Ever since Caleb got super cable last week, I basically haven’t left his house. While he’s been re-installing sinks, walking Franke the dog, and cooking me dinner, I’ve been lying on his couch, starting and stopping innumerable television programs that aren’t really up to Brie-obsession standards, meaning that I haven’t watched them in their entirety. Here are the ones I’ve watched so far:
- House of Lies (I only watched one episode of this, because it is abysmal.)
- Kim and Kourtney Take New York
- Angry Boys
- Justified Season 3
- The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (Ok, fine, I’m so obsessed with the RHOBH that I brought it up during a session with my therapist, who then spent five precious minutes—worth an astounding $45—talking about what kinds of drugs Kim is on).
The only show that hooked me, truly and desperately, was Homeland, which Caleb watched with me. After a slow start—we only consumed two episodes in the first seven days of “Super Cable Heaven”—we polished off the rest of the show this weekend. Caleb, who sets a rule that he will only watch two hours of television a day, and that day must be Sunday, had to be co-erced to stay on the couch yesterday afternoon. I used secret tactics learned in the basement of my high school boyfriend’s modern split level home many years ago, and he gratefully planted his ass down. Six hours later, in the darkness, we rose again, completely starving. “It’s unfair that only some people have access to Showtime,” Caleb said, in awe.
Homeland has a lot of elements that make for great television. It’s character driven, it’s a thriller, and it weaves together a lot of disparate elements—Washington politics, mental illness, sex in lakeside cabins, terrorism, the CIA, and morality—to raise questions about the efficacy of war, the nature of life, and the possibility that people who have manic delusions are actually the Cassandras of the modern world.
The story revolves around a brilliant CIA agent, Carrie Mathison (played by Claire Danes) who is obsessed with the idea that there is a plot against the United States being waged by an American who has been “turned” by al-Qaeda. Imagine that she’s like Jason Bourne meets Kiefer Sutherland in “24”, and then give her all of the faults of not only a woman, but also of someone with bipolar disorder. In other words, despite her bravado, her intelligence, her dedication, and her obsessive-compulsive tendencies, she is constantly being reigned in by the males who dominate the positions of power at her job. Rather than being praised as an extraordinary mind with a lot of a quirk, a la Sherlock Holmes, or a sexy spy who can cavort with his sources and his enemies at no personal or professional cost, a la James Bond, she is not only called crazy by others, she also refers to herself using such a term.
“Am I going to be alone forever?” she asks her mentor, Saul Berenson, during a moment of truth, half way through the season. He looks at her, and says nothing.
The flaws in her portrayal lie, in some deep, primal way in the fact that women still cannot be brilliant and singular without in some way being implicated as being insane (think Kate in the Taming of the Shrew, to name one particularly semi-erudite reference), even on a show driven by a female character, and written by a woman—Meredith Stiehm—who based that character upon her sister.
But what makes Carrie’s character problematic is also what makes “Homeland” brilliant. Carrie is a human being, with a human flaw prescribed by a specific moment in time—let’s be honest, bipolar disorder is having a very trendy moment—and she is, despite it all, pretty fucking badass.
The rest of the characters on the show, for the most part, are men, and whether intentionally or not, are far less dimensional. They are driven by motives of power, revenge, honor, and their penises. They want a house, a wife, two children, and moral absolutism. They see most things blindly, in black and white.
The object of Carrie’s obsessions is Nicholas Brody, an American sniper who was captured on a mission during the Iraq War, and held hostage for over 8 years. During the time of his confinement, he was beaten, tortured, and thought to be dead. When he is found, he becomes something of a national hero, a symbol for all that is right and just in the war against terrorism.
(Do not read further if you don’t want the show to be spoiled.)
The problem is that Nicholas Brody is probably the American that has been turned, which means that rather than being on “good guy”, he is actually a terrorist. At first, Carrie, in her eternal Cassandra role, is the only person who suspects him. But slowly, as the narrative unfolds, it becomes clear that he might actually be the weapon of choice of Abu Nazir, a high ranking member of al-Qaeda.
To catch him, Carrie sets up a surveillance system in his house. For 18 hours a day, she watches him as he interacts with his wife, Jessica—played by the fey beauty Morena Baccarin, aka Inara on “Firefly”—his two children, and the stream of friends who he welcomes, unwillingly, back into his life. She watches him as he changes, memorizing his daily routine. She watches him as he curls up in a corner of his bedroom, to relive the horrid moments of his captivity. She watches as he masturbates on his wife…seriously. Almost predictably, she falls madly in love with him (and who wouldn’t, with the masturbating?).
When she loses her warrant to monitor him, she arranges for a chance meeting in the flesh. In the pouring rain outside of a support group meeting for ex-soldiers, they come face to face. The chemistry between them is palpable. A few episodes later, they fall into a car together, and fuck away the afternoon.
This is obviously not a good move for Carrie. As a CIA spy, she cannot be sleeping with a suspect. And as a woman, and a mentally ill one at that, she cannot control her heart.
Just as Carrie confronts Brody with her suspicions—after a romantic weekend at her family’s lake cabin, and a night in which they make passionate, soul-changing love while gazing into each other’s eyes—the Marine sniper with whom he was captured, Tom Walker, shows up, and makes Carrie re-consider her conviction that Brody is a terrorist.
