‘Homeland’ – ‘Achilles Heel’: The good wives

Senior Television Writer
11.20.11 91 Comments


A review of tonight’s “Homeland” coming up just as soon as I replace a solid gold bust of Saddam Hussein with a Mr. Potato Head…

“You know, for somebody who lies all the time, I think you’d be better at it.” -Brody

Okay, they get one of these. After that, I worry.

Much of the power of last week’s closing moments came from what we assumed to be an honest conversation between Carrie and Brody about what happened to him during his captivity and what he was up to back here. Obviously, we had to take his word for it, because we’re almost as in the dark about his time as a POW as Carrie is, but it seemed fair to assume that the show was committing to Brody being candid, and not at all the terrorist we took him for.

Then came the closing moments of “Achilles Heel,” which was mainly a reminder that when you assume, you make an ass out of u and me.

This shouldn’t have surprised me. Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa spent years on “24,” a show where half the storylines were driven by Everything You Know Is Wrong! revelations about characters we had all grown to like (or, on occasion, hate). And that kind of improvisational, surprising plotting worked well for a very long time for that series.

But I don’t particularly want “Homeland” to go there, because “Homeland” is a different kind of show from “24.” It’s much, much more character-driven, even as it has this strong thriller plotline going, and a lot of the things we learn about Carrie and Brody and Saul and the rest become meaningless if we get conditioned to assume that both the characters and the show are lying to us.

Not that we’re at that point yet, or close to it. The show didn’t lie to us about Brody; Brody just lied to Carrie. It may seem like semantics, it’s an important distinction, I think. Nothing that happened in the previous episodes was contradicted by what we saw in tonight’s final scene, and if Brody told Carrie he wasn’t working with Nazir(*)… well, what else would someone working with Nazir tell a suspicious CIA operative? And it’s not like the show dragged this period where we thought of Brody as an innocent victim out for very long; it was in the very next episode where we found out (some of) what he’s really up to.

(*) And, again, we have to assume certain things here. Is he working with Nazir, or is it something more complicated than that? Is he a triple agent? Being blackmailed? Is he Nicholas Brody at all? Once you start opening these doors, it becomes very easy to stop paying attention to the show itself and start paying attention to the wild speculation in your head.

So I’ll go with this one, even as I was just starting to adjust my brain to the idea of a long-term version of the show where Brody reluctantly teams up with Carrie and Saul to go hunting for Nazir. But if we find out two episodes from now that it was Saul or David who slipped Hamid the razorblade, or that Galvez is secretly funneling intel to Nazir, or that Carrie (the one character we can seemingly trust, even though she’s unstable) has been a double-agent all along… well, then at that point “Homeland” goes from one of the best dramas on television to a fun diversion that features a bunch of great performances in service of a plot that can’t be trusted.

Some other thoughts on “Achilles Heel”:

* This is the second episode of the season written by former “Dexter” boss Chip Johannessen, and it occurs to me that every episode so far has been credited to a past or present TV drama showrunner: Gordon and Gansa, obviously, but also Henry Bromell (“Rubicon” and “Brotherhood”)), Meredith Stiehm (“Cold Case”) and Alexander Cary (“Lie to Me”). Sometimes, when you put that many former Indian chiefs together, it doesn’t work; here, it clearly has, and maybe contributes to the mature vibe of the series.

* That said, I think Johannessen pushed a little too hard on the titular parallel between Tom Walker and Saul (and, to an extent, with Brody). This is a show for smart people; we can get things without needing Mandy Patinkin to spell it out 3 or 4 times.

* Thought that ran through my head when Carrie was confessing her indiscretion to Saul: “You do not want Mandy Patinkin to be whispering at you, ever.”

* One of the few downsides to all the Brody/Carrie interaction of the last few weeks is that it really marginalized Jessica, which is a shame given how good Morena Baccarin has been. With Brody feeling betrayed by Carrie (and/or with his guard up, given what we know now about him), he recommits himself to being a good husband and father, and it was almost a relief to see them enjoying each other’s company so much at the party, and then laughing at the misfortune of the Anthony Weiner-esque Dick Johnson.

What did everybody else think?

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at sepinwall@hitfix.com

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