What, it’s been two years already since Nicholas Brody was hung from a crane in Tehran, right? Yet, he has never fully left the world of Homeland; he’s a ghost lingering just behind Carrie’s eyes as she makes the motions to have a normal life with someone new, and he’s ever present in the face and twirly red locks of his child Frannie. The infinitesimal hint Carrie had of happiness with a man she loved so completely has informed her every movement since then. She wants to have it again, to feel it again, and, this time, for someone who is not a terrorist bent on self-destruction. Hey, a girl can dream. And that’s all just Brody appearing in spirit. Even in body, he makes a posthumous appearance as Carrie’s hallucination in Season 4 Redux, a gratuitously excruciating and painful scene to watch. (You think I exaggerate, but, truth be told, like Carrie, I was pretty much a fetal ball crying on the floor too after that scene: “I want to believe…” gah!)
Now in Season 5, Brody makes an appearance yet again as the picture on the wall within Carrie’s eyesight all five years she was stationed in Baghdad. Let’s go back…and then forward…shall we? Forward and onward in this world created by a show that mirrors so much of the real world it’s downright eerie.
First, let’s go back to when Carrie met Brody at his debriefing in Langley. This is the first time they met, and, since the sparks did not fly right off the screen, the writers (perhaps) grew a bit concerned that their story idea wasn’t going to pan out. (Of course, we, like the writers, simply had to wait a bit longer, for the off the charts scene in the rain) This is a scene where Carrie is all spy senses to the front in trying to discern whether the Marine risen from the dead is the man her informant told her about: the American prisoner of war who’s been turned. Carrie is all narrow-eyed glare while Brody is stone cold, fully prepared for all questions, clothed in “just the facts ma’am” armor.
“Sgt. Brody, my name is Carrie Mathison. I served as a case officer in Iraq. Your picture was on our MIA wall. I saw it every day for five years. It’s good to meet you in person.”
‘Thank you, ma’am.”
Ma’am? He’s a Marine, so he’s polite, I get it.
And so it began.
This season of Homeland, thanks to some other non-Brody related nefarious happenings in Baghdad that never quite died when the war supposedly ended, Carrie flashes back to that time when she was a green case officer, hair pinned back primly, bright-eyed and ready to fight a war and rebuild a nation. (Ah, who among us can say that we haven’t had such lofty dreams in our twenties?) She sees Brody’s picture on the wall, and, hey, he’s quite a fine looking Marine, so she lingers on his face.
And that’s it, she thinks of Brody and then her mind goes to Jonas, her current lover, a guy who is totally normal in every way, with two feet on the ground. And thinking about Jonas is really just another way to think about her daughter, for whom Jonas would be a stable and healthy step-father. Carrie remembers Brody, she remembers the fire of that love, and the fire of her job, but, at the same time, and more strongly than ever before, she’s drawn back to earth and to the life she wants for her daughter. Really a classic conundrum of a lot of women.
Homeland this season is smart, perhaps the smartest it’s ever been. There is none of the maniacal passion and impulsive running into bullets and burning buildings we saw in the Brody years. Carrie has calmed down considerably, even when she briefly goes off her meds. She has a child to think about, albeit, a child who is escorted swiftly away from her into safety. Still, Frannie is THE reason that Carrie wants to live and keep trying to love. Yet Carrie is still Carrie, driven in equal measure by her intelligence and her emotions.
I can’t say it better than Abigail Nussbaum, in a response to the question “Was Jack Bauer ever made to look this pathetic?”
“Carrie is, in many ways, a boogeyman; she is what professional women, and particularly ones in male-dominated professions, have been taught never to become – emotional, hysterical, crazy. Emotion is how women who want to be taken seriously are undermined and dismissed. Even if you’re perfectly sane, being emotional – and most especially, being angry – devalues you and your professional contribution…It’s certainly possible to read this arc as purely tragic, Carrie’s self-destruction being the cost of saving the world .. but to my mind its effect is more complex. It makes a crazy, hysterical woman into a hero without in any way mitigating her craziness or hysteria, and thus defangs the argument that emotion in women is a weakness.”
In short, in Carrie Mathison, Homeland has created a new version of female lead. It’s a new Day One as far as female leads are concerned.
And, Homeland‘s story and plot developments? Well the show is more prescient and glaringly relevant than ever. Remember Damian recollecting his exchange with President Obama, when he asked the President, in the interest of keeping the show as current as possible, to please let them know if the U.S. decides to go into Iran? It was a clever joke, but, I don’t know, these show creators have anticipated SO MUCH of the actual world’s events, you gotta wonder (tongue in cheek) if, like all the best jokes, there’s some truth in it.
Homeland this season is classic spy games, whodunnit, without explosions or other dramatics. Carrie has yet to have shrapnel fly into her face, yet, everything she went through in the Brody years and becoming a mother and starting fresh and being healthy, it’s all there in her face more clear-cut than any shrapnel wound. The show is quiet and slow and cerebral. It’s chock full of interesting fully realized women characters. There’s a line in nearly every episode that’ll stay with you for a good long time. And even as it’s not overtly about relationships, the connections are like invisible threads never calling attention to themselves but always there. Case in point, as the season starts, Carrie and Saul are on the outs. Confronting Carrie about not supporting him in his bid for directorship of the CIA, Saul says to Carrie: “You drew a line between us. Forget it, it’s a fucking wall.” Not to worry, though. A few episodes later, when someone asks him if he trusts her, he doesn’t miss a beat in answering: “with my life.”
