Between all the drama of Carrie and Brody or the CIA’s plot to find terrorists or Dana Brody’s meltdown, it might have been easy to miss that this entire series, in one way or another, has been building to one moment: Carrie confronting Abu Nazir. Carrie’s obsessive, frazzled, aggressive, and manic need to find this one man has been the stuff that Emmy montages and classic spoofs are made out of. For a person whose presence has largely been off-screen or only in the mouths of the protagonists, Abu Nazir has become one of the recognizable villains in television history. In Episode Ten of Season Two, “Broken Hearts,” Carrie finally has her moment with the man who has incarcerated her mind.
“Broken Hearts” begins with Carrie being broad-sided by a vehicle in an ugly crash. It turns out that Abu Nazir, who kidnaps Carrie, has orchestrated the collision. As the CIA search for Carrie’s whereabouts, Nazir contacts Brody. Nazir demands that Brody find VP Walden’s pacemaker and provide the serial number. Once done, Walden will have a heart attack and Carrie will be let go. Brody agrees to do as Nazir says. As Brody struggles to get inside Walden’s office, Nazir and Carrie discuss the terrorist’s motivations. Brody uncovers the serial number but forces Nazir to let Carrie go first. He does, and Brody hands over the number. Walden confronts Brody and slowly dies in front of him. The episode ends with Carrie going back to capture the man who has possessed her thoughts.
The build up to Nazir has simmered under the entire series, but the actual pay-off exists as a Die Hard-like one on one between two human: the good guy and the bad guy. Mildly reductive compared to the aura around him, Nazir doesn’t have an outlandish plot to take over the world so much as a refined theory about slowly stripping away America’s world domination via generation after generation of sacrifice. His speech is measured, earnest, and, above all, remarkably cliché. This is the awful terrorist that almost imploded Carrie Mathison? In some respects, Homeland, having captured the hearts of America for a fleeting moment, had to pit person against person, reducing all the drama down to the brass tacks of two passionate beings. Yet, the effect of the scene between Nazir and Carrie feels more like a whimper than a bang.
Before watching this episode, I stumbled upon a tweet that mentioned Homeland officially went 24 when Brody started to “face time” Nazir. Ironically, I remember seeing a film at a festival years ago that was shot on a camera phone and involved a terrorist demanding that a man commit murder or else someone he loves will be killed. In effect, Homeland emerged in “Broken Hearts” as a standard TV drama with strange character choices (so Brody caused the murder of Nazir’s men, but Nazir lets Carrie go?) and convenient scenes of lame suspense – Brody’s extended time working with Walden’s pacemaker being the biggest offender.
Most frustrating about “Broken Hearts” is how it reminds us what little the series has new to give. Like the rehash of Mike and Jessica’s love affair in the previous episode, here we get another glimpse of Brody’s icy disregard for murder as he takes Walden’s life. This act, though, comes as a motivated glance at Brody’s loyalty to Carrie and his long overdue vengeance against Walden. Like Carrie, Brody comes face to face with his bitter enemy and gargantuan leaps in logic aside (so this pacemaker looks like a plastic box and is programmed by 1980s numerical codes?) the scene exhibits the intensity with which Homeland plays best. The cold, bizarre murder stands as the high point of “Broken Hearts.”
I guess we all feared this coming. Homeland, at one point a miraculous hybrid of cable television psychological multitudes and network soap opera, seems to have floated the pendulum far into plot contrivance. I desperately wanted to avoid the snobbery that has surfaced about the show, as though anyone could predict it would become a far-fetched reimagining of network tropes. If “Broken Hearts” is any indicator, the show will have its moments of excitement, but all the texture that made it so unique has been extinguished. [C+]