Homeland – Season 1, Episode 7 – “The Weekend”

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“I figure we’re safe here” – Nicholas Brody to Carrie Mathison.

The idea of safety, who you are ultimately safe with and where you are ultimately safe, is central to “The Weekend” the seventh and best episode in Homeland’s stellar first season. Being safe and being at peace comes up several times in an episode that quietly explodes everything that has come before it and sets the table for the rest of the season.

But before we get into the episode, some background: Homeland was created by a couple of the folks responsible for 24. The show revolves around a CIA operative named Carrie Mathison (played by Claire Danes) who, during a stint in Iraq, finds out that an American prisoner of war has been “turned’ by Al-Qaeda. When Carrie finds out that Marine Sergeant Nicholas Brody has been released by his captors, he immediately becomes her number one suspect. Like 24, Homeland has many twisty, turny elements that make this kind of thriller exciting to watch. However, where 24 often employed shock for shock’s sake, Homeland stays more grounded and relies on character development to do its heavy lifting.

In the previous episode, after Brody and Carrie’s shocking back seat hook-up, Brody is interrogated by the CIA. During the interrogation, and at Carrie’s prompt, Brody is asked if he has ever been unfaithful to his wife. Brody says no. Carrie knows he is lying (and fooling the polygraph) but can’t prove it without outing herself to her colleagues.

“The Weekend” starts exactly where the previous episode left off:  Brody picks Carrie up in the parking lot of the CIA headquarters and they head to a bar that is improbably populated by a bunch of neo-Nazis. They get into a fight with a rather forward Nazi asshole and flea after they give him a beating. Then (and this is where the episode really starts) they take a trip to Carrie’s family cabin and settle in for the weekend.

What happens at the cabin is what elevates the episode into something special. The relationship between Carrie and Brody progresses. They begin to get to know each other. They feel safe together. They get drunk and have sex. They get sober, realize they still like each other quite a lot, make dinner and have sex. They are learning about each other without investigating, without spying. The cat and mouse game is allowed to cease momentarily and they are more at home with each other than they are in their real lives. Even Carrie’s question about Brody’s ability to fool the lie detector is thrown away like yesterday’s beer bottles. He says it is a skill he picked up while he was captured, no biggie. These two are no longer at arm’s-length; they aren’t even at fingers length. They are as close as two enemies can get. We wonder if perhaps they are saving each other from the outside world and themselves.

Since Brody has been back in the U.S. he has never felt safe and has always been watched, investigated and interrogated, by both the American public (the “Hero” moniker is essentially foisted and forced upon him by the media), his family (especially his wife who was convinced that her husband was dead and has since moved on to a relationship with Brody’s best friend and Army buddy Mike), and most especially Carrie and the CIA. Carrie has been illegally investigating Brody, setting up cameras in his house, watching him during his most private moments. Of course, he is unaware of this.

Carrie, on the other hand, has been reeling from having “missed something before” as we hear each time we watch the opening credits (this “something” we discover was just before 9/11). She knows an American has been turned but she has no one to believe her. She becomes obsessed with the possibility that Brody is the terrorist and this obsession is fuelled and complicated by her bipolar disorder. Carrie is not necessarily worried about her own safety. She is looking out for her country but further than that she is determined to solve a puzzle at all costs. This is Carrie’s downfall. This is her mistake.

And the mistake that Carrie makes is a big one. She lets her guard down and feels safe with Brody. So safe that she lets a fact slip that she would only know through spying. She knows Brody’s favorite tea. No way to cover this up. She is caught. If she was safe before she certainly isn’t now. She admits to Brody that she has been spying on him and he is, understandably, devastated. He accuses her of lying to him about the entire weekend and their relationship. Carrie pleads with Brody, saying that it was all real and that she has genuine feelings for him but that, yes, she is “always working”. It is at this point that we get to the scene in the episode that has the most momentous impact and basically shifts the focus for much of the remainder of the season.

The job of the episode is complete a series of tasks in order to advance the story at this point in the season. And it is this advancement that is astonishing. First, Brody must discover that he has been under surveillance by Carrie. Brody then must decide to “spill the beans” and tell Carrie that he killed Walker while they were both captured. Brody must also tell Carrie about his decision to become Muslim and how he grew to love Abu Nazir while in his capture. Finally, at the end of the episode, Carrie has to find that Walker is alive and has been pinpointed as the terrorist.

This is a complicated enough series of events to tease out through an entire episode or even an entire season. The truly astonishing thing is that it all comes to light in a single scene, maybe five minutes in length. Instead of Carrie finding out these things in the course of her investigation (as would likely happen in a more straight forward thriller), she discovers them by getting intimately close with Brody in a way that never could have happened through her illegal surveillance work. She becomes his friend and has a conversation with him. And this friendship is why Brody comes clean to Carrie. He needs to prove to her that he has been hurt by her accusations and she has become one in a long line of people he loves (his wife, Mike, Abu Nazir, even “America”) that has betrayed him.

The rest of the episode is beautifully structured and slowly paced so that we are not expecting any of these earth shattering revelations. We see Carrie and Brody in a much more pastoral setting than usual, light hitting them through trees as they walk through a forest and the pace is not so frenetic. Nothing about this episode could be considered manic. So what comes at the end, when we learn that Carrie might not be right and that Brody might be telling the truth, is doubly unsettling. If Carrie is wrong, then what of her countless hours of investigative work? How can the audience ever trust her intuition going forward? And, if Brody is telling the truth, why not tell the CIA outright?

Instead of stretching the placement of these facts out, facts that are crucial for the CIA investigation and crucial for Carrie to uncover to prove that she was right, until next season or at least until the final episode of the season, this episode (a little more than half-way into the run) lays many of those cards on the table and exposes the central characters to each other. Many of these revelations are facts that the audience is already privy too but it is in the act of characters explaining that the show is at its most engaging, most dramatic and most explosive. This is an episode where these two characters, who are essentially on opposite sides, tell each other things they can’t tell anyone else and probably shouldn’t be telling each other. Not all of the mysteries are solved in this episode. There are a few more reveals yet to come but the episode sets a framework for the rest of the season in a way that very few serialized dramas do.

The episode destabilizes our sense of what is real about Brody and our sense of what is going on in Carrie’s mind. They can’t both be telling the truth. They can’t both be correct. We wonder, maybe hope, that the two can find solace together and to feel safe once and for all. Screw the investigation; screw the terrorists and, as Mike says in the episode, “give peace a chance”. But, Carrie never stops working and Brody’s past is always piercing through his dreams and real life is never far enough away.

Homeland Season 2 is set to premiere on September 30, 2012.

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