, Brody still felt doubts about killing Walden. I suppose he could have been in on it from the beginning and he still could have gotten cold feet.
Somehow that doesn't ring true for me. I think this is far more plausible: Carrie's abduction was for show, but Brody didn't know that. Nazir had the option of killing her if he needed to, but she's more valuable to him alive. There was some Twitter debate (twibate?) about whether Nazir knows that Carrie and Brody are deeply entwined on a personal basis, but I think a guy with his reach and intelligence would know that.
I think it's quite possible, and perhaps more believable, that Nazir cooked up the abduction-Walden scheme on his own. He abducted Carrie, knowing Brody would come to her aid. Part of the idea was to take out Walden -- and Nazir knew that he could build on Brody's latent desire to murder the killer of Issa -- but that was not the goal, that was just a side benefit. The point was to ensnare Carrie (and further involve Brody) in a plot against America. Once Nazir has evidence that they helped him, he can use that to try to get access to much more sensitive intelligence than Roya Hammad can give him.
Another theory, floated by blogger Jo Garfein: Somehow Dana gets mixed up in all this. What if, through means yet to be determined, Dana is in danger or is even killed? Brody would certainly kill Nazir for that, and there would be a fearful symmetry in such an act: Both men would have lost children and then put themselves at risk to avenge their deaths.
And what if Carrie kills Brody? I have to admit that this would make the most sense if Carrie found out that Brody knew about her kidnapping in advance. If she found out he'd lied to her and betrayed her on that deep a level, all bets are off.
At the deepest level of my "Homeland" psychosis, I'll admit I've pictured a freaky replay of what went down on the Brody's front lawn last year: Somehow Nazir, Carrie, Brody and Dana converge there and confront each other with horrible truths, Jess stands there pursing her lips and all manner of insanity goes down. Inside, Chris is happily practicing karate, and Mike is whipping up a killer batch of huevos rancheros.
Welcome to my insane-person corkboard.
In all seriousness, however, I find it hard to believe that Brody would betray Carrie and participate in her abduction and betrayal because I do think he cares about her. I never doubted for one second that he would kill Walden to save her. For one thing, he wanted to kill Walden anyway, so that was not a stretch, and for another, I believe in romance, damn it.
Not that what Carrie and Brody have is a romance, of course. Not in the traditional sense (and it's worth noting that another one of Emily's patented Nussbombs -- the theory that Brody may be just as capable of manipulating Carrie as she is of playing him -- has been percolating in my brain all week). But there's still something real there. Or maybe that's what I need to believe. We all see every week on "Homeland" how easy it is to believe what you want to be true, rather than what is true.
But the Brody-Carrie link has, at its core, an authenticity, doesn't it? One of my favorite recent pieces about "Homeland" is by Jason Mittell, who came up with a term that is accurate when it describes Brody's relationships with both Nazir and Carrie.
"But I do not think 'love' sums up either of [Carrie's or Brody's] emotions particularly well, especially not in how most of us experience love in relationships in terms of romance, friendship, and pleasure. Instead, best term I can come up with for how Carrie and Brody feel toward each other is emotionally tethered. This feeling is mutual, and it overrides both logic and other relationships," Jason wrote. "Brody's actions to kill the VP seek to reaffirm both of his tethers: he carries out his revenge mission for Nazir, and ensures Carrie's safety for his future connectedness. (And if he refused, he loses both of them.)"
Layers of connectedness -- some of them painful, some of them confusing, some of them glorious -- are what "Homeland" is about, ultimately. Of course the CIA wants to know how terrorist cells are connected, but the show uses those to find secret pathways into and out of the human heart and brain.
I love that the show makes us sit on the edge of our seats, and as executive producer Howard Gordon said in this post-"Broken Hearts" interview with HuffPost TV, sometimes issues of plausibility have to take a back seat to creating moments that "make you sit up in your chair."
What gives me hope is that the moments on this show that have made me sit up in my chair have frequently featured two people talking in a room. People who aren't quite sure of the strength and durability of their tethers, but have to rely on them all the same. There's been much talk of plausibility of recent events on the show, and I respect those who find it waning at times, but "Homeland's" emotional plausibility has often taken me to fantastic, moving places.
"When I start getting touchy about plausibility, however, is when those issues of plausibility cross over into emotional plausibility. I'll buy all of Carrie's crazy machinations this season, because I really do think that her relationship with Brody has left her at sea, and that she really does think the last, best card she has left to play is getting him to fall even more in love with her," Todd VanDerWerff wrote in his essay, which is another must-read.
I'm more willing than Todd to buy that Brody has a deep connection to Carrie and wouldn't knowingly sell her out, though I'm also willing to acknowledge that Brody is a deeply damaged, if not broken man, and whether he's capable of true love is an open question. I think, ultimately, I'm an old softie and I want the part of the Brody-Carrie connection that centers on their vulnerability and the comfort they bring each other to be the realest, most important part. This show has tapped into the part of me that wants damaged people to be able to find comfort, even if it's a resting place on a floor covered with broken glass.
As Todd also said, the show throws developments at the characters not to fuel more craziness (a la "Sons of Anarchy" or "24"), but to examine people's moral and personal dilemmas (remember how Finn and Dana's car accident worked out? It didn't have a mechanical resolution, it had a slow-burn, bittersweet, painful one.)
"Something big and occasionally ridiculous happens, and then the show goes out of its way to examine just how the characters would react to said ridiculous happening," Todd wrote. "Watching TV for plot is a fool's game, and it's just going to end with you being disappointed. But watching TV for long-term character arcs can be very rewarding, particularly if you're in the hands of writers who keep an eye on the characters in a way that keeps them more or less consistent."
I think I'm in the hands of those kinds of writers. Of course, as I've said before, half the thrill is thinking I might be wrong. But like one of the scarred but not-nihilistic characters on "Homeland," I'm going to take it on faith that I won't be let down. Probably.
All right, it's back to the office-supply store for me. I'm running low on pushpins and string.