‘Homeland’ – ‘The Good Soldier’: Hello, Larry

Senior Television Writer
11.06.11 100 Comments


A review of tonight’s “Homeland” coming up just as soon as I’m a victim of your fabulousness…

“What happened to you?” -Lauder

Remember what I said last week about how I’d rather not spend all my time obsessing on whether Brody has or hasn’t turned, if there’s a mole in the CIA, etc., etc., etc.? Well, an episode like “The Good Soldier” – where so much of the narrative is wrapped around a series of polygraph tests designed to uncover a mole – makes that kind of tough, no?

So let’s get that out of the way. First of all, polygraphy is a far from exact science, and there are many ways to beat the machine – even if the machine is operated by character actor and celebrity Twitter wit James Urbaniak. Even if Brody had passed the test without Carrie throwing in the adultery question, I wouldn’t have automatically assumed this cleared him. I know faith in the machine allows for a kind of narrative shorthand in TV shows like this, but still. At the same time, it’s hard not to notice that Saul not only fails the test the first time when asked about slipping Hamid the razor, but has a throwaway line later to Carrie about how he always fails those tests the first time. It could be that Saul is just naturally excitable – as almost any Mandy Patinkin character would be – and this is all a red herring, or it could be that Saul is working for Nazir, with or without Brody.

And everybody’s welcome to play that guessing game if they like. It’s part of a show like this, absolutely. But even with the more obvious attention to the “is he or isn’t he?” question this week, I still prefer to focus my attention on “Homeland” as a character study of two damaged people and the dysfunctional institutions in which they work rather than as a whodunnit where the creators bait a hook and pull me along for a whole season. Not only did I tire of the constant moles working for CTU and/or the White House when Gordon and Gansa were working on “24,” but “The Killing” killed whatever little patience I had left for longform TV whodunnits.

If the resolution of who is and isn’t working for Nazir and what their plan is turns out to be compelling, fantastic. If not, I’ll be busy watching Carrie Mathison find new and compelling ways to demonstrate just how screwed up she is.

In this case, it was the choice to have sex with Sgt. Brody, which was as revealing to us as it was to her. First, it provided further evidence that the sex scenes with Jessica weren’t just there for prurient value, as there’s a marked difference between Brody’s performance in the car with this intriguing stranger and the ones in his bedroom with his wife. And it was just fascinating to see, before they got into the back seat of the car, how much more at ease Carrie seems with Brody than she does with everyone else. Obviously, some of that is the undercover aspect – she’s playing a part for him to gain his trust and gather intelligence – but there’s also a sense that Carrie is genuinely more comfortable with him. Whether that’s because she feels she knows him so well from a month of video surveillance, or because she senses a kindred spirit in him, I don’t know. But Claire Danes and Damian Lewis crackle when they’re together, and as much as I enjoyed those early episodes where it was just Carrie on the couch with headphones on, their scenes together the last few weeks have been tremendous.

Brody’s in a position to sleep with her, of course, because he finally unleashes his rage on Mike at the reception after the memorial for Tom Walker. When you mix alcohol with Brody’s memories of murdering his partner, with the reunion of the old unit (including the disabled, bitter Lauder), with Jessica’s comment about why she and Tom’s widow had a falling-out, it would have been remarkable if Brody hadn’t gone crazy on Mike(*), but the brutality of it was still startling, and isn’t the kind of thing Jessica and the kids are going to be able to easily brush aside.

(*) It may also be that the group Eminem performance just lit his fuse. 

I also quite liked our time spent with Faisel and Aileen before he was killed by their handlers. While the longform structure can lead to certain things being strung out, it also allows us more time with characters, and in this case we got to see them as a couple who could flirt, who had different fears and goals and temperaments, and as people, not just Terrorists-with-a-capital-T. Good work there, and I wonder how Aileen is going to keep factoring into things.

What did everybody else think?

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