Would it be overstating it to say that between Mad Men’s ‘LSD Scene’ and the ‘Interrogation Scene’ in this recent episode of Homeland, the two most captivating moments in cinema this year came from television? In one short line, said with conviction by Claire Danes, all the truths that define Homeland are built: “Are you sure you’re not a monster?” The lines between a justified act of violence and a heinous act of evil are blurred. Is there actually a difference? Or only a difference in the justifications of who you serve? Would we call Carrie a monster for sneaking into a man’s home and invading his privacy? Is the USA made up of monsters for sending out hidden drone strikes? Is the interrogator who put a knife through Brody’s hand a monster for losing his temper? The plot of “Q&A” is simple: the CIA has 24 hours to interrogate Brody, get him to confess, and find out what Abu Nazir’s plans are, before people start to worry about him having gone missing. This episode ascends because of what transpires between Carrie and Brody in that interrogation room.
Is Brody a monster? Well, in some ways that’s not the point as the question Carrie poses is: “Are you sure you’re not a monster?” There’s a difference. Nothing Brody has done has been out of callous rage. Maybe his calculation makes him a monster to us, but not to him. Sergeant Brody is an excellent officer whose loyalty and commitment to a cause got him home and then got him caught in the branches of bad lies. Brody’s not an overtly emotional person who bathes in self-righteous vanity and, as a result, lying isn’t second nature to him. He believed in the causes that brought him to defend his country, just as he believed the truths of America’s hidden bombing to be wrong. I’d even venture to say that Brody does actually care about Carrie. He staunchly, whether because of pride or stubbornness, denies his feelings to Carrie, but his tears and the ball he curls himself into at the end tell otherwise. It’s not the “Lies will do you in…” part that have undermined Brody, but the “…need for lies to survive” part. It’s his commitment to serving causes in which he believes. That’s what makes him so fascinating.
Homeland has a way of being riveting by sometimes just regurgitating what we already know, while doing it with the emotional layers of a liar coming to grips with the falsities he’s buried in. But that’s a lot like life, isn’t it? We spend much of our time living and then re-living. Except that the times after an event occurs come out in the form of loyalties, falsehoods, and subjective re-tellings. How many times have you recounted an argument that gets skewed depending on who you are talking to and how you feel at that moment? Much of written drama comes from far too omniscient a perspective, with events unfolding exactly as they honestly seem they should.
On the surface of “O&A,” the writers are stripping away all the subtext. But are they really? Carrie meets face to face with Brody and now finally all the “actual” truth will come out. And some of it does. But a whole world of cover-ups still exist. No matter how much Brody breaks down, he still won’t entirely answer that he had a bomb vest. And does Carrie actually want him to leave his family? Even the justification Carrie offers for why Brody didn’t blow up the panic room – “You heard your daughter’s voice” – is partially a lie. So had Brody accepted Carrie’s story, he’d still be lying. A lie that he’s telling without even making it up. Carrie and Brody live inside of each other’s lies so closely that they can lie for each other. “Q&A” is a mesmerizing episode of television because it forces us to swim inside of falsehoods without the ability to step away and assess them.
Carrie displays why she’s an excellent CIA operative. Amidst all the lying, what she begs for is honesty. Is she actually being honest throughout this scene? She’s far too good for us to even be able to tell. In fact, nothing that comes out of her mouth – not her feelings for Brody or his immunity – should be trusted. Yet, like Brody, we do trust it. Because she’s vulnerable. Because she begs us to believe she’s not crazy then downs pills and tries to kill herself. Because she had feelings for Estes and they destroyed her soul. Because no matter how many times she proves everyone right, she seems to be edging closer and closer to calamity.
Homeland will continue to shake the cage of psychologically-charged drama for as long as its two leads remain entwined in each other’s thoughts. For 50 minutes each week, we live inside the spider-webbed minds of two highly intelligent, emotionally-ruptured humans drudged up by some of the best writing television has ever seen. In all honesty, “Q&A” made some strange choices that most critics will overlook. Brody being let go so easily felt forced. No amount of justification would make me believe the CIA would let a dangerous terrorist walk away. The complications between Dana and Finn are interesting, but felt dropped in amidst the intensity inside that interrogation room. Those 20 minutes between Carrie and Brody are some of the most memorable minutes in filmmaking you’ll ever see. That’s why this episode excels. [A]