Nicholas Brody was No Hero, Part One

I loved playing Brody. I’m extremely proud of who we all created together. I think he’s a tragic hero for our time. He himself embodies a cautionary tale, going right back to the beginning, about sending young men to war and the damage it can do. – Damian Lewis

Brody is not a hero. – Damian Lewis

I’m no hero – Nicholas Brody

Someone commented on my Before Dick Winters There Was Nicholas Brody post something to the effect that the two men cannot be cast in the same light, Brody was not a hero, at least not in the same way Winters was. In a frenzy of purging the copious junk mail wordpress seems to attract, I accidentally deleted that comment before responding. Given there are such differing opinions on Brody, the response to the “Hero or No” question deserves a full post (or two). So here it be!

In Defense of Homeland

As most fans know, Homeland started as a soldier’s tale of coming back from war a changed man and trying to fit back into society. It was modeled on an Israeli TV series on the same topic. In that series, I believe the POW was the main character. In our Homeland…and I know this may be a bone of contention for some…the main character has always been and will always be Carrie Mathison. Of course a show can have more than one lead and often does. But, the character of Brody was never meant to be a lead. The character of Brody was created to show the cost of war in a final way.

I know we in America have this expectation of shows going on forever, until they die a sad little unwatched death. Heck, are people in America even allowed to die natural deaths anymore? Isn’t the medical profession tasked with taking extreme measures to prolong life as long as possible? It’s this rampant sense of entitlement (something Damian himself mentioned here) The manifest destiny every American has been sold: thou shall be happy always and thou shall never die. Elsewhere in the world (England, for example) dramatic works have more concrete outlines. They do their thing to entertain us, to make us think, whatever we want drama to do for us, and then they go away, die a natural death, and make room for more. There is a sense of closure and endgame and a sense still there of possibility left to our imaginations.  Anything that doesn’t have that finality is a soap opera, which, at its best can be a great vehicle for social commentary, talking about the most important issues of the day forever and ever, and at its worst is a tired rehash of the same story lines over and over again forever and ever.

To me, Homeland for the first three seasons followed that model of a finite story refusing to become a soap opera, in a way not often done in American TV. It gave us a three season story arc, and a total resplendent reboot with S4. If Brody had lived, Homeland would’ve been just another show trying to go forever, milking the actors, milking the audience, and its network for all it can get out of us. Yes, the creators could have milked Damian Lewis’ ability to win over audiences and stretched out Brody’s life to, perhaps, (as Damianista has proposed) an asset in exile, a Snowden/Anonymous/Guy Fawkes kind of character. That would have been a compelling story, no doubt, but it wouldn’t have been the story Homeland was created to tell. And Brody could have lived happily ever after, but that was not the story of Homeland either.

The show is about the lasting repercussions of emotional and physical damage, on people, on governments, on nations. It’s not a romance or even a relationship drama. The fact that a thriller gave birth to such a compelling romance IS what made the romance so compelling. And now, with Carrie mourning Brody, marked forever by her experience with him, which taught her that, yes, she can love somebody totally, take a bullet for, walk through fire for, we have another point of interest in her character. It doesn’t really matter to me if she has another romantic interest. I’d be fine with Carrie taking belly shots off of the next terrorist she encounters and the next one after that. Because it’s clear to me that Brody was the love of her life and she’ll die seeing his face; her endgame, as far as love that equals fire, already happened. And (like real life!) she survived and had to pick up the pieces and reinvent herself as a mother and as an agent (or not).

Could Carrie and Brody have lived happily ever after? Carrie’s words “but we could be happy” in the cabin in S2’s “The Choice” and “imagine that” on the porch of the cabin in that same episode gets me in the gut every single time. Claire Danes’ face masterfully opens up with such hope when she says those lines. And you so want to believe it as much as she does.

homeland_carrie_brody_fault_in_our_starsimageedit_65_3652015067Of course, we can imagine it and it’s beautiful. That it didn’t happen makes it even more beautiful, doesn’t it? Would we feel that longing so acutely if we knew it would eventually happen, that they’d have their happily ever after? Philosophers may call this a logical fallacy, but I don’t think we would have felt anything as acutely if it had actually happened as we had hoped. There’s a balance to the longing and the denial of that longing that worked in Homeland. It worked, just as written. Tragedy is the only truth to human existence. During our time on earth, we take lovely little breaks with romance and comedy. But, tragedy equals life. And thus tragedy is the very best of art.

If the romance had taken over the show, it would be a different show. I, for one, love that the show is staying true to itself, not pandering to audiences or to critics or to the network. It’s written by a crew of very intelligent people who, obviously, have worked fabulously together and created something important and lasting. Now that we’ve learned some of what is in store for S5, with two writers leaving, who knows where the show will take us next. If the writing doesn’t hold together anymore, I guess I’ll stop watching. It happens to the best shows. As Ganza said, you can never predict it or plan it. It really is a magical event when it happens, when it all works. So, I’m still watching. I trust storytellers to tell me the story. It may not be the story I want to see, and I may wonder about alternatives and try to write counter-stories in my head or as fanfic or stop watching if it loses me completely, but, in general, I’m one of those old school art lovers who believes in the sanctity of a work of art as written. That’s the kind of art that we can talk about forever. Art that is coherent and cohesive and stays true to itself.

NEXT POST: Who, Why and Wherefore Brody?

9 thoughts on “Nicholas Brody was No Hero, Part One”

  1. I read your posts as a fan when they are published, not before, I love the surprise haha and each time they get me with their compelling arguments. Here’s another one! It’s a brilliant piece and it’s a rational piece… And, I am rational, too… well, most of the time… For example, TV medium is sometime not at its healthiest when the show runners take into account audience feedback rather than writing what they have in mind… Having said this… I am not rational at all, I am, in fact, completely irrational when Nicholas Brody is concerned — I think that’s love 🙂 And, you know what? We should really talk about Carrie and her love for Brody sometime 🙂

    1. True, the powers that be turned him towards someone they wanted dead and he did the soldier’s job of killing that person. Perhaps that’s all that can be expected from current day heroes.

  2. How miserable do you have to be to criticize people who are working on technology that could prolong our lives? Do you think 80-90 years is enough to do all you want to do on this planet? That’s really sad if so. But don’t project your dreary worldview and criticize others who want to do things and be things and basically feel a bit ripped off by a life that life ends much too quickly. That’s just rather depressing and stupid. I would absolutely love for them to make much more progress on aging. It takes 50 years just to learn how to live. Imagine if we lived until 150. How many interesting careers and experiences we could have, how much wiser we could be (but with youth).

    1. Living forever would be great if we could all agree to stop having children, at least until we find other places to live. The earth can’t sustain forever what we’ve done and continue to do to it.

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