‘Homeland’ – ‘The Vest’: It’s not easy seein’ green

Senior Television Writer
12.11.11 135 Comments

A review of tonight’s “Homeland” coming up just as soon as I write a 45-page manifesto declaring that I’ve reinvented music…

“You understand!” -Carrie

Though Henry Bromell didn’t write this episode of “Homeland” (the script was by Meredith Stiehm and Chip Johannessen), it carried the show’s strongest “Rubicon” overtones yet. “The Vest” was all about the thin line between madness and the dedication required to be a great intelligence analyst, and it spent a lot of time showing an all-American Muslim terrorist preparing to say goodbye to the life he knew before sacrificing it for the greater cause.

Now, “Homeland” has always had a much stronger sense of plot than “Rubicon” did. That show thrived almost entirely on atmosphere and characterization, where “Homeland” has that and more. I don’t know if it’ll stick the landing any better than “Rubicon” unfortunately did, but the journey up through this penultimate episode of the first season has had much stronger momentum throughout.

I do wonder how Gansa, Gordon and company are going to resolve things next week, given that this isn’t a miniseries and the show has to continue with at least some of these characters still in play. But Carrie has been busted for both her illegal activity and concealing her mental illness, and Brody’s getting ready to strap on a suicide vest and blow up himself and, I’m guessing, Vice-President Walden. (What better way to kick off Walden’s campaign for president, after all, than to have beloved war hero Nicholas Brody by his side?)

But that’s something to worry about with the finale. Tonight, we got to enjoy the horrible, riveting, incredibly sad apparent destruction of Carrie Mathison’s career. On most shows, a character surviving a bomb explosion would result in the actor wearing some bruise makeup for a few episodes (as Claire Danes got to) and maybe an increased sense of resolve, because now it’s personal, dammit. With Carrie, though, there’s the unintended side effect that being under strict hospital supervision for days on end – and without the meds her sister has been illegally giving her for years – sends her into a manic state that shocks the hell out of Saul and, ultimately, David.

It’s funny: Mandy Patinkin has a not-undeserved reputation as a chewer of scenery, while Danes’ rep has been largely built on a quieter style of acting. (There are obvious exceptions in both cases, obviously: Danes as Temple Grandin is anything but quiet, for instance.) But here, she’s the one very clearly, loudly, tragically losing her center of gravity, and he’s the one whose performance becomes smaller and more intimate the longer Saul spends time with the wreck that Carrie has become. Fantastic, if very different, work from both of them, and I hope like hell that Saul is not revealed as a mole in the finale. I want to believe that the relationship between these two is exactly what we’ve been told and shown that it is – that Saul instinctively going through Carrie’s hot mess of intelligence data and putting it into the order she can see but not properly explain(*) was entirely sincere, and not Saul somehow playing her while waiting for Nazir to pull off his plan. Just like Carrie needs so desperately to find someone who can understand her when she’s like this, I need for that understanding to be real, I think. But we’ll see.

(*) Tremendous sequence, and great work on the score throughout. It’s a cliche in stories like this to watch the analyst stick pieces of paper up on a wall, but it’s a cliche because it can work as well as it does here when done right.

And where I feared that Brody was going to turn up on Carrie’s doorstep with a gun and wind up shooting Maggie and/or Carrie’s dad, his solution to the problem turns out to be far more clever and ruthless. He knows something’s not quite right with Carrie, and more importantly knows just how many illegal things she’s done in her pursuit of Nazir, so he gives David the match to light the fuse he’s wanted to use for years to eliminate Carrie from his office and life.

That’s the mark of a very smart, committed man, and one I can’t believe the show would blow up next week and move on without. Though Brody spends the hour secretly saying goodbye to his family – having uncomplicated (and unviolent) sex with Jessica, bonding with Dana and offering words of wisdom(**) to Chris – it feels like there’s just too much potential in both the character and his potential new career as a politician (so respected that customers at a diner in a completely different state would be eager to shake his hand) to send him out this way.

(**) Most of those words involved the famous Battle of Little Round Top, which was dramatized very well in 1993’s “Gettysburg,” with Jeff Daniels as Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain leading his tired, desperate man down the hill in a “right wheel” formation. (On YouTube, the scene is titled, plainly and accurately, “Gettysburg movie – the best part.”)

Can this show end this season in a way that’s both satisfying and plausibly sets up a second season? I don’t know. I oddly felt more confident last week, where it seemed like we were heading towards Carrie stopping Walker in the finale, Brody beginning his run for office, and Carrie catching his scent again either in the finale or early next year. We could still go there, but matters have become unsettled and potentially fatal (in both a life and career sense) very quickly.

But the 11 episodes we’ve gotten so far have absolutely earned “Homeland” the benefit of the doubt. And if it doesn’t quite work next week, it won’t change how damn much I’ve enjoyed everything so far.

What did everybody else think?

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at sepinwall@hitfix.com

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