*Warning* This article contains spoilers
Claire Danes’ detailed performance on Homeland has been , widely praised, criticized and (hilariously) mocked. While I tend to agree she can go over the top while portraying the more intricate moments of her characters Bipolar disorder and internal struggles, I have always admired the quieter moments in her portrait of Carrie Mathison. The AV Club’s Todd Vandewerff describes what is at work in a smile that breaks across Danes face in Season 2, “The Smile, I’m almost certain the moment is scripted. But there’s a long gap between writing, “Carrie smiles” on the page and whatever it is that Danes does, which suggests both the many ways in which Carrie’s brain is prone to breaking, as well as why she had never been able to avoid this life for too long”.
Fortunately, Season 4 of Homeland has allowed for many more of these quiet moments affording Danes’ the opportunity to show glimpses inside Carries complex character as well as her incredible acting ability. What I’m loving about Season 4 is that the writers are not afraid to make Carrie the bad guy, in fact the second episode of the Season is entitled “The Drone Queen.” The Season takes place mainly at a dangerous CIA station in Islamabad in the Middle East. Her job is to approve of Drone strikes on high level members of the Taliban while her red-headed daughter lives with her sister in the States. She watches these strikes through a monitor far removed from the strike site just as she watches her daughter on Skype at a distance through her computer screen. This removal allows her to remain detached from the emotional implications of each situation. It’s a side of Carrie we are not accustomed to seeing so frequently and so early on. However, as the season progresses we are given access to Carrie’s brief but beautiful moments of pain and regret. It’s remarkable how the show is still able to make Carrie its moral compass, while judging her harshly for her decisions. I credit much of this accomplishment to Danes performance.
There is a breathtaking moment in Season 4 Episode 6, where Carrie has been (presumably) coldly watching Taliban soldiers question her assets fake passport, created by Carrie, with no intention of it ever being scrutinized or seeing the light of day. To her peers she appears cold, unaffected by Aayan’s (her 18 year old assets) certain death. The boy she has been sleeping with and claiming to love; to obtain information with promises of false protection. When he smartly pays off the soldier in exchange for his life, the pure look of relief that transforms Carries face is as spellbinding as the moment before Brodie’s death in Season 3.
The direction/writing can’t be ignored, either. A detail that I thought was spectacularly eloquent was the that Carrie keeps a picture of herself holding her daughter beside her pills in her bathroom. She’s doing all the things that are supposed to make her better; but she is still unable to connect to “better” somehow. Although, she seems to have been given more power in her job than she has since the Season 1, Carrie seems especially lost. Going through the motions that are supposed to be “right” make her more isolated and “wrong” than ever.
I would be remiss if I did not discuss a scene where she is perfectly “right.” In my favorite pairing in Television history, Carrie meets up with Saul, fired from the CIA but working a security detail in Pakistan. They meet up for lunch. Carrie’s face is closed off. She can’t afford to give away intel to Saul, even though he desperately wants to be back in “the game.” She expresses hurt because he did not tell her he once engaged to the US ambassador to Pakistan. His response, “we haven’t really been talking much, Carrie,” produces a wonderful silent reaction, which expertly juxtaposes Carries wild, spastic eye movements of previous seasons, with her now subtle eye shifts away from Saul’s face, conveying her guilt at being out of touch. She admits, “what I want to say I can’t talk about,” which is true in so many ways. She obviously can’t expose any CIA secrets, but she also can’t talk about her daughter. That would mean admitting that those parts of her life are living, breathing things, and not a picture on her bathroom counter. The only truths that are spoken between these characters are in their silences. Saul is the only person who can read Carrie’s face, they both know this, and that is a very special thing. It’s also a situation Carrie has grown use to living without. Saul’s heartbreak for the pain he can sense inside Carrie leaps through the TV screen as he watches her go. It is truly one of the most wonderful and complicated relationships on television and this scene incredibly expresses that.
In a show filled with secrets, backstabbing and covert operations, Carries face is the best guide, we as audience members have to navigate the dense terrain of Season 4.