Similarly, Carrie and Quinn are rarely in a scene together, yet their paths run within the same current driving the season. Carrie and Quinn parallel each other, alike in so many ways, each other’s mirror image. They can and do make perfect partners, but the wrench in the deal and the heart break is that Quinn really truly loves her. They’d be fine together if not for that pesky detail. Heck, we learned a couple seasons ago that the only book the guy owns is Great Expectations. I haven’t read much (or any) Dickens, but I trust wikipedia telling me that Great Expectations is a novel of the themes of “love and rejection, and the eventual triumph of good over evil.” Quinn is Jack Bauer with less scenery chewing air-time. And unlike Jack Bauer, Quinn has a deeply self-realized conscience. He’s driven by that conscience, not necessarily by his love for Carrie. But his love is there: It’s the never spoken, never really even expressed, but willing to die for her in a heart beat kind of love. He will die for her, you believe it every second he’s on screen.
Now, let me just say here, I loathe ship wars. I think it’s the most pointless exercise to have these pissing contests in a fandom, interminable “debates” of which couple is the one true pairing, the one real love. I am able to identify an OTP, but I also recognize my OTP is not your OTP. I don’t really want to hear your defense and argument for your OTP. My OTP is set like stone in my mind, it will not and cannot be changed or even watered down. Every damn thing about a show is open to interpretation, but my OTP is not. Carrie and Brody were the OTP of this show, end of story.
I believe with all my heart that Carrie loved Brody. That love, second only to her job and her illness, defined her and it transformed her from a sleep-walking workaholic to someone who believed in the possibility of real happiness. Much as I believe Carrie loved Brody, I also believe that Brody did not, was not capable of, the same kind of love. He was too broken. I see, this season, that Quinn absolutely loves Carrie. And she’s as oblivious to him as Brody was to her (except for that halcyon fictional flicker of a moment when Brody briefly steps across the fourth wall and speaks our minds at the end of Season 2: “This was love, you and me…You gave it up to me”, to which her natural reply is: “Completely”)
But the love story is not even the point. I want to put an exclamation point on that sentence, but I don’t want to yell at you, the fans, still holding on to the idea of an OTP driving the plot of a show. In Homeland, the love story is not the point. What happened between Carrie and Brody may have been the best love story ever told (in this viewer’s opinion) but the show that gave birth to it is not a show that’s designed for conventional romance. I don’t know if I have the facilities to describe how special that is. To see passion and love and hope, all in their extreme glory, exposed in the full light of day, arise from a show about political intrigue and spy games. It is special. Homeland is special.
How is it special? Well, in this season, Homeland is special in the terse and exact, and TRUE way it does the calculus of the situation in Syria. When Quinn returns from his two years on the ground in Syria, he’s debriefed by some Washington big wigs who want a nice sound bite assessing the situation. When they ask him what he thinks will fix things, Quinn answers: “Two-hundred thousand American troops on the ground indefinitely to provide security and support for an equal number of doctors and elementary school teachers.” You see what Homeland did there? It put elementary school teachers on par with soldiers and doctors in rebuilding a broken nation and broken people. And how true that equation is. Troops alone can’t fix anything. Doctors in a war zone are pretty much chasing windmills too. But elementary school teachers? THAT is the source of getting a nation out of perpetual war.
In the episode “Parabiosis”, again, it’s Quinn in the middle of the good stuff as he has a serendipitious encounter (reminiscent of a lot of the encounters in 24) with a prisoner suspected of terrorist connections in Germany. Incidentally, “Parabiosis” means “living beside.” Europeans living beside terrorists within their own nation? Quinn living beside but not exactly WITH Carrie? Yeah, something like that.
So Quinn lands in a terrorist safe house, near death. As he’s being nursed back to health by a non-terrorist inhabitant of the safe house, a man who genuinely lives that Old World trait of generosity towards one’s guests, Quinn can’t help but listen in on the released terrorist’s efforts to hatch a plan. This terrorist guy is nothing more than a neighborhood bully, who because of his seniority or his willingness to put his neck on the line or something, I don’t know, is respected and looked up to by the various disenfranchised kids living in a ghetto among other Middle Easterners in Germany. These are kids born and raised in Germany, Western Middle Eastern kids, who, because of their skin color, ethnicity, whatever, never fit into German culture. They are outsiders in the country of their birth. And they’re poor and ignorant to boot, and thus have been conscripted into a war that’s not even theirs to fight. So, of course, a bully, recently released from the evil Westerner’s prison, is a hero to them and they follow along on his weak-ass plans for jihad. You see what Homeland is doing there? Breaking down ISIS into its essential components, a bunch of bullies and their mindless followers, united over a belief in something that does not and cannot exist: a world where all the sins of the West are avenged by a fiery hell that somehow leaves the perpetrators unscathed. With this Middle Eastern ghetto somewhere in the back alleys of Berlin, Homeland just drew us a picture of the kinds of communities that give rise to the kinds of criminals, who, in real actual gory life, perpetrated the Paris attacks mere days after this episode aired. Again, it takes a show like Homeland to take us there. And for that reason alone, Brody or no Brody, Homeland may be the most important piece of fiction on air.