The article below contains spoilers for the October 21 “Homeland” episode “New Car Smell.”
Well, no one can accuse “Homeland” of dragging its feet when it comes to plot developments. Four episodes into its second season, the Showtime drama seems determined to prove itself an answer to every complaint ever made about cable dramas in which nothing happens. After being cast out of the CIA in shame, Carrie (Claire Danes) has been pulled back to work as an apparent freelancer on behalf of the agency, first in Beirut and now here in the U.S., on Saul’s (Mandy Patinkin) investigation. Brody (Damian Lewis) is being considered for a VP candidacy, has saved Abu Nazir (Navid Negahban) from an assassination attempt and has spent a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day unwillingly murdering the man who crafted his suicide vest and chiseling away at his own marriage. Oh, and Saul and Estes (David Harewood) now know that Brody is, in fact, an al-Qaeda operative who planned to blow himself up at the end of last season, and they have brought in Peter Quinn (Rupert Friend) to run an operation to find out what he’s up to.
This feels like enough storyline for an entire season, and we’ve still got eight episodes to go. “Homeland” has been running up against the edges of plausibility this year, in part because of the wild twists and turns the show’s been allowing itself — rather than settling into the expected slow burn in which Carrie has to earn her credibility back at the agency while Brody keeps navigating the political arena with his not-quite-right demeanor and his bewildered family, the show has tossed the two directly into roiling conflict with that near-strike on Nazir, Carrie’s ejection from the briefing that followed and her subsequent suicide attempt, and Brody’s adventure in the woods. In “New Car Smell,” which was directed by David Semel and written by Meredith Stiehm, the show has put Carrie and Brody back in direct contact, with results that left Carrie blowing the op right open and Brody being dragged off into custody with a bag on his head.
Where is “Homeland” going to go from here? It feels like anything could happen, which isn’t always a positive development — the series is currently balanced on the edge of believability, not in the sense of realism, which hasn’t always been an utmost priority, but within the world it has established for itself. If there is a way in which Brody will be able to squirm out from under the discovery of his martyrdom video, it’s not one that’s easy to imagine, but it’s something the drama will really have to sell if that’s the path it ends up taking. Texting a warning to the head of al-Qaeda from the Pentagon may be preposterous, but it is also the kind of twist that you allow for to keep the drama going. Allowing Brody to talk his way too easily out of something damning, however, would be a betrayal of the characters, and a serious problem. And yet there’s something thrilling about the show’s willingness to charge ahead, not pad out these developments and keep teasing the possibility of discovery — there’s no messing around here, and it’s as exciting as it is alarming.
And that all said, “New Car Smell” was a deeply enjoyable episode that brought out the show’s greatest weapon, one it’s used relatively sparingly — the heady combination of its dueling leads on screen together. The scene in which Carrie is sent to bait Brody outside of Langley and the later one at the hotel bar were both terrific showcases for the characters and the actors playing them. Despite their opposing agendas and talents for duplicity, Carrie and Brody do, in a warped way, like each other, and they have an electric chemistry in each other’s presence that neither has with anyone else in the series. They go into that meeting in the bar hoping to try to get something from the other, Carrie to push Brody into revealing his contact, Brody to sound out if Carrie’s really back at the CIA and, if so, whom she’s targeting. But between these calculated salvos — Carrie telling Brody that she’s very close to tracking down the man who stole eight years of his life, Brody jabbing back with solicitous inquiries about her electroshock treatment — are what feel like some of the only unguarded glimpses we get of the pair’s true selves.
Which is why, though Brody ended up in cuffs, it’s Carrie who felt like the loser in this episode. Whether Brody saw through her cover at the bar or not, she couldn’t resist telling him she was right about him, to punish him for what he did to her but also to see what he would say. Her rage as she put herself in harm’s way in his hotel room was part righteous, part death wish and part woman scorned, and while shaking her loose in that way and going for her vulnerable spots Brody held on to control far better than she did. As he said to her: he’s good at this. It remains to be seen if he’s good enough, or has enough friends in high places, to find a way out of his impossible spot.