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'Homeland' and the Trouble With Nicholas Brody

Photo of Alison Willmore By Alison Willmore | Indiewire October 15, 2013 at 1:7PM

Why Damian Lewis' character poses a continuing problem to "Homeland" season three's attempts to get back on the level after some wild plot twists last year.
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Kent Smith/Showtime Damian Lewis in 'Homeland'

The article below contains spoilers for "Homeland" through October 13th, 2013 episode "Tower of David."

It took three episodes for "Homeland" to begrudgingly bring Nicholas Brody, the Marine-turned-POW-turned-terrorist-turned-Congressman-turned fugitive played by Damian Lewis, back to the light after spending the start of the third season on the travails of Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes). It turns out that Brody, who's been on the run after having been falsely blamed for the attack on the CIA that left over 200 dead at the end of season two, is in Venezuela. Or rather, he's been carried there, bleeding and near death, to be patched up by a sketchy medic and given sanctuary/imprisoned in the Tower of David, a real, unfinished Caracas office building that's been taken over by squatters.

It's a setting that so far seems chosen for its near-dystopic and unquestionably cinematic qualities, but it's also one that recalls the underlying unease that fed the first and strongest season of the series -- that post-9/11 dread not just of another attack but of systems failing, of the costs of our national and global march toward development catching up with us in ways we never saw coming.

The Tower, as gangster El Nino (Manny Perez) explains to Brody, was the brainchild of a wealthy investor who passed away and whose constructions plans were halted by the country's 1994 banking crisis, leaving the poor to take over the half-finished skyscraper as an answer to pressing housing problems no investor with dreams of international corporate tenants wanted to bother with.

Spy movies like to show characters moving through global locations with ease, breaking out limitless language skills and cultural awareness, but "Homeland" showcases just how out of place Brody is in the Tower, letting the Spanish dialogue go unsubtitled and his pallor to all but glow in the dark, a $10 million bounty on his head in a neighborhood filled with people trying to get by however they can. The only touch of the familiar he finds is in the muezzin call from a nearby mosque, though when he heads there for help, he finds no welcome -- "You're not a Muslim. You're a terrorist!" the imam tells him after turning him into the local police. Brody's a man without a country or, apparently, a faith, rejected by both for things he considered but ultimately did not do.

"You have to think that "Homeland" would be in much better shape in this uncertain third season if Brody were dead."

Lewis is a terrific actor who was awarded an Emmy for his work, and Brody's a great character, but watching "Tower of David," which was directed by Clark Johnson and written by Henry and William Bromell, you have to think that "Homeland" would be in much better shape in this uncertain third season if Brody were dead. Even Lewis thinks so, telling Men's Journal that he believes that's what the writers want, but that "The more compromised storytelling is to keep him alive and to keep him bubbling along somehow. It's the executives who write that version."

It's an observation that recalls the news that spread about "Dexter," after its awful finale, when one of the show's producers told Vulture that Showtime wouldn't let the main character be killed off, and it's a troublesome one. "Homeland" teeters between being smart television and overblown television, and its network's tendency to fall in love with characters to the detriment of the programs they're on is one of the things that could tip it permanently in the latter direction.

Season two saw "Homeland" shift from being a show about terrorism, about the paranoia and stress of trying to protect against it and the ways an American could be turned toward it, to one about the crazy, forbidden romance between a schizophrenic CIA agent and an unstable POW. Danes and Lewis have tremendous chemistry, and the first season took its time bringing the two together, but in its second year the show seemed unable to resist turning their attraction and mutual understanding into an operatic romance despite the oddness of the shift in priorities. The urgency of the pair's supposedly being meant for one another just couldn't be matched to the urgency of the imminent terrorist attack they were trying to prevent.

And after what Brody has been through -- being turned, almost blowing up the Vice President, being turned again, helping kill the Vice President -- he's not a character who can plausibly be transmuted into a hero or even given a way back into the game, at this point. Even if Carrie were to clear his name, as she's vowed, he can't possibly be integrated back into the U.S. (or anywhere) without the show completely abandoning ties to reality that are already shredded and fragile.

Brody can't be fit back into the box, which is why the divide between his story and Carrie's felt so stark in this latest episode. She's trying to start on a long, maybe impossible journey out of the mental institution, back into the CIA and into working on what really happened in the attack and who was behind it. He's just trying to survive -- her story isn't dependent on his at all at the moment, and he's going to have to be wedged back into some kind of undercover plot in order for it to make sense for his narrative to come back into contact with hers.

Three episodes in, this new season's main aim seems to be walking back the nuttiness of last year's wild plot twists, refocusing on culpability and lost public trust, on the importance of work to a character who the previous season was ready to retire and leave that life behind in order to be with her love. It has traced not just on the consequences of the attack for Carrie but also for Brody's family, who ironically are a more natural fit for this season than the character connecting them to the action, as they struggle with life in a spotlight of negative media attention.

But "Homeland" will never get back on the level while keeping an eye on Brody -- the very fact that he's alive and still considered a major part of the story prevents it, is a sign that the show can't let go of its "Terrorism: A Love Story" aspect, is still more about the relationship between two characters than about a larger subject. At a time when shows like "Game of Thrones," "The Walking Dead" and "Breaking Bad" have taught us not to get too attached to the idea of any character, no matter how important, surviving, "Homeland"'s insistence on sticking with Brody feels not just old fashioned, but limiting. 

This article is related to: Television, TV Features, Showtime, Homeland, Damian Lewis