When people look back on Homeland as a series, they will likely point to a handful of episodes that set it apart from other political dramas like it. These episodes show why Homeland might forever make us rethink serial political fiction. The fourth episode of Season Two, “New Car Smell,” will undoubtedly be one of the ones people point to. Not only because Homeland finally blows up its foundation, but because on the way to its shocking conclusion, realistic characterizations – the stuff this whole house of cards has been built on – are tightened to their most interesting degrees. A finely-tuned cat and mouse game, handled with subtlety rather than fireworks, “New Car Smell” brings Carrie and Brody face to face again, only this time the interactions are filled with none of the gentle subtext of Season One. Now it’s all bottled-up venom and boiled hurt.
“New Car Smell” begins with Saul revealing to Estes that Brody is indeed a terrorist. They decide it’s best to let Brody continue to do what he’s doing and to set up 24/7 surveillance of his actions. Jessica, still angry at Brody for missing his speech, kicks him out of the home with no expectation of letting him in again. Carrie, hired back to trail Brody, sets up a run-in with the former soldier as a way to make him nervous. Exiled to a motel, Brody calls Carrie and asks her to have a drink with him. He inquires about her shock therapy, forcing her to momentarily let her guard down and show she’s upset. As Brody goes back to his room, Carrie decides, against the CIA’s wishes, to follow him there. A fiery conversation ensues, finally resulting in Brody being hauled off by the CIA.
Season One was all about Carrie’s slow unraveling and the painful revelation that Brody had stoically manipulated the CIA. Season Two has watched Carrie regain her sense of purpose while Brody self-destructs. “New Car Smell” shows the final thrust of Brody’s mental and physical breakdown. Unlike the shaky unease of Carrie, Brody simply simmers until his frustrations come out in small grunts or exaggerated deep breaths. No more powerful moment of this exists than his forced eye roll at knowing that Carrie has come back to the hotel to talk to him. What could he be thinking at this moment? That he doesn’t want to sleep with Carrie? Could he really be that arrogant to think she still wants him? Or does he know that this will spell his end? The wonderful thing about Brody’s character is how we can feel like we know exactly what goes through his mind one moment and be perplexed by him the next. Brody’s friendly face has a way of keeping you guessing even long after the truth of his actions has come to fruition. As a result, the characters around him, namely Carrie, are as easily duped as we are. However, in “New Car Smell,” the gig’s up for Brody when Carrie and Jessica both turn him away for good.
As one of the more underrated aspects of Homeland, the presence of Brody’s daughter continues to be intriguing. At first glance she may seem another stock child character trying to find her way in a world of adults who are far more screwed up than she. We’ve seen these characters in Breaking Bad, Mad Men, and even Modern Family. What separates Dana Brody is her self-awareness. Somehow nothing feels black and white to Dana. Being wise beyond her years, she doesn’t do as typical children characters do and reduce everything to its brass tack elements. She seems to grasp that the world’s fucked up, just like she is, and while she’s weary of the outcome, she’s satisfied with the journey. There’s no whining or pleading, it’s all just okay the way it is. In a telling scene midway through “New Car Smell,” Dana goes up to the top of the Washington Monument with the Vice President’s son. Shot with a beautiful reflection against the glass, causing her face to float over the Washington skyline, Dana kisses the boy and explains, “That she wants to be his boyfriend.” But she already has a boyfriend. In this moment we see that Dana intuitively understands the fractured psychology that makes up humanity. Her dad loves America, but he loves justice more. Carries wants to stop Brody, but she cares about him too. Her mom loves her dad, but it makes sense that she cares for Mike too. Nothing’s simple in Homeland. Through the reflective eyes of the children, we see the first crack in that shattered glass.
A bothersome thread that continues to occur in Homeland are the jokes about Carrie’s illness. Besides being inappropriate given the high-stakes intelligence operations going on, even from a dramatic perspective, they are growing tedious. These off-handed comments are far from the most implausible thing about the show, but they do feel a bit out of place. I find Homeland to be more successful when it conveys the skepticism that the CIA still has about Carrie’s mental stability. Even after she’s proven to be correct about Brody, they rightfully question whether she’s fit to make risky intelligence decisions. Her erratic behavior continues to prove that she’s a spitfire who acts without thinking. Going to Brody’s hotel room at the end of “New Car Smell,” was yet another act of defiance that flew in the face of the operation’s intentions.
Suddenly, I don’t mind that Homeland has completely shown all of its cards and tied-off its most coveted plot thread so far. While the show may go the way of Twin Peaks now, the ride has been quite enjoyable. Nevermind where Homeland goes from here, we now can officially say they have something up their sleeves. What that is? Who knows? This episode – appropriately title “New Car Smell” – was a much needed rupture in the layered world being built since the very first episode of the series. Anticipating the next episode feels something like waiting on an exciting new series to begin. Brody’s capture will change everything we’ve come to know and understand about what Homeland intends to be. [A]