Homeland, Ep. 202: Beirut is Back

Homeland’s Carrie isn’t a schizophrenic sociopath who threatens the security of those around her or talks to telephone poles. In fact, she’s one of the more grounded mentally unstable characters I’ve ever seen. Yet, the buttoned-up, masculine politics of the CIA insist on treating her like Travis Bickle. The resulting narrative can be a ping pong match of us, as viewer, momentarily doubting Carrie while also trying our damnedest to believe in her. Episode two of Season Two puts the “Just because she’s paranoid, don’t mean they’re not after her” drama to its most violent test yet.

Back in Beirut and almost part of the team again, Carrie gets the tip from her informant that Abu Nazir and some of his men will conduct a secret meeting in a difficult part of the city. Carrie believes in her informant, but Saul et al. struggle with the idea of risking the lives of Americans on the hunch of an exiled, erratic woman. On the verge of mental breakdown, because she can’t even believe herself, Carrie convinces Saul to go through with the mission.

Back in the Pentagon, Brody gets word of the attempt on Nazir’s life. Anxiety grows as Brody watches the takedown unfold, terrified as to how to stop it. On the ground, tension also mounts as the Americans are thrust into the danger zone. Proving Carrie right, Nazir does show up, only to get a last minute text from Brody that saves his life. Fleeing the city, Carrie and Saul pick up the informant. Carrie, again proving there’s no bounds to her nuttiness, runs through the informant’s dangerous compound to grab any evidence she can find. The evidence proves worthless, until Saul finds an SD card. He watches Brody’s farewell video to his failed bombing. The show ends with Saul knowing Brody works for Nazir.

Contrary to the first episode, “Beirut is Back” focused more on where Homeland’s bread is buttered: tightening the plot to the brink of suffocation, only to let the air out with a frustrating bit of escape routines. Where the season premiere thrust us into the minds of the characters, this one took us back to the cat and mouse game between Brody and Carrie. More distant than ever, the two leads still volley plot threads back and forth between each other, like an international chess match. Though it was nice to see Saul show his trust in Carrie again and make an important decision, it was disheartening that Homeland had a chance in this episode to develop a new exciting thread altogether (a new mole perhaps?), but instead chose to filter everything through Brody once again. In an improbable coincidence, Brody gets asked to watch the takedown with other councilmen. He sends a highly risky text to the most wanted man in America right in front of some of the most powerful people in the nation. At this moment, Homeland strays far into the territory of contrivance with such a limp escape tactic. I would have loved for them to keep us guessing as to who let Nazir onto the assassination attempt. The revelation that Brody made the text wouldn’t have seemed so forced in a later episode.

As always, Homeland left me wondering how much can be left in the tank now that another CIA officer knows the truth about Brody. With almost all the thinning plot threads tied off, where can the show possibly go from here? That’s both the most exciting and most worrisome aspect of the series. Since the middle of last season, I’ve been hoping that Saul, a compelling but somewhat underwhelming supporting character, would get a bigger role. Now that he has the knowledge he does, he holds the keys to the plot from here. Where he will drive might dictate whether Homeland stays grounded in the character work that makes it so engaging or whether it ventures more into the world of plot contrivance that can keep us wincing in suspension-of-disbelief no man’s land.

Homeland’s “Beirut is Back” is a tightly wound entry into a continually exhausting world. Exhibiting both it good traits (Carrie’s questioned sanity) and it’s bad (Brody saving the day in implausible fashion), this episode again displayed why Homeland can be so fascinating. The heart-stopping cliffhanger has me craving what will happen next. The writing can sometimes be so expert and now – with it’s biggest plot point uncovered by another person – is the time for the show to really put up or shut up about whether it belongs in the same league as the saints of modern TV.  [B]

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