In “Q&A,” the fifth episode of Homeland’s second season and—as I’ve argued time and again—the series’ high-water mark, Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) interrogates Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis), the man she’s pursued from the moment we met her. The sequence, as written by Henry Bromell, directed by Lesli Linka Glatter, and performed by Danes and Lewis, is a model of plainspoken power; its central thrust, and that of Homeland entire, is that Carrie’s willingness to be fragile—to tell the truth—is more formidable than pure force.
In this sense, “Lies, Amplifiers, F—king Twitter,” in which the focus turns to Carrie’s interrogation of another partner, another traitor, is both an expression of the series’ (un)stable center — terrorism: a love story — and a measure of its (d)evolution. That Saul (Mandy Patinkin) allows her to have a crack at Dante (Morgan Spector) in her current state suggests that he’s a “lunatic,” too, or at least that Homeland, more than five years on from the exquisite original, has become a blunter instrument. After all, Carrie’s wiles turn out to be ineffective: Dante doesn’t break.
There are reasons why this rendition suffers, of course. The arrangement of the actors is sloppier, the placement and movement of the camera less considered, the relationship of interrogator and subject one that largely developed off screen. But for a moment I caught myself falling for Carrie’s vulnerable streak, for the fact that I’m still not sure, seven seasons in, when she’s putting it on for effect and when she’s really baring her soul. (I’m not always sure she knows, either.) She is, when she wants to be, the ultimate empath: “”I know, just like you, how unbearable it is to be on the outside after you’ve been in,” she says, blinking back tears, seeming to soften him. “I know how it happens. How things derail. You think, ‘No, I can mange this,’ but step by step, somehow you end up very far from where you ever wanted to be.” Perhaps it’s that we now expect this to be the first trick in her repertoire. Perhaps it’s that Dante’s rationale for participating in the Russian active measures campaign remains more theoretical than emotional. Perhaps it’s that Homeland no longer sees fragility as a source of power. The fact remains that Carrie’s questioning fails to generate the tension, or the answers, of the earlier sequence, and the air is out of the tires long before Saul’s soul-crushing “Fuck.”
Somehow you end up very far from where you ever wanted to be. If there’s a more apt description of Homeland’s long and winding road, I’m not aware of it, and it’s not only in the interrogation room—though that’s the clearest point of comparison—that “Lies, Amplifiers, F—king Twitter” compares unfavorably to the glory days. When Carrie’s manic episodes damaged her relationships with her father, her sister (Amy Hargreaves), her romantic partners, Saul, it always felt like the personal and political stakes were in balance; for her to abandon Franny (Claire and McKenna Keane) almost without pause is so cruel, even in crash circumstances, that it left me incredulous. (And for Homeland, that’s saying something.) Or, for another example, consider the sequence of events that leads to the escape of Simone Martin (Sandrine Holt) into the waiting arms of Yevgeny Gromov (Costa Ronin. More precisely, I should say, the lack of events: The set-up is fine, I suppose, with Wellington (Linus Roache) passing President Keane’s (Elizabeth Marvel) ultimatum on to the Russian ambassador, who then pulls the plug on Gromov’s operation, saying “the damage is done.” But Paley’s two-second test of Martin’s ability to fend off cross-examination, so sorely underutilizing the great Dylan Baker? And the lifeless construction of Martin’s flight, cutting away to Saul in the back of a sedan where the Homeland of yore might’ve strung together a nerve-thrumming set piece? Plus the strangely flat treatment of Dante’s poisoning, which leaves us back where we were with Quinn, waiting on a man to live or die so Carrie can save the country?
Yeah, to quote Dante, much of this episode’s a “shitfest,” as least by the high bar (“Q&A”) the series seems eager to set for itself. Homeland has found its footing again this season, but tonight’s throwback episode is a potent reminder that its recent successes are very much relative.
Matt Brennan is the TV editor of Paste Magazine. He tweets about what he’s watching @thefilmgoer.