The article below contains spoilers for “Q&A,” the October 28th episode of “Homeland.”
Sergio Leone may have “specialized in widescreen agony,” as Finn (Timothée Chalamet) put it when suggesting “Once Upon a Time in America” as a nonstandard high school date to Dana (Morgan Saylor), but the agony running throughout “Q&A,” last night’s excellent episode of “Homeland,” was of a more intimate and focused sort. Set mainly in an interrogation room in which Carrie (Claire Danes), Peter (Rupert Friend) and Saul (Mandy Patinkin) attempt to break Brody (Damian Lewis), knowing that his handlers will realize something’s off if too much time passes, “Q&A” had as its centerpiece a riveting verbal and emotional joust between the show’s two lead characters, one that left them both battered, raw and about to embark on the next stage in their considerably complicated relationship — as handler and double agent.
“Homeland” is a thriller, but this episode suggests it’s also always been a sort of deeply twisted romance about the impossibly entangled emotional and political ties between Carrie and Brody. After losing control to her feelings in the last episode, Carrie uses that emotional connection to Brody in this one in all possible ways to break him down, by making him feel guilty about what he did to her, by saying she’s still in love with him, and by forcing him to look at himself and the increasingly murky motivations behind what he’s been doing. Their conversation showed off the two actors and their intense rapport at its best, with both characters pursuing obvious goals — for Carrie, to get a confession, and for Brody, to maintain his innocence — while hiding a multitude of ones more difficult to face underneath.
For Carrie to shift Brody’s loyalties from Abu Nazir (Navid Negahban) the way she does requires her throwing herself on the pyre in terms of her feelings, but she also has the advantage of Brody’s having reconnected with his family and with the life he left behind. Brody now has things to lose. “No one survives intact,” she tells him as she gently questions him about his PTSD and need to find someone he can actually open up to, and while that’s true — their mutual damage is what brings them together — it’s ultimately his desire to maintain a facade of wholeness for his wife and kids that makes him agree to inform for the CIA.
The interrogation sequence was a great showcase for Lewis, who took a character prone to slipping into blankness and showed him as utterly wrecked and unable to keep up his walls, exhausted by the questioning process but also by the isolation he’s been living in ever since he came home — when he literally curls up on the floor at the end, that sense of bone-deep weariness was more than earned. But Carrie also opened herself up in a frightening way to get them to this point. Nazir broke Brody, caused him pain and then alleviated it, she said, putting him back together as someone else.
Carrie and her team in essence tried to do the same thing here, with an outsized good cop/bad cop routine in which Peter stabbed Brody through the hand and then Carrie confessed to wanting for Brody to leave his family for her, an admission that worked in its craziness and in the susceptibility it revealed. It was a calculated move that did what it was supposed to, but it was also, as far as we’re able to see, the truth, and a sign of how in over her head Carrie is as she and Brody move to cloak their agency-mandated relationship in the guise of an affair. Carrie is her own sacrificial pawn.
Directed by Lesli Linka Glatter and written by Henry Bromell (“Panic”), “Q&A” paired its wrenching main storyline with the seemingly distractingly light one of Dana going on a first official date with Finn, a narrative thread that ends in tragedy when the two are in a hit and run accident, giving Dana her own terrible secret to hide. Like father, like daughter — except for once, Brody got to tell the truth to his Jessica (Morena Baccarin), letting her know his absence was because of his work with the CIA, leaving out the less appealing aspect of what brought him there. He didn’t have to lie, but Carrie ended up telling a half truth when she insisted to him before dropping him at home that “we’ll protect your family.” We’ve seen how that goes — there’s no way she can guarantee that.