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Has ‘Homeland’ Jumped the Shark, and Does That Matter?

Has 'Homeland' Jumped the Shark, and Does That Matter?

The following post contains spoilers for October 7th’s episode of “Homeland,” “Beirut is Back.”

Showtime’s newly Emmy-approved thriller “Homeland” is only two episodes into its second season, but this past Sunday’s installment had some viewers crying foul about plausibility. Directed by Michael Cuesta (“L.I.E.”) and written by Chip Johannessen, “Beirut Is Back” takes up with Carrie (Claire Danes) in Lebanon, where she meets up with the former asset she was brought to the country to handle at a mosque — Fatima Ali, the unhappy, abused wife of a Hezbollah district commander. Fatima promises information in exchange for five million dollars and a plane ticket to Detroit — and the info is juicy indeed. Abu Nazir (Navid Negahban) is meeting up with her husband in Beirut the next day: “You can kill them both,” she suggests, calmly.

What unfolds after this is an episode that’s wound tight in so many ways that things seem destined to snap back in some direction and do some damage. Carrie, who’s only just gotten her confidence back, is placed in what’s one of the worst scenarios she could imagine, doubting herself and being doubted by everyone around her, possibly in possession of details that could avert another attack on the U.S. but seemingly unable to convince anyone, even Saul (Mandy Patinkin), that her judgment is reliable.

Meanwhile, Brody (Damian Lewis), who’s looked like he’s been considering separating himself from Nazir now that his life back home is picking up, gets a wealth of reminders of the unpleasantness the world in which he’s now moving is capable of. Vice President Walden (Jamey Sheridan) invites him to a function being hosted by a defense contractor Israel hopes to be able to buy bunker busters from to use on Iran, and enlists him to help make that happen, responding to his carefully voiced concerns by saying “You really give a shit about the Arab street? They yell ‘Death to America!’ whatever we do.”

Back in Beirut, Saul ultimately decides to trust Carrie’s intel and her instincts, which turns out to be a good call, the only thing that saves Nazir from an American sniper bullet is the fact that Brody happens to have been allowed to observe the op from the Pentagon and texts a warning just in time. A preposterous development? Maybe a little — it is, after all, the equivalent of someone in the famous photo of the White House Situation Room texting bin Laden under the table while everyone else watches the updates, rapt. But it didn’t, for me, overstretch the boundaries of the fairly elastic universe in which “Homeland” takes place.

Because the show is smart and because it folds real countries and organizations into its fictional intrigues, it may be taken more at face value than it really aims for in terms of realism. It’s a show with a relatively small cast of characters whose continued importance is a deliberate matter of contrivance — Carrie and Brody are able to be played off each other so well because both are essential and yet neither is comfortable moored in the world from which he or she came. Even if Carrie gets brought back into the agency, she’s got a serious black mark on her record, while Nazir is never going to let Brody choose to simply become a politician with empathy toward the Middle East.

“Homeland” places less weight on where information comes from than how people act on it and how their own agendas and limited points of view determine that. From the source who first turns Carrie’s attention to Brody to Walden’s inviting Brody to the Pentagon in order to cement his loyalty, all access to knowledge is offered with strings attached, and it’s up to whomever receives it to figure out how valuable it is. The string of events that allows Brody to save Nazir’s life may have been stilted, but the point was what Brody did when put in a situation in which the man could have died. Brody could have been free of his obligations, but he still feels enough loyalty to endanger his own life by committing a treasonous act right in the heart of the Department of Defense.

“Homeland” is built on artifice, on structures and parallels that are always going to require a considerable suspension of disbelief — this is, after all, a series that’s potentially ramping up to put an al-Qaeda operative in the White House. It’s in how believable and consistent the psychology of the characters remains where the show will live or die, and both Carrie and Brody’s behavior (supported by some very fine acting from Danes and Lewis) seemed painfully true, two characters in intense stress with no one on their side. Carrie’s confession to Saul, that being wrong about Brody has made her “unable to trust [her] own thoughts,” was achingly sad becaue it was both the right and the worst thing to say to someone to get their trust — to suggest someone put their faith in the person you used to be.

So I’m still with “Homeland,” and am dying to see what Saul will do with the martyrdom video from Brody that he uncovered at the end of the episode. Another shark-jumping moment? One the show can’t possible pull back from? Perhaps, but there are already a dozen scenarios and outs that come to mind for how Brody could spin his words in that recording, if Saul even thinks it’s enough to pass up the chain without further investigation. Information — it’s only as good as the person who has it, and in “Homeland” that’s always the most important part of the equation.

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