“In Memoriam” to a once-stellar series? Sam Lim and I discuss Episode 11 of Homeland

carrie Jay Pinho: OK, so here goes…

I have to be honest: this was probably my least favorite episode of Homeland this season. There are way too many flaws to remember off the top of my head, but here are a few of my initial complaints:

1) If there’s one scene that embodies all the problems raised by this episode, it’s the one where Carrie finds the secret passageway in the tunnels and her companion improbably moves in alone without even bothering to inform his colleagues right away, never mind wait for backup. That moment was so single-handedly ridiculous I couldn’t believe it was actually happening while I was watching it — it played off every horror movie cliche, and the fact that he was killed was just about the most predictable TV death in recent history. Not a good look for Homeland. On the bright side, it did lead to my favorite online comment of the year (which can be seen below Alan Sepinwall’s typically spot-on review):

I was totally with it until Carrie did the job of like a hundred SWAT teams and then out-muscled Abu Nazir immediately after he’d slit the throat of a large man. Might I add that Carrie weighs like 90 pounds, hadn’t slept in two days and has a diet that consists of Chinese takeout, her father’s sandwiches and vegetarian lasagna. Oh, and she’d been in a car wreck less than two days ago. That was really the best they could think of? I hope the writers do some serious soul-searching before season 3 starts.

2) Again, Saul’s naiveté is quickly morphing into “unbelievably stupid” territory. If he really does believe that Estes and Quinn are plotting Brody’s assassination — as we know is the case — then would he really bring all this up publicly, again and again, revealing how much he knows and thereby endangering himself? That scene with the polygraph test — while showing off, once again, Mandy Patinkin’s incredible acting — was just not credible: what does Saul get out of openly accusing Estes of running an off-the-books black ops plan to kill Brody? Saul’s a veteran spy; in no universe does his insistence on getting himself into deeper trouble make any sense.

One last note re Saul: I really did like the way he completely disappeared from the storyline for the remainder of the episode after his scene with Estes. It was a good matching of form to content, as in: what would the show look like without Saul? Obviously, he’s not actually going to disappear — at least, not like that — but it was interesting to see that the CIA accomplished the single greatest goal Saul and Carrie had been working toward (getting Abu Nazir), and yet Saul was portrayed as a complete sideshow to it by the end of the episode. It was as if Estes’ plan to isolate him were already being enacted. If Estes and Saul somehow both survive the season finale next week, I really hope the show never finagles some twisted way to get them back in each other’s good graces again. In my opinion, the Saul-Estes relationship has passed a point of no return: there’s just too much mutual suspicion for them to ever go back to the way they were, so I hope the show never tries that.

3) This goes back to point #1, but what was up with Abu Nazir stumbling through that abandoned old mill (still a bizarrely contrived set) after Carrie? And what was up with Carrie chasing him in the first place, even losing her makeshift “weapon” at the very beginning of the episode and proceeding to “chase” him on foot? There was just way too much of that 24-style mindless action in this one.

4) On the other hand, that was a great, great scene between Brody and Jess in the car. I’m not sure if it was exactly intended this way, but the entire time they talked, I kept expecting Quinn to show up in the driver’s-side window and blow Brody away. But meanwhile, with that huge tension as a backdrop, the conversation in the car was brutally honest and realistic — a brief storytelling oasis in what was otherwise an absurdly farfetched episode. Something about Brody’s face during that scene was just disturbing in a perfect way: he looked utterly resigned to his fate (whatever that may be).

Your turn!

Sam Lim: When “In Memoriam” ended, I thought, “What a crappy episode!” Even during the most suspenseful parts of it, I couldn’t help thinking, “How would this even be possible?” Plot flaws are killing me.

Your first point is exactly what bugged me the most. Hadn’t Quinn previously said the tact teams work in pairs? How then does one guy end up getting paired with Carrie? Is she even allowed to be one half of a pair?

And seriously, how does the rest of the team just disappear into the dark so far away from Carrie +1 that they’re not breathing down Nazir’s neck as soon as they discover his little hideout? Way too many moments of improbability in that scene—and like you said, way too predictable.

My other big qualm with this week’s episode is how many times Quinn said, “That’s not a question, Carrie,” and then proceeds to let her simply have her way. I counted 2-3 hunches that she pulled, ending in mostly incorrect accusations and dead-ends.

That whole sequence with Galvez as a potential mole felt a bit too contrived, but then again, it might’ve been an indictment of mainstream American society’s fear mongering and scapegoating of Muslims.

I will say, though, that whole sequence with Brody and Jess in the car…man, I thought Brody was a goner, for sure. I held my breath that whole scene waiting for a sniper’s bullet to rudely interrupt their strikingly honest conversation—or to come after Jess had gone into the house.

With Quinn’s repeated concessions to Carrie, I have to wonder if he’ll end up being able to pull off what Estes has asked (excuse me, ordered) him to do. Have you seen the previews of the finale? Ooohh…

Speaking of that insufferable jerk, Estes cracked me up in a pitiful way when he again brought up the fact that the agency was going to be recognized by the president. Good Lord, man. Get over yourself.

saulAs for Saul, I don’t know if I agree with you 100% this week. I see where you’re coming from, but I also feel like Saul dug his own grave last week. At this point, he’s a dead man walking. And he’s smart enough (after last week’s stupidity) to perhaps recognize that his only way out might be to gain enough allies in his uncovering of Estes’ conspiracy to get out of this alive. Who knows. To be honest, Saul confuses me.

If scenes from next week’s episode are any indication though, he’ll be alright. I don’t know how, but he seemed to be in a good spot at the agency in the preview. We shall see!

