"Clean Skin," the third episode of Showtime's new series Homeland, was a make it or break episode for me. I'm already sold on the idea that the show is about nutjob FBI agent Carrie Mathison imposing her gut feeling on everyone else that a decorated prisoner of war is actually the newest, greatest threat to national security and a sleeper agent for terrorists. But when Homeland leaves that path to shed some light on its other characters (the show can't just be Carrie vs. Brody for 13 episodes), it had better hit and hit hard. And "Clean Skin" left bruises on me.
The truth about Brody—the show's backbone—may have only moved forward a micrometer, but the stories of several other characters moved miles, and in various directions. That's going to be a determining factor in Homeland's success, as some viewers are already questioning the sustainability of the series' premise. If the fallout from Brody's return and Carrie's pervasiveness continues to be this engrossing, then Homeland has some legs.
Aside from Lynne—R.I.P., darling—Carrie got hit the hardest and from the most angles. Obviously the biggest blow was Lynne's death, which is without question Carrie's fault. Would Lynne have participated in these spy games if she knew she was alone out there? I don't think so.
Carrie had been tempting fate by doing and saying anything and everything she needed to in order to get her way, and her fib about Lynn having a security detail came back to bite her. That's a near impossible thing to live with. I love Carrie as the insane, everything-at-all-costs agent, and I can't wait to see how she responds to the guilt. Will she ease up? Or will she push harder as she convinces herself she's getting closer to the truth? I suspect she'll take things down a notch for an episode or two, but once a psycho FBI agent, always a psycho FBI agent.
Saul's scolding of Carrie in the hallway was almost as painful for her as Lynne's death. We're only three episodes in, but Saul's verbal smackdown coming through the TV and making me feel so crummy really says something about how far the show has come. Lots of credit goes to Mandy Patinkin's performance here, as he's a perfect casting choice for the sagacious Saul. (We may as well start the Emmy discussion now.) But, as disappointed as he is, Saul is the ideal mentor for Carrie. He's probably the only person who knows how to handle her and rein her in. He told her there's an "us" and a "them," and at the end of the episode, it was decidedly "us" as he comforted her during her toughest ordeal to date. What a great scene—Carrie completely stripped herself of any walls she put up. I love the portrayal of their relationship because it's unforgivingly one-sided and broken. Real-life relationships aren't perfect, and TV relationships shouldn't be, either.
As for Brody, well, I just don't know what to think. Two weeks ago we saw him beating his fellow Marine to death, and last night we saw him playing Father of the Year. He bonded with his daughter Dana because they both feel alone, and she responded with the greatest character arc of the episode. Initially prepared to embarrass her family and possibly tell the world about her mom's infidelity (I can't be the only person who swallowed my gum when that possibility was implied), she ended up saving the interview. Is it just me, or was that a ridiculously sweet moment?
Meanwhile, Jessica helplessly watched Dana bond with Brody while her own relationship with their daughter remained strained. She and Lori from The Walking Dead ought to form a support group for wives who thought their husbands were dead and coped by boning their husbands' best friends. Dana sees her mother as the enemy, but that's only because Jessica is having a hard time ignoring her crushing guilt. And when Dana called her out on it, it was a slap in the face and a sign that her house of cards is about to crumble.
Homeland is a show that's essentially about lies, truths, and the foggy area between the two, and "Clean Skin" made it clear that the consequences of both honesty and dishonesty can be grave. The episode detoured from the essence of Homeland, but in the meantime showed us that the series has some great characters who show us a lot by hiding so much.
– I'm still undecided about Morena Baccarin's performance. Sometimes she's really good, other times she fizzles out. Claire Danes is still great, and Damian Lewis is keeping things wonderfully mysterious. Can't wait to see him blow up, though.
– Okay, what was the deal with the homeowner at the end of the episode? We'll find out soon, but I want to know NOW!
– Can we definitively rule out Amir as a co-conspirator? He was awfully convincing in his interview with the D.C. police, so I'm going to go ahead and believe what Homeland wants us to believe, which is that he's just a filthy rich playboy who wasn't involved in Lynne's death. Note to self: Do whatever it takes to become a Middle Eastern prince. That life looks pretty sweet.
Follow TV.com writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom