Homeland, Ep. 203: State of Independence

And just like that, Homeland’s gone and blown the lid off the whole thinning plot problem. As its most toned down and personal episode in Season Two, “State of Independence” went deeper into the psychology its two broken characters. Filled with moments that could have easily strayed into the realm of contrivance, understated awkwardness reigned with Carrie coming out as the knowing hero and Brody looking battered and closer to capture than ever.

On the day that he’s prepared to give a major speech, Brody is dispatched by his liaison to Abu Nazir, Roya, to get the tailor, who helped fit him for the bomb in Season One’s premiere, to a safe house. Carrie stays up all night working on a detailed intelligence report for the CIA. When she shows up for the debrief, excited as ever to be part of the team again, she’s once more turned away by the realities of her condition. On the way out of town, Brody and the tailor begin to grow skeptical of one another. After getting a flat tire, the tailor plots how he might take Brody down. The tailor finally hits him for a rock that has little effect. Brody chases the tailor through the woods and accidentally impales him on a stick. Late for his speech, Brody is forced to kill the man in order to assure he doesn’t negatively affect him any further. Carrie goes to her own home for the first time in a while and attempts suicide. She’s awoken by Saul who reveals that she was right all along, Brody’s a terrorist.

The more I watch Homeland, the more I realize there are three main types of episodes: the plot-driven, the character driven, and the personal explorations that don’t directly or absolutely link to the plot. This season has exhibited all three. This week, for the first time, we got the personal exploration; perhaps the type of storytelling that separates this show from others ostensibly like it. These are the kind that last season brought us prolonged scenes of Carrie’s breakdown and her momentary affair with Brody, as well as Brody’s intense contemplation of the deeds that stand ahead. Not to mention, his complicated interactions with his daughter. In these episodes, scenes play out in long form with the characters forced to make difficult choices. What I love about these episodes is how they expose the weaknesses in our protagonists. Even when they bear the darkness of their souls, we remain on their sides.

Always caught in the highs and lows of putting themselves back together, Brody and Carrie are both eternally fractured. In “State of Independence,” Brody kills a man ferociously with his bare hands. But before the murder, he tries mightily to keep the tailor alive, again showing that thread of loyalty that makes him so endearing. The cold calculation of his social-climbing wife, and the general stiffness of the American government continues to make Brody look like a friendly, sociopathic alternative to a nation stuck in political rhetoric. In some ways, I continue to remain on Brody’s side, even while hoping desperately that he will be stopped. You have to feel similar about Carrie. She’s justifiably insane and the craziness only gets worse the more she dwells on it, which she does again and again and again. Her frazzled breakdowns have a keen way of disguising all the good she does. Unlike Brody, her actions defy her good deeds and make us question her rather than commit to being on her side. Her suicide attempt only further distanced her from the stability necessary for a believable expert CIA operative.

“State of Independence” is built around two major moments that could have easily been treated melodramatically. Firstly, the prolonged tension of the tailor creeping up behind Brody, considering ways to kill him. Shot with haunting reality, mostly from behind, we find ourselves rooting for Brody to kill a man whose blind to how committed to the cause Brody is. Next, Carrie’s suicide attempt. A trope we’ve experienced hundreds of times in television and film is given the kind of realistic treatment here that makes it feel like we are seeing it for the first time. Watching Carrie lay down to die, I remained frightened by what lay ahead and where she might go, spiritually and literally. A long shot on her back leaves us wondering if she will just be left there in unconsciousness or if somebody may creep in. We’ve all had that feeling that we are nodding away and somebody may be behind us. This image captures something deep in our own desperate experiences.

For the first time Homeland left me wanting more, if mostly because it did less. A show made up primarily of two classic scenes, I was relieved that plot didn’t rule the day, but instead, character motivations came to the fore. Saul’s final revelation and the “Next On Homeland” segment gave enough promise that a whole slew of plot is still left to unravel. Yet, “State of Independence” reminded us that this fractured show exists because of the complex realities that go on inside the minds of our lead characters. [A-] 

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