“The Weekend” was an episode where I could feel the grade ticking upward in my head as I watched, until I was relatively certain there was nowhere else for it to go. It started off with a little of the clumsiness of last week’s episode—as Brody and Carrie just happened to run into some white supremacists who had no idea who Brody was in a bar—but it quickly got its feet under it, and by the halfway mark, I was having a good time and not really remembering that I was having some issues with the storytelling last week. One of the things about telling stories like Homeland does—where you’re never quite sure which beats are going to hit when or where—is that the attempts to make everything happen at the time when there’s the maximum possibility of throwing the audience off can feel strained or they can feel incredibly brave. Without question, this episode was the latter.
Let’s start with the thing that didn’t really work in that second half for me: I don’t really buy that Carrie would make the slip-up that she did about the tea. It felt a little too much like the writers pulling on her puppet strings to ensure they got to the place they needed to get to (which involved Brody finding out that Carrie had been spying on him all this time). Yeah, I can probably figure out a way to make this all work in my head—she’s just coming off of a profound and emotional experience, and though she tells Maggie she’s got pills for the weekend, it’s not like Carrie’s the world’s most trustworthy person—but it still feels too easy and too pat. Carrie’s been doing this her whole working life. She wouldn’t just slip up and make a mistake that elementary, and I wish the writers had figured out some other way she could have screwed up to clue Brody into what was going on.
But other than that, I have no complaints. This was a great, great episode of television, where all of the characters found themselves backed into corners of their own making and then didn’t get out of them via TV tricks. No, the character beats and moments here were second-to-none. The long, agonizing scene in which Carrie came clean and then Brody came clean was pitch-perfect, from beginning to end, and it was the sort of thing you’d expect to see in a season finale or penultimate episode, so fraught with tension and revelation was it. Carrie finds out Brody’s a Muslim. She finds out that he felt an intense love for Abu Nasir. (“Love” in the sense of communal brotherhood.) And she finds out—beyond the shadow of a doubt, I would think—that he hasn’t been turned, that he’s not a terrorist. That, indeed, as some of us have theorized, his old friend Tom Walker is the terrorist. Whatever she and Brody had, fucked up as it was, was real to her. And now she’s never going to get it back because she can’t turn off the jittery, suspicious part of herself off.
Enough of us have talked about Tom being the actual turncoat that the revelation didn’t strike me as a surprise. What did strike me as a surprise was the show playing that card this early in the season. Where does it go from here? I suppose the “Is Saul a mole?” question is still hanging out there (though I think that his treatment of Aileen tonight should show that he’s on the side of the angels), but now things downshift into a much more conventional narrative of trying to find and capture a man who’s supposed to be dead. But at the same time, there’s nothing conventional about that narrative, because the two people at the center of it have just gotten through utterly destroying each other emotionally, all because one of them is reckless and damaged, throwing herself pell-mell into the middle of things, convinced that if she does so, it’ll all work out on the other side.
The show has been using Brody very well to set us up for the idea that Walker could be the one who flips, too. Remember his interview with Lawrence O’Donnell way back in episode three? All of the things that Brody said the terrorists tried to get him to believe are even more true for Walker. Walker watched his own fellow Marine and friend seemingly attempt to beat him to death. His wife actually moved on and married another man. And the Marines never came to rescue him. If anybody’s got a grudge the terrorists can exploit—a grudge the terrorists have mostly created, granted—it’s Walker. And yet by keeping the focus of the series on Brody, the show didn’t really clue us in to what it was doing.
Sure, this is all incredibly risky. What Homeland has done is detonate a bomb in the midst of its most reliable storytelling device—Carrie’s suspicion of Brody—in its seventh episode, where many other shows would have dragged this out for at least a season, if not more. And yet even as I think about it, the show’s been pulling its most trusted narrative devices apart week after week. First, Carrie lost the ability to watch Brody at all hours of the day. Then, the various secrets the characters were keeping started to come to light. Then, Brody and Carrie struck up an actual, physical relationship—that quickly turned into a sexual affair. Because the show is so contemplative and uses silence so well, it’s easy to miss just how fond it is of fucking with the status quo.
