Phew. That’s more like it.
After what could arguably be called one of the weakest episodes in Homeland’s three-season run on Showtime, this week’s episode turned back the clock and returned to form with a renewed focus on its more essential personnel. It’s a welcome reminder of the show’s potential.
Written by the late Henry Bromell and his son William—the elder Bromell was responsible for “The Good Soldier,” “Representative Brody,” and the excellent “Q&A” before his shocking death this past March—“Tower of David” brings back many of the elements that made this show special. The first, of course, is disgraced Marine Sergeant Nicholas Brody, who makes his needed return after two episodes at large.
Frankly, it couldn’t have come any sooner. This week served as a reminder that Brody, fundamentally, is the show’s most interesting character and the one who sets the show apart. The only hole bigger than the one the (maybe Brody) bomb left in Langley thus far has been the one left in the show’s plodding plotting, which had been at a standstill waiting for him to return.
He appears in an unlikely destination—Catia La Mar, Venezuela, where he’s in pretty bad shape, bleeding from a gunshot wound sustained after an ambush while secretly trying to cross a border. There’s a $10 million bounty on his head, but the group of gun-wielding men holding him don’t seem to be planning on collecting. For now, they just have to keep him alive until they (and the show) figure out what to do with him.
His unlikely surgeon uses a healthy dose of what seems to be an opiate—heroin, most likely—to subdue Brody for surgery. He awakes in a sunlit room in a burnt-out building in Caracas, with Muslim prayers playing faintly in the background. This feels set up to mirror his time in Iraq—he’s back wearing white, seeing children run past him, teaching a new language to a sympathetic listener. This time, instead of Issa (Abu Nazir’s son), it’s Esme, the alluring daughter of his captor. There’s a palpable tension between the two; with the addition of Fara last week, the lone bright spot in the episode, it’s nice to see more interesting characters being introduced as the world expands.
As the camera pulls away from his room, we see that he’s being housed in an unfinished, burned-out building in the center of the city called the Tower of David. Nominally inspired by a citadel in ancient Jerusalem, this one is in even worse shape than its namesake—an “abscess beyond healing” in the words of one of its denizens. It’s a fitting metaphor because of how much Homeland is about scars, really—Carrie’s frustration after failing to see 9/11 coming, Jessica and Dana’s inability to cope with Brody’s return, and Brody’s ravaged torso (and mind, for that matter). He, of course might be “beyond healing”—there’s simply no conceivable way he can be reintegrated into any kind of real world.
For now, though, he and his show are focused on getting their strength back. For someone who’s been on the lam for so long, it makes sense for Brody to see the Tower as a kind of purgatory—he’s been in perpetual transition since bidding goodbye to Carrie at the border last season. He doesn’t know where the “next place” he seeks is, but he feels compelled to keep moving. His captor reveals that the only reason he hasn’t collected the price on Brody’s head is because he owes a debt to Carrie, but that the tower isn’t a step in a journey. It’s “end of the line.”
While Brody’s destined for a life on the run, Carrie’s equally as damaged mentally since his departure. It always comes back to Carrie, really. Though Brody is the show’s reason for being, Carrie is his foil as much as she is his mirror. This episode more than ever showed the duality of these two lead characters—both are imprisoned and seeking a way out. Three weeks have passed since last week’s episode, and she’s in therapy, acclimating to her renewed course of medication and building houses out of popsicle sticks. It’s really nice that the show hasn’t taken the easy way out here and just dropped her right back into the thick of things like last year. It’s likely that she’ll be back to fighting crime in a few weeks, but there’s no quick fix here.
She’s waiting for a man, though, expecting Saul to come and give her the chance to free herself from this prison. As she grows more and more desperate, waiting for an out that—again, somewhat welcomingly—doesn’t seem to be coming any time soon, it shows more and more how much she’s struggling with this. When a car pulls up, it turns out that it’s not Saul, but a lawyer eager to help her get out of her prison. He’s on her side from the start, telling her so and reminding her that she’s not “crazy.” But honestly, this episode shows us that she kinda-sorta-maybe always was.
He’s not all that he appears, though, and once Carrie realizes that her visitor may be someone sent from a foreign government to recruit her in her damaged state, we get our first real return to the behind-the-veil geopolitical machinations that have been peppered to great effect throughout the show’s first two seasons. Remember, before this became a twisted love story (or the Brody family after-school-special we’ve had in recent weeks), it was a spy drama. When Carrie realizes what this buttoned-up Benedict Arnold is selling, the tension ratchets up in a welcome way. She’s sharper, more focused, and more decisive. When the stakes rise, so, too does her ability to see things clearly.
Meanwhile, Brody’s stuck in the same morality play he played for most of Season 2. A thief stole his wallet, and his captors throw the poor sap to his death amidst Brody’s protestations. It seems like Brody is failing to grasp how righteously screwed he is, given a however many-th chance, he seems bent on screwing it up. He’s always had a magnetism as a character and an actor; people around him are as drawn to him as we are. Unfortunately for them, it’s almost always to their detriment—he’s been poison, particularly to the women in his life (Jessica, Dana, Carrie, and now, Esme).
He finally sneaks away from his captors and turns to a mosque for refuge, but even there he’s a wanted man. While he’s showering, the imam calls the government, who arrive to arrest Brody. It’s a calculated choice to have the imam rebuke him (“You’re not a Muslim. You’re a terrorist,” he says.), but again, Brody’s captors are there to dispose of the government officials and the imam and his wife. Brody’s senses of responsibility and morality continue to be tested here, as he tries (and fantastically fails) to be a decent man again in a world that sees him as indecent. Of course, he’s done less-than-decent things, but he’s trying to do better. It’s just not an option for him right now.
His captors throw himself back into a hole, and the imagery of his capture in Iraq comes full circle. “Everywhere you go, other people die,” his holder says to him before leaving him another rig of drugs to dull the pain. “But you always manage to survive. You’re like a cockroach.”
Again, that plays a fitting double-role when you consider that Brody’s lease-on-life has already lasted a season-and-a-half longer than anyone in Homeland’s writers room had planned. But as the last few weeks have shown us, it’s undeniable that this show goes as Brody does, and—at least for now—we’re depending on him.