One of the things we always heard about from Carrie and Saul in Season 1 were the good old days, when the two used to run around the Middle East doing cool, dangerous CIA-operative things in the field. It was a detail that we were aware of, but not anything that was at the forefront of our mind as we focused more on domestic issues of counter-intelligence, polygraphs and finger-tapping patterns, and testing the suspension of cars while doing it in the backseat.
Last week's on-foot pursuit through the marketplaces of Beirut that finished with a smile gave us a taste of the good old and dangerous days, but tonight OH MY LORD DID YOU SEE THAT? There was a level of sustained intensity for a large portion of the episode that was almost too much to handle, and it was all well set up by our uncertainty with Carrie.
The first portion of "Beirut Is Back," one of the best episodes of Homeland to date, was carefully designed to dog pile doubt on Carrie. Saul, one of her biggest supporters, audibly expressed his reluctance to trust her judgment, Estes and his special forces buddy made the international sign for crazy (twirling finger by the ear) everytime her name came up, and Carrie didn't do herself any favors by making Carrie faces and crying on the roof all while saying how fucked up she is and how she doesn't even trust herself. It's remarkable that we as an audience still aren't fully confident in Carrie's abilities despite the fact that we know that she's always right.
That's because Homeland knows its psychology. For all the times Carrie was right, she has very few victories to show for it and that subconsciously sneaks into the back of our brains. Add to that all the doubt that comes out of every other characters' mouth–Carrie herself included this time–and Claire Danes' convincing performance as a crazy person, and it really tatters the image of the hero in our minds. Homeland does an incredible job of looking at the episode from the point of view of the viewer, asking questions like, "What will the viewer be feeling at this point and how can we exploit it?," rather than "Plot plot plot!!" It's that engrossing toying with our minds that makes Homeland excel, and the nifty side effect of that? Our brains get off on the masochism and we become more invested in the plot.
In case you forgot that Homeland co-creators Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa were on the staff for 24, the awesome ground operation to Kill or Capture Abu Nazir was there to remind you. And the way tension was layered onto the scene by bringing Brody into the war room to watch the operation unfold while he had to rely on AT&T; to save Nazir's life with top-ranking U.S. officials a peek away from exposing the biggest spy of the century. I'm pretty sure my knuckles exploded during that scene.
There's no need to replay the events of what happened after here, other than to say it was breath-stealing television, but it's worth noting that more bullets were fired in the second half of this episode than in the entire first season (I think?). But despite the new territory, that didn't mean Homeland didn't know how to manufacture a solid action sequence. The whipping camera angles, fast cuts, and Carrie's brick in the face showed this series is more than capable of going blockbuster when it needs to. It just hasn't had much of a need to do it until now. And along with Brody's tense situation in the room with Walden, the restless natives rocking Saul's SUV back and forth gave us a sequence in which the danger was not only high for Carrie on-the-run, but also for Saul in the street and for Brody all the way back in D.C. When a single event is spread that far wide, we really understand just how big the stakes are. These events didn't feel isolated. It felt like the fate of the world was being decided in that moment.
But again, it's all about Carrie. For the CIA, bringing Carrie over to Beirut has its good and bad. Yes, she's the only one who can talk to Fatima the informant which is a big win for the U.S. of A, but she's also just as likely to jump out of the SUV and into the teeth of the enemy because her singular focus on catching Nazir screams NOW NOW NOW so much that's she's willing to run into the den of the bad guys on a hunch.
And that's what you get with Carrie. She's almost a new take on the classic cop character who doesn't play by the rules and ends up throwing her badge at her boss when he mumbles, "You gotta play by the rules, son." She won't do things by the book, but she knows when to strike. And tonight she grabbed a heap of stuff from a stranger's apartment hoping something would favor her cause. And what did we find? A bunch of garbage... and the memory card that held Brody's confession video. I never expected Homeland to bring that incriminating evidence back so quick, and I certainly never expected it to get into the hands of Saul this early into Season 2. That's evidence that Brody is who Carrie thinks he was. This is redemption for all of Carrie's craziness in Season 1. This is a huge revelation for the series, and if they're bringing that up now, what do they have in store for the rest of the season? "Beirut Is Back" was a fantastic episode that added a new level to the series that still has so much to give.
– Is anyone writing better whip-smart, annoyed, yet charming dialogue for teenagers than Homeland? The Finn and Dana encounter in the Waldens' mansion was instantly endearing.
– I guess they need to find something to do with Jessica, and getting her into the D.C. wives circle is the obvious way to go. But will it really compare with everything else that is going on?
– Brody talking to his Marines buddies was fantastic. Again, Homeland likes to put its characters with credible thoughts in positions where they aren't credible. This time it's the guy who is a boozer with a penchant for conflict, and that's consistent with Season 1.
– One concern: they've already stretched Brody very far in terms of how dedicated he can be to Abu Nazir's movement. He's done all this chores for Nazir's cause willingly despite morally disagreeing with it; I'm expecting him to resist the next request and get into deep doo doo for doing so. There can't be much more chatter about him saying something to the effect of "I've already proved myself."
– Carrie back in the U.S. She gets dropped off, and sits in her sister's living room and listens to the clock tick tick tick. After the smile from last week, it's so obvious where she needs to be. How will they get her back into the CIA this time? Will Saul finding that memory card help her cause?
– How does Saul react to finding the Brody confession? What does he do with it? Does the CIA now just keep a close eye on him to see if he's working for the other side? Does Brody have honest political aspirations? Ahhhhhh! So far, I'm incredibly satisfied with where Homeland is going in Season 2.
Follow TV.com writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom