Homeland, Ep. 207: The Clearing

As if slowly letting the helium out of a balloon, “The Clearing” diffuses the tension that made the past three episodes high points of the series and replaces them with divergent subplots that, for the moment, have little immediate pay off. Like resetting the pieces of a chessboard, this episode seems intent on being a transition place from where multiple characters take on new dramatic threads and Carrie and Brody attempt to regain their footing after some trying experiences. To call this the weakest episode of Season 2 would be fair, though it’s a forgivable misstep considering the fireworks that came before.

On the way to another fundraiser, Jessica surprises Brody with questions about whether he killed Tom Walker. A furious Brody demands answers from Carrie.  They wind up rekindling a moment of romance before each thinks better of it. Concurrently, Saul questions the terrorist suspect Aileen Morgan, from Season One, about the identity of the man who orchestrated the Gettysburg massacre. Dana reveals to her parents that she and Finn killed a woman in a hit-and-run. Brody decides to risk his fate with congress by going to the police with his daughter’s crime. Carrie waits for Brody at the station and demands that he not file the report.

As expected, Dana’s angle already directly affects Brody’s career and threatens to nullify his ability to continue as an effective CIA informant. Interestingly, Brody wants Dana to tell the truth, something he’s virtually incapable of practicing. Given his penchant for diving headlong into the quicksand of bad fibs, one has to wonder if this is Brody acting selfishly or from a genuine place of care for his daughter. Damien Lewis always straddles the line from friendly to pathologically narcissistic so well that’s it’s difficult to discern if filing the police report is simply his way of freeing himself from the growing pressures of a double life.

Carrie and Brody’s kiss comes as an inevitable, if obviously placed, turning point that cements each still possesses feelings for the other (in case there was one or two of us who still wondered). The angle of deception versus true romance that continues to be played by the writers is beginning to emerge as nails on an already scratched-to-the-wood chalkboard. I can’t entirely tell what was gained from this interaction between Carrie and Brody, though I do wonder why Claire Dane insists on emoting her frazzled inner state in just about every instance of tension (brilliantly spoofed by SNL on Saturday). For as textured as the actress can be, she’s gradually become something of a one trick pony at the mid-point of Season Two.

Most compellingly, “The Clearing” focused on Saul’s determined, but ultimately tragic, probing of terror suspect, Aileen. Saul’s emotional attachment to his suspects and agents alike, expose an underlying need to connect with humanity. His failed marriage and lack of a personal life remain an as-yet-untapped strand in Homeland’s thinning repertoire. While Aileen’s eventual suicide may come off as a desperate way to escape further torment in prison, to me, it spelled yet another example of Abu Nazir’s committed network on the ground in America. Further distancing Brody’s importance to Nazir from the purported relevance he had early in the series, the man in that photo holds the cards to the kind of terror cell that Brody never actually had an eye on. Slowly but surely, Brody’s lies have made him the target of the CIA, his family, his former military buddies, and, possibly, the terrorist group he chose to serve.

The issue with “The Clearing” has little to do with the plot threads. All told, some intriguing developments advance the shattered nature of each character. However, the scenes play like staged set pieces, written for the screen and forced out by characters in inorganic ways. Hence, why so much of this episode comes off like a convergence of starts and stops without bleeding from one moment to the next. These kinds of transitional (or, breather) episodes are tricky because they fall smack in the middle of a tightly wound yarn. Any small severance feels like a rupture in what’s been so carefully built.  That said, enough has been left undone, especially between our all-important leads, to make the rest of the season worth desperately salivating over. [B-]

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