Brody had thought that Tom was dead, beaten to death by his own hands, to appease Abu Nazir. But no, Tom Walker is alive, and he has been turned by Al Qaeda. He begins to carry out his own attacks—a suicide bomb in a public square, a sniper attack on a man he runs into accidentally in the forest—and takes some of the heat off Brody.
But Brody, as it turns out, is still no hero. After spending six episodes thinking that Carrie might be crazy, it is revealed that Brody is ALSO an operative in Abu Nazir’s plot against America, working in isolation from the devil and Tom Walker (I just made a clever reference).
Brody is at first extremely pissed that Tom is alive, and no one told him. He threatens to drop out of the plot, but is convinced to re-join by Abu Nazir himself, who reminds him of the reason why he switched sides in the first place.
To show us, the show then goes into flashbacks, and we see Brody, after six years living in a jail cell, being brought back to life by Abu Nazir, who cleans him and gives him a room in his own home. His ostensible purpose for doing so, it turns out, is so that Brody will teach his 10-year-old son how to speak fluently in English. Slowly, Brody came to love the child like a son, thanks in no small part to the fact that he is one of the most adorable creatures on the planet.
One day, the boy is blown up by an American drone attack, along with 83 other children in Abu Nazir’s compound. The attack had been authorized, it turns out, by the Vice President, and then covered up by the CIA.
The horror of it alone is enough to turn Brody, who returns to the United States with a mission to destroy the Vice President, and all of the members of his cabinet. He will do so by first convincing the American public he is a hero, then getting elected to public office, and then getting in a room alone with the Vice President to blow him the fuck up.
But the death of Brody’s protegee is too easy solution for his turncoat behavior, if you ask me. Because for intelligent people—and Brody definitely comes off as being intelligent—war is all about moral relativism. And Brody was a member of the army who knowingly waged a war against a civilian population in Iraq, full of children and women and innocents.
Not to mention that while he loved Abu Nazir’s son for a only year, he also has his own family at home—his long-suffering hot piece of a wife, and two bewilderingly chubby children of his own flesh and blood—who he left in good faith, and with a lot of love. If he carries out his terrorist attack—a suicide bomb—he will forever ruin their lives, and the lives of the other families that he rips asunder. The death of Abu Nazir’s child is just not enough to support his motivation.
An enlightened man—or an ordinary woman—would have come out of captivity depressed at the ultimate fallibility of mankind, and the hopelessness of the triumph of reason. They would have been in favor of keeping the peace. Carrie, for example, fights the war on terror because she says that the United States is already unstable enough, and that a terrorist attack will set the political climate over the edge, towards chaos. In her interactions with both sides—Muslims and Christians, Iraqis and Americans, prostitutes and Saudi Princes—she is clearly able to see all sides of the equation. She is not idealistic.
She sees a precarious balance, that if tipped, will topple. But Brody, like men throughout history, sees things in black-and-white, good-and-evil. He sees blood, and he will blow up the fucking Vice President despite all reasonable arguments that can be made against it.
Men and their fucking wars, am I right?
Carrie, on the other hand, sees things in blue, red, pink, yellow, orange, green, magenta, violet, and all kinds of crazy. For while Brody is putting the finishing touches on his plan to kill the Vice President, she is having a manic episode. The manic episode makes her incoherent on the surface, but brilliant at making connections in her head. While under the spell of the manifestations of her un-tameable mind, she discovers the reason why Abu Nazir is planning out an attack—the death of his son and the 83 other children—as well as Brady’s potential motivation for being involved.
The manic episode is wonderfully played by Claire Danes, who I am now obsessed with. I suspect that it will vindicate all mentally ill people who have felt misunderstood during what they see as their moments of brilliance, and what others see as moments of decay. For example, my sister may now finally convince me that neodynium magnets will become the most expensive commodity on earth, and if I buy them as she does in moments of rapture, I will become the richest person in the world.
But unfortunately, to the rest of the characters, she seems just plain nuts. After giving her the benefit of the doubt for most of the show, allowing her to run with her theories, David Estes, the Director of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Bureau—who is a sycophant to the Vice President—fires her from her job, and her mentor, Saul, has her contained in her house.
All the while, Brody, strapped with a human detonation device, gets alone in a safe room with the Vice President. In the end, after a failed attempt at triggering it, and a desperate phone call from his daughter, he decides not to blow himself up. Instead, he goes home to his family, to lie low for future instructions from Abu Nazir.
Carrie, on the other hand, comes down from the mania, falls into depression, and in a bewilderingly short period of time, decides to submit herself to electroshock therapy to dispel the demons from her mind. The season ends with a shot of her, foam pad in her mouth, eyes closed, writhing from the waves that will re-set her brain.
Man, this recap/review/analysis became a fucking mess towards the end. There’s a lot I left out, and a lot I mis-interpreted. But then again, if I had a mind like Carrie’s, this post would be 75 pages long, spray painted gold, and pasted all around the city, so I guess I should be happy I kept it contained to the Internet.
If nothing else, I hope that it convinced you to watch the show. It’s not completely brilliant, but it’s very entertaining. And Carrie’s character, both because she is a woman, and because she is bipolar, is unique to television (hey, at least she isn’t autistic, right?), and Claire Danes is one of the most fantastic actresses working today.
I don’t know how to wrap this up, so…The end. Cut to me staring at my computer screen, trying to remember if I took my medication.