In one of the first scenes of this week’s episode of Homeland on Showtime, our tragic hero Nicholas Brody and his bearded special-ops escorts sit around a fire four miles from the Iranian border. They’re roasting a goat and discussing the most efficient way to lead it to slaughter. One of his comrades reminds him that to ensure a meaty carcass, you should keep the goat relaxed before cutting its throat. Otherwise, the sacrificial lamb will be strung-out, uneven and distressed.
It’s symbolism that should be lost on no one, but if the season’s final episodes represent Brody’s likely end, “Good Night” is not a relaxing walk to the executioner’s table. It’s far from it. Instead, director Keith Gordon and writers Alexander Cary and Charlotte Stoudt give us an intense mission episode that felt as taut as some of the show’s best hours in its first season. Call me a sucker for set pieces, but the journey over the border, to me, was forty-or-so of the show’s best minutes in its three years.
It could be said that this episode succeeds so much because of its micro-focus. If this season has taught us anything, it’s that Homeland can handle four zoomed-in miles of desert terrain better than it can handle double-double agents, feelings-talk and the affairs of troubled teens. But although Brody’s road to Iranian perdition was paved poorly, he’s riding the rickety wheelbarrow downhill at full speed. It’s exhilarating.
Back at home base, Quinn’s shot-in-the-arm seems to have knocked Carrie back into line, though in the process, he stumbles onto her secret pregnancy. She remains in denial about a lot of things, telling Quinn the baby isn’t Brody’s. (I honestly cannot fathom it being anyone else’s at this point.) Again, Quinn suggests (rightly) that Carrie has no business inside the Langley control room, but with Saul busy fishing around for a stick of lucky gum and Dar Adal doing damage control with the Attorney General, Carrie’s right back barking orders and prioritizing all the wrong things. At least there aren’t any parked cars for her to jump out of.
From the second Saul starts smacking on that lucky gum, things start to go wrong. It seems someone forgot to pay the CIA’s WIFI bill (or they’re just using Time Warner Cable), because their connection to their drone is offline. A traffic logjam at the border forces the group to stand by, only to have a Kurdish patrol roll up on one of their cars. To prevent them from seeing Brody, his buddies are forced to say “good night,” killing the Kurds and ratcheting up the stakes on what was supposed to be the simplest part of the mission.
As the mission is crumbling around them, the American troops are doing their best to keep fragile Brody in one piece. The killing of another group of innocent people has him ready to run off into the desert, but this time it’s his fellow fighters who talk him back on course. The way they have manipulated Brody—speaking of kids they don’t actually have, making small-talk and colorful bull-riding analogies, and ensuring he knows their lives are in his trembling hands—has been a nice touch the past few weeks.
Back home, mission control gets an unexpected drop-in from Lockhart. He’s been briefed. He knows everything. But as Saul tries to mount another defense, Lockhart stops him before he can start, explaining that he’ll be inheriting Saul’s mess no matter what and that he’s rooting for the mission to succeed. For as much of an ass as he seemed to be in the first few weeks, the writing team has done as good a job of refining and developing the character as any on the show.
With the primary route still blocked, Brody and the team’s leader make their way to an alternate route, driving along bumpy terrain before running over an explosive in the ground, cutting the car in two and leaving them in the car’s flaming rubble. The only thing that can see the state of the car’s remains is the drone high above; director Keith Gordon gets high marks for using the night-vision screen to show the anonymous, white-outlined bodies crawl out of the wreckage.
After the explosion, Brody snaps into action, dragging his wounded comrade to safety, calling for backup, and hiding with the troops inside a bunker as they begin to take heavy fire. The eventual order to abort the mission means the end of Saul’s tenure, Brody’s usefulness, and perhaps the Javadi play altogether, but Brody’s decision to make a run for the border and effectively go at the endgame alone with no backup and no extraction plan is a noble gesture from the character who has carried the show since its beginnings. His ultimate conclusion—that Carrie herself will find a way to “get him home”—is a little too Hollywood (even she calls it “a fantasy”), but the man has found his faith again at the strangest of times, running to the border and surrendering to a waiting Iranian patrol who had heard the shootout and readied themselves for the second it spilled across the dividing line.
Carrie happily delivers the good news to a surprised Saul, but I have to admit that I take some exception to the decision to re-insert Fara into the story by asking her to talk her family into setting up a safe house for Brody in Tehran. You’d have to think that the CIA would have contingency plans and other safe spaces in the country; this just feels too forced. Though of course the show is called Homeland, I think the most compelling stuff over the next two weeks will be happening half a world away.
The plan seems to be progressing quickly, with Javadi “being Javadi,” entering the cell and killing Brody’s companion. While confined, Brody and his bearded buddy basically concluded that under intense torture, he would eventually crack and reveal the American plot. To allow Brody time, this was a necessity, but a hard one.
When Homeland is at its best, it’s doing at least one of two things. Though these sometimes overlap, the show succeeds when it can craft complicated questions about love and country, or when it creates engaging, high-tension military operations. This season on the whole has lacked the iconic, high-stakes moments that helped set the show apart, and the questions it was asking were usually too convoluted to really engage us. But all it took was a narrowing of focus—four miles of desert terrain far away from Carrie, Dana and everything else wrong with this season. Though of course the road here was rocky, the road to the season finale seems well-paved.