So what happens next week? Will Quinn actually take out Brody? Will Carrie find out and try to hide him somewhere (like that’ll work)?

P.S. I think the Brody family has the “most dysfunctional family of the year” award wrapped up. Most of all, I feel awful for Chris. Poor kid’s just trying to live a normal life, but he’s stuck in a house full of crazies.

P.P.S. Oh, and one more thing that bugged me: Estes and Quinn agree that Quinn will interrogate Roya Hammad, but Carrie’s able to just waltz right in after her bathroom break? She’s got a visitor’s badge on! Perhaps all the CIA folks are so familiar with her (after all, she did work there) to just let her in no questions asked, but really? It’s not like I can just go back to my old jobs and walk into any room I want without security chasing me down—and we’re talking about the CIA with Carrie! That bugged me. I did chuckle at how Roya turned the tables on Carrie though. That was actually sort of funny to me.

Jay Pinho: So I just finished reading Andy Greenwald’s analysis of last night’s episode, and I think he hit the nail on the head, as you did: the show keeps veering dangerously close to a storytelling precipice that it may not be able to recover from if it strays too far. Another thing that is starting to sound more and more plausible is New Yorker TV critic Emily Nussbaum’s theory (first written following the episode just before this last one) that Brody’s still in cahoots with Nazir, and that the entire kidnapping of Carrie, pretending to be scared for her safety and then “negotiating” her release in exchange for Walden’s murder, was planned in advance, and Brody’s just playing his part.

(Slight digression: this reminds me of another problem that someone — Sepinwall, maybe? — mentioned regarding last night’s episode: all Carrie has to do is say “I escaped” to satisfy the curiosities of her CIA colleagues? The most hunted terrorist in the world took one of their operatives hostage, and she just tells them she got away and that’s that? No further questioning that might reveal her knowledge of Walden’s murder?)

Here’s the problem with Nussbaum’s idea, though: even if she’s right — and I admit that there is a somewhat compelling case for it — this still presents a huge problem in relation to the show’s narrative structure. All along, for the most part we’ve been led to believe that we’re seeing the story develop more or less from the eyes of Brody and Carrie. We know this because we get to see them do things that no other characters in the show know about at the time (like the time Brody killed his contact in a forest on the way to Gettysburg), actions that would seriously damage their lives or careers if other people found out about them. But if Nussbaum is correct, and Brody secretly plotted with Nazir to set the events of the last couple episodes in motion, then we’re suddenly being jolted from a Brody/Carrie first-person perspective of events to a third-party view in which we’re not sure who we can trust anymore, even the characters we thought we were following closely.

I haven’t seen any of the previews for next week’s finale (I hate losing even a small amount of suspense over this show), but here’s my main concern: what if Homeland doesn’t “earn” its Season 2 ending? What I mean is that if, somehow, Brody, Carrie, Saul, and Estes all survive intact to come back in Season 3, I think the show will have made a serious miscalculation. One or more major characters has to go away — either permanently, by being killed, or in a metaphorical sense, as in if Saul were kicked entirely out of the agency and has to survive on the lam, which would be a completely ridiculous plot, by the way — in order for everything so far to make sense. There’s simply too much collective suspicion and plotting to allow everyone to go back to more or less normal.

And I know this is completely on another tangent, but I forgot to complain about another thing in my original comments: the whole schtick with Galvez. Andy Greenwald called this a “supremely clever wink” (as in, “get it? Assuming all Muslims are terrorists is not a good idea after all!”) but I thought it was a pointless and random divergence that did absolutely nothing to move the story forward. If Galvez does turn out to be a bad guy, then suspecting him initially and then letting him go would be a strange way to introduce that storyline. And if, as I’m guessing, he’s not a bad guy, then why bother with that whole scene to begin with? Just to make a political point about religious profiling? Seems pointless either way.

Lastly, in regards to Saul: you may be right about the “dead man walking” thing. Maybe he realizes it’s way too late for reconciliation between him and Estes, and now he’s just out for revenge against the guy. Hard to say. What I find interesting now, though, is that Carrie once again knows something Saul doesn’t (the truth about Walden’s death). I wonder how long that will last.

What do you see in your season finale crystal ball?

Sam Lim: Andy Greenwald’s take-down is phenomenal. I love it. I had forgotten about Carrie’s “I escaped” lameness of an excuse (too many plot holes to count…), but I absolutely agree with you on that one. Too easy. How does someone who used to work for the CIA until she was discovered to be way off her rocker and now wears a bright yellow visitor badge just get a free pass like that?

While Nussbaum’s theory is compelling, I feel like it would throw not only this season but the entire series thus far out of whack. It suggests that Brody is wayyyyy smarter than he actually is (and I frankly don’t think he’s stable enough to hold this all together).

As far as what I see for the final episode, it’s hard to say (since I did go and watch scenes from the finale already). But I will say that I was way off with my Brody for president idea from last week. It was a wild idea, and it’s even less of a possibility now. I think he’ll resign (has he resigned officially yet? He’s been MIA from his Congressional office so much now, I can’t even tell), and then he’ll just try to hide and disappear from public life. But Quinn will be on his tail the whole time, and I think at some point, Quinn decides it’s just not worth killing a guy who just wants to disappear from all social interactions (except with Carrie) now. Or not?

Can’t wait for the season finale! I don’t know what I’ll feel, but I can already imagine I will not feel satisfied with the ending to season two.

Jay Pinho: It’s funny you mention Brody’s Congressional duties, because I’d completely forgotten about them. Come to think of it, that may be one of the more ridiculous plot elements of Homeland: that a sitting Congressman can just disappear and no one (chief of staff, anyone?) would even bother to notice or care.

Onward to the finale on Sunday!

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