Homeland "In Memoriam" Review: The Road to Recovery

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Homeland S02E11: "In Memoriam"

Chances are, if you didn't like last week's episode of Homeland, that last night's episode, "In Memoriam," didn't do much for you either. Likewise, those of you who didn't mind Carrie being captured by Abu Nazir in "Broken Hearts" probably didn't have a problem with how things went down last night. Both sides now have more ammunition to lob at each other after "In Memoriam," an episode that continued the series' recent propensity for mixing the ridiculous and the excellent.

Is there any other show right now that embodies its protagonist like Homeland? This show needs to get on some Lithium or have its brain zapped because it's becoming just as bipolar as Carrie. And in dealing with Carrie, we all have to understand that questionable decisions and reckless behavior are tempered with brilliance and some sort of sixth sense that makes things work. But the results aren't always worth the headache it takes to get there.

Let's start with the obvious: Ding dong, the wicked terrorist of the East is dead! Abu Nazir, the stand-in antagonist for Brody, knelt before an audience of pissed-off Special Ops, reached for something (will we ever know what it was?), and ate a lead breakfast. I'm sure that was his intention all along, his version of, "Ain't no way I'm going to jail," since last week he seemed very aware that he was not long for this world.

But let's move backward to HOW he ended up on his date with 72 virgins. While everyone else declared the warehouse Nazir-free, Carrie brainfarted at a traffic light while remembering something Roya said during their chat about Nazir not running away from American pig-dogs. This somehow translated in Carrie's mind to "Nazir is still in the warehouse," despite the fact that trained professionals had swept the building the appropriate number of times as determined by protocol for dealing with the world's most-wanted terrorist. It was Carrie against the world, and she managed to convince a team of terrorist hunters who were headed out for their lunch break to stick around for one more flashlights-on-the-end-of-gun-muzzles tour of the industrial space.

And that's when Carrie saw what trained professionals could not; a cubby hole that housed evil's greatest mastermind and his dirty old sleeping bag. And that's when Homeland, once a crackingly smart thriller, devolved into a throwaway horror movie complete with a slasher materializing out of the darkness in Abu Nazir. I'd bet my last strawberry-flavored Starburst that the Homeland producers didn't intend for the audience to giggle when it became obvious that Nazir was stalking Carrie and her search-party buddy in the tunnels, but dammit, I let out a big laugh when Carrie turned back and found the Special Op's throat slit. I kept thinking about how silly it would be for Nazir's real-world inspiration—Osama Bin Laden—to do something similar, hanging from the pipes like a ninja in a South Park episode probably, and I couldn't contain myself.

Here was public enemy number one reduced to a C.H.U.D. and camping out in an abandoned building by himself with no plan or protection. Was there a plan B once his plan A to bomb the vets' homecoming was squashed? Were all his followers rounded up in the bust? Was he really the last man standing in the American terrorist cell? Apparently so, and Homeland is definitely not better for it. Add this to Season 2's growing list of misfires.

But Nazir has always been more of a symbol of evil than evil himself because Homeland has never been about catching Nazir. The series is about the relationship between a crazy CIA agent and a skittish P.O.W. turned sleeper agent. For all intents and purposes, this should be a huge development for the series and it is, but not because the main bad guy was bagged and tagged. Nazir never engineered a 9/11, he was the threat of another 9/11. And in the context of the series, his death certainly isn't as momentous as when Carrie had Brody captured at the end of "New Car Smell." And that's because the aftermath of Nazir's death is much more important than the death itself.

The best moments of "In Memoriam" came after Sandman was permanently put to bed. All these characters' lives had been scrambled because of Nazir, and with the threat no longer their top priority, it was the return to the possibility of a "normal life" that suddenly hit them in the face and returned the show to its greatness. When Brody was informed that Nazir had been killed, I don't know if he was stricken with grief over the death of a mentor or overly emotional due to a sense of relief that it's all over, but I'm leaning toward the latter. His reaction was wonderfully ambiguous and played marvelously by Damian Lewis; it was a fantastic scene that paved the way for the next, when Jess and Brody sat in the car and admitted that their marriage is irreparably broken and that Brody came back from Iraq with parts missing and Jess filled in the holes created by his absence with Mike.

With the scapegoat for the distance between them dead, Jess and Brody only had themselves to look at it, and what they saw wasn't a pretty picture. Carrie's confrontation with Nazir made her even closer and more sympathetic toward Brody, and when Brody showed up on her doorstep, it was tragically romantic. Nazir was an obstacle in all these people's lives that kept them in a holding pattern of ignoring the truth, and with him out of the way, life can go on as it should without the lies and denial. For Brody and Carrie that means consuming each other, broken pieces and all, as they fill in the emptiness. For the Brody family, it sadly means going back to the life they had when they thought Nicholas was dead. These characters' lives were, as Brody admitted, fucked once Brody left for Iraq in the first place. On the surface Homeland may be about terrorists, but it's really about recovery and how once it has started, it's a bitch to undo.

With one episode left in the season, Showtime's Emmy-winner sits on precarious ground as its foundation is eroded by tough-to-swallow plot points but hastily reinforced by award-worthy character moments that don't quite leave us in as stable as a spot as we were in Season 1. There's accidental brilliance in comparing the show's instability to its two central characters, their slow decay ultimately leading to their inevitable destructions. From an academic perspective, it's made Homeland the most fascinating series to unfold in 2012 as flaws and perfection clash. From a television viewer's perspective, it's rewarding and confusing. In the final moments of "In Memoriam," Brody knocked on Carrie's door and said, "What I did to get Nazir to let you go... It was you or Walden, Carrie. It wasn't even close." That was both passionate and disgusting because these two misunderstood and messed-up people belong together (positive romantic spin) and deserve each other (negative fed-up spin). In other words, it's perfectly apt for the current state of Homeland.




NOTES

– Once again, we approach the end of a season of Homeland asking ourselves, "NOW where do we go from here?" What will Season 3 look like?

– While Brody and Carrie sit at the forefront of this episode as the Nazir storyline got its due, Saul was relegated to basement interrogation by Estes' men, presumably to give us something to sink our teeth into for Season 3. It's tough to see Saul out of the action, especially when he's away from Carrie.

– Meanwhile, Estes still wants Brody eliminated, which will likely be the bulk of next week's finale. Quinn's face as he watched Brody walk into Carrie's apartment was an interesting one: Was his expression an exasperated one because killing Brody just got more difficult with Carrie around, or was it compassionate because he saw a man he had to kill who was happy where he was?

– One of the most surprising moments of this episode came when Carrie was interrogating Roya and Roya asked Carrie if she'd ever been under the spell of someone who makes her do stupid things. Carrie thought fondly of Brody and the back seats of cars, and it appeared that girl talk was on. But Roya burned her, saying Nazir's followers aren't that stupid and she's in it for real.

– I've been a staunch Dana defender all series long, but even I wanted to slap her in this episode. Her bitching and moaning over spilled milk was too much! Only her plea for Mike to return to their family felt relevant to shaping the story. The rest was just teenage daughter angst that no one wants to see.

– Carrie was so convinced that Galvez sneaked out Nazir that I thought she was going to dig into Galvez's burst stitches to see if he had Nazir tucked inside.

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