The best thing about “The Weekend” is that it’s basically two two-character pieces. In one half of the episode, we’ve got Brody and Carrie having a weekend getaway at her family’s cabin. In the other half, we’ve got Saul driving Aileen back to Langley from Texas (where she was trying to escape Abu Nasir by entering Mexico). Sure, there’s some—mostly beside the point—business with Dana, Mike, and Jessica, but so much of the running time is devoted to two-person scenes built around these four characters. For an episode where this much happens and for an episode that’s this exciting, an awful lot of time is spent just on people talking, listening, thinking about what the other person is saying. The long silences in Saul’s car become tense in and of themselves, as we wait for Aileen to break or as we start to suspect she never will. Saul’s phone call to Carrie becomes just as tense. Does he know that Brody’s a terrorist? Or will he have other news?
It’s the Saul and Aileen story that provides the meat and potatoes of the episode. Since Aileen’s not talking, it basically turns into the Mandy Patinkin monologue hour, and man, Mandy Patinkin has a lot of fun with these monologues. Saul cajoles Aileen. He tries to guilt her. He tries to establish a bond. And finally, he finds the opening when she asks why his home life’s in trouble. Before long, she’s talking to the CIA, telling them that some guy—Walker, as it turns out—was on the roof of her house, where there’s a direct shot at a helipad where the President’s helicopter would land. It’s over a mile away, but a world-class sniper could make the shot. (I love when Saul calls Estes to ask for a photo of Brody, and Estes seems absolutely baffled.)
But, again, for a storyline that concludes in such a furor, there’s a lot of quiet time building up to this. We start to see another side of Saul, the side that feels alone and isolated, perhaps more than ever before since Mira has left. We start to see the side that’s been desperately reaching out all of this time, even as Carrie blows by his cautiousness. And we start to see that Saul’s cautious nature eventually gets results, that his respect for other human beings and basically humane nature are the strongest force for good within the show. (It’s for this reason that I’m most opposed to Saul being a bad guy; it would take the show’s strongest thematic and political point and shoot it right in the foot in the name of a barely motivated twist.)
Because one of the things that this show has quietly been showing is that Carrie’s methods don’t get results. She finally gets her answers from Brody, but they’re not the answers she wanted or expected. Without Saul’s work, she’d be back at square one. She’s a loose cannon, yes, because that’s exciting to watch in a show like this. But unlike on most shows, she’s a loose cannon like one might exist in the real world, a jumpy person constantly chasing after shadows and running in circles. Way back in the earliest episodes of this series, Saul told her to doggedly follow the trail, and she kept ignoring him. And now that Saul’s done the legwork, he’s gotten the answers. The old methods of intelligence gathering are still the best methods. What’s most important about an episode like “The Weekend” isn’t the exciting revelations; it’s the silences, the moments of quiet patience before everything breaks through in a torrent.
- I don’t really know what to say about the Dana/Jessica/Mike stuff. In an episode where everything else wasn’t at the level that it was in “The Weekend,” I’d probably take off a point or two for the utter inconsequentiality of it, but I did like how the episode showed that Jessica and Mike really do miss each other. I also liked how her eyes were open when Brody stood in the door and looked at her at the end of the episode.
- By the way, Damian Lewis’ tearful breakdown at the end of the episode pretty much mirrored how distraught I was after going through that emotional wringer. A nice way to offer up a cathartic release for the audience.
- Saul sez: If you’ve never been to Graceland, you really owe it to yourself to go at least once.
- I liked that we didn’t get a great deal of insight into what made Aileen tick. Sometimes, it really is about something as simple as falling in love and then having your father not accept that love.
- That bar scene was really goofy. Also, how on Earth does Brody leave the house and not have everybody know who he is? It hasn’t been that long since he was all over the front page of every newspaper. Maybe the white supremacists don’t pay attention to the media, choosing, instead, to get all of their news from white supremacist websites or something.