Homeland "New Car Smell" Review: The Beginning of the End or the End of the Beginning?

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Homeland S02E04: "New Car Smell"

For the 0.1 percent of you out there thinking Homeland isn't moving fast enough, might I suggest mainlining some sugar and base-jumping from outer space? For the rest of us, we got the final moments of "New Car Smell," a series-ending turn of events that can't possibly actually be a series-ending turn of events because we're only on Episode 4 of Season 2. But damned if that couldn't have been the final page in this book. I mean seriously, Homeland, save some for Episodes 5, 6, and 12! With Brody busted, is the rest of the season going to be verbose legal proceedings, Virgil rummaging through Carrie's fridge for unexpired grub, and some D.C. intern wondering what to do with Brody's freshly cleaned car?

After Brody's bumbling bloodshed in the forest and Carrie's suicide smoothie from last week, the pace slowed down to a crawl for the majority of "New Car Smell." But things can change quickly in Homeland, especially when Carrie frantically decides that Carrie is going to do what Carrie is going to do. The fact that Brody is now in the custody of the people who have overwhelming underwhelming whelming evidence (he never actually outright says he was blowing anyone up in his video, so maybe the smoking gun is just smoldering) that he's an agent for Abu Nazir puts the show in a corner it will need to Houdini out of. And I'm a total loss in trying to figure out what comes next which makes me giddy as a schoolgirl with two weird-named boyfriends AND as nervous as an agnostic suicide bomber.

So much of what Homeland was built on was blown up the moment Brody kissed the floor of his hotel room and got cuffed by the CIA, and the fuse was lit as soon as Saul found Brody's rather unspecific confession. This is finding out what the island was all about in the second season of Lost. This is Booth and Brennan going at it like wild bunnies 15 episodes into Bones. This is Hank catching Walter White in a meth lab before we ever meet Gus Fring in Breaking Bad. Logically, this–the CIA knowing Brody was helping Abu Nazir and a small team of agents detaining him–can't happen until the second-to-last episode of the series. But it did.

There are a few narrow escapes that I can see Homeland wiggling through, but they pop out in territory we don't want to be in. Maybe there's not enough evidence against Brody on the videotape (rewatch the opening of the Season 1 finale and you'll see there's no hard admission of his plan, just some ranting and a complaint about Walden's war crimes) to put him in an orange jumpsuit, and a sharp-dressed lawyer says things like "gross misjudgment of character," "1984-ish illegal invasion of privacy," and "c'mon, he's white" until a judge agrees. But that cuts his ties to the Nazir because no way would Al Qaeda continue to ask Brody to do chores for them after that, and that would kill the show. Maybe Brody agrees to flip and help the CIA stop Nazir by going undercover. But that kills the chase between Brody and Carrie, and there isn't a single person rooting for that. Maybe Brody agrees to go undercover but secretly stays loyal to Nazir, walking the dangerous line between his fake allegiance and his real allegiance, in which case we may as well throw our TVs out the window because that will open the floodgates to Convoluted Dam.

But the writers of Homeland have a better way out that I haven't thought of, I'm sure of it. (Oh God please have a way out.) Otherwise, there's no way they would have moved things along this fast. (Oh geez, are they going too fast?) I mean, this isn't just turning into our weekly dose of shocking plot happenings to keep us looking forward and not back at a string of pure insanity that flew before our eyes, right? (Right?) This kind of conversation is exactly what we signed up for when we decided to watch Homeland, and we've frolicked in the twists, turns, and the show's ability to somewhat have it make sense enough to give it the benefit of the doubt. But that's a few leaps of faith down from the unwavering confidence Homeland earned out of us when the series was at its best. The decision to have Brody captured will be looked at as a major turning point for the series. But whether we see it as the moment the show excelled into brave, unknown television territory or the instant it fell apart is yet to be seen.

When you don't stop to think about if/when Homeland can recover from this sharp and sudden turn towards the endgame (and you shouldn't, but I feel compelled to talk about the things that swim in my head), "New Car Smell" was a great episode of Homeland because the stars finally aligned again. This show is always better when Claire Danes and Damian Lewis are on set at the same time, and their reunion produced several fine moments (even though no backseat of a car was defiled). The "accidental" run-in outside Langley, the stir-up at the hotel bar, and the round-up in the hotel room were all riveting, and Danes did her acting thing that she's so good at by playing three different versions of Carrie–nervous, flirty, and vengeful, each one entirely capable of the unexpected for maximum discomfort on our parts–while Lewis brimmed with plenty of reserved skepticism and just the right amount of subtle horniness to sell the possibility of a sexytime scenario or a trip to Home Depot for duct tape, rope, and a shovel. These two are masters of the duality of their characters right down to each little head tilt or stammer, and their ability to play both sides simultaneously is what keeps us on edge. We don't know what they're going to do next because they don't know what they're going to do next either. We should all chip in to get cameras on these two at all times, because CHEMISTRY and TALENT.

While we're here we may as well talk about some of the other things that happened, but teenage love and the great debate of Indian versus Greek delivery seems to pale in comparison with that happened at the end there. The biggest development was probably Mike getting dragged down into Lauder's conspiracy hole. The drunken ramblings of his boozy friend are starting to make a little bit of sense to Mike, especially now that Mike sees the door to Jess's va-va-voom is open up again. If Lauder is somehow right, Mike can be the American hero AND get the girl he's always wanted, and when Morena Baccarin is your motivation, you tend to believe things that pave the way to her nakedness.

The introduction of Peter Quinn, Estes' cocky surveillance stud, adds a welcome wrinkle to the dynamic between Carrie and the job. His first impression was a disaster on both her and us, but the more time we spent with him, the more we warmed up to him (I loved his frankness about the ER nurse he was banging–"I'm not that into her"). Yes, he's a total bag le douche, but doesn't that go without saying for almost anyone in the CIA? Also, Virgil is back! Yippeeee!

I can't say I'm totally at ease with where Homeland is going after last week's string of bizarre events, and the whopper from "New Car Smell" continued to tempt my confidence. But that was exactly the point of this episode. Homeland is chugging along at speeds heretofore reserved for preposterous soaps and shows with nothing to lose, and the cynic inside me doubts a sustained high-quality run is possible after all the bombs that have dropped. But I'm going to tell that cynic to shut the hell up and enjoy the ride.

(Edit: I saw the scenes from next week's episode and it looks great, so we'll see how long it can stay interesting with members of the CIA knowing his secret.)



NOTES

Homeland doesn't have many visually striking moments, but the scene with Dana and Finn talking (and smooching!) in the Washington Monument as the reflections of disembodied heads over D.C. was beautiful.

– If my daughter ever comes home choosing between two boys named Xander and Finn, I will lock her up until she's 40 because she's obviously making questionable life decisions. (#TeamFinn by the way.)

– Ohhhhhh surrrrre, Brody gets a phone call from Jess when he's just talking to someone in the hallway and he ignores it (plus the four other times when he was out washing his car) but Jess calls when he's laying on top of an impaled Al Qaeda agent and he can't wait to pick up the phone.

– Hey look! It's Chris Brody! Glad to see he's still on the show. Does he have a point in the series yet?

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