I remember the instant I was hooked on Homeland. After a ten-year separation, Nicholas Brody, a POW presumed to dead, and his wife Jessica, who had moved on with her life after being effectively widowed, were reunited.
He was a ghost, she a vision. In his need for comfort, familiarity, and sexual need, Brody effectively tackled her onto the bed, while she accepted it in a cloud of confusion, guilt, and compassion. Then, for the rest of that first season, they assessed and reassessed their marriage to see what worked (very little) and what didn’t (most everything).
Homeland used to be unafraid to feel. The big question that overhung that debut season – whether Brody had been flipped by Abu Nazir to the dark side, and thus whether he was being honest with his family, which he desperately wanted to be a part of once more – was fraught with emotional weight. But in the past few weeks – and this season as a whole – the show has traded in character for cheap suspense.
Since being sprung from his Venezuelan prison, Brody has been a junkie, a soldier, a spy, a pawn, a refugee, an assassin, and a Katniss-like PR puppet. It would have been interesting to see him transition into each of these new roles, instead of suddenly incarnating them. But that would mean the writers treating Brody like a person, instead of a plot convenience.
“Big Man in Tehran” disappoints precisely because Brody no longer has a center – a core belief or need that motivates him. So from plot point to plot point, he floats around like a kite in the episode. By the end, we learn that he had been feeling “America Fuck Yeah” the entire time. But the writers could just as easily have written him as the newest host on whatever Iran’s version of Fox News is (he learned conversational Farsi in a week!), and it wouldn’t have changed my opinion about Brody at all because I no longer understand who he is aside from the character who is supposed to be an unreadable cipher.
And it was hard to care about which flag Brody now pledged allegiance to, because although Homeland couldn’t exist as a show without patriotism, loyalty to one’s country doesn’t fuel the characters in the way belonging in a family, a romantic relationship, or an organization do. (Or, I suppose, in Carrie’s case, a constant, gnawing need to be right.) In the first season, Brody wasn’t choosing between America and terrorism as much as he was between Issa and Dana. His choice in “Big Man Tehran” to suffocate Iranian intelligence chief Danesh Akbari was a surprise, but it was a weightless, unemotional one that paled in its cathartic power to Brody killing the Vice President, who had ordered the drone strike that killed Issa.
So last night’s hour was full of echoes of the things that once made Homeland required viewing, but now simply constitute a game of “guess what the writers are thinking.” Parenthetically, how dumb was Brody for revealing Javadi’s pact with the CIA when he could have just made up any old thing? What if Akbari’s office was being videotaped, or his security team happened to walk in? Brody may be one of the unluckiest sonovabitches to have ever existed, but fate is always on his side when he’s determined to kill people.
Another small moment I wish we could’ve seen: the reaction of normal Americans when they discover Nicholas Brody, onetime Congressman and former vice-presidential candidate, calling for death to America on Iranian TV just a year after he (supposedly) bombed the CIA.
Though they’re rarely ever discussed in the same breath, Homeland could learn a lot from Scandal, which isn’t afraid of break-neck plot developments while taking breathers to show how those events are rattling and changing its characters. Homeland used to do the latter, but it’s since forgotten how.