Last week, I wrote something to the effect of, "In case you forgot, the team behind Homeland was also involved in Fox's 24" in reference to the incredible action sequence in "Beirut is Back." Carrie's narrow escape from Abu Nazir's men was responsible for a noticeable percentage increase in America's collective blood pressure, a heart-pounder that was executed with competent precision. Similar moments were certainly a totem of 24, but they usually ended with Jack Bauer strangling a terrorist and shoving an American flag down the bad guy's throat.
I wasn't a regular viewer of 24, but one other frequent trademark of the series I've learned of from those who did was that 24 occasionally made less sense than a rabbit with a pancake on its head. I've heard complaints from those viewers about storylines dealing with amnesia, soccer-mom rape, and a mountain lion, as well as anything else to do with Elisha Cuthbert's Kim. Sometimes the worst enemy for a show is the show itself, as it attempts to one-up previous episodes to keep the shock value up. It's kind of like when Duracell comes out with a new type of battery and brags about it on its packaging by bashing its old batteries. "Those batteries? SUCKY! Now these batteries, they're the tits! (Buy Duracell)"
So where am I going with this? I'm not saying Homeland is following in 24's footsteps, but it's at least trying on the same pair of shoes. Some things that happened in "State of Independence," one of the more bizarre episodes of the series to date, felt like they were pressured into topping what had come before, plausibility be damned. And maybe for you they weren't so extreme, but to me, I think they unnecessarily skipped a step in the OMFG meter. Brody accidentally/purposefully MURDERED someone he wasn't supposed to, mostly because his wife called him at an inconvenient time. And Carrie tried to MURDER herself, mostly because all the progress she made living outside the CIA was undone with one quick trip to Beirut. Murder and suicide? Those are some extreme things! That's like Season 3 or 4 stories to tell right there, not early Season 2 (RIGHT, Friday Night Lights Season 2 Landry?). Yet they were still a ton of fun to watch.
Let's take Brody's murder first. Brody, still a lapdog for Nazir, was assigned the task of taking the vest-bomb-maker to a safe house because the heat was on him after Carrie took intel from Beirut. Nazir chose Brody because it made half-sense; he knows him and vice versa, and Brody should take an interest in his safety because he's one of the few people who can identify Brody as a turncoat. But is Brody–a very valuable asset inside the den of the infidel American government–the best choice for this? It seems like Nazir's web of sleeper agents and undercover terrorists should have a, eager beaver who can do this, rather than risk Brody's cover with these mundane chores of giving a guy a ride to a house. And Allah forbid if something goes wrong.
And boy did it go wrong! The string of unfortunate events that led to Brody accidentally impaling Mr. Bomb Maker was borderline comical. A cranky hostage, a flat tire, a car without a jack, Jess' annoying phone calls... that's right up there with the worst days ever. We've all had crazy days that make no sense unless you were there to witness it, but (hopefully) they didn't end with a terror suspect in your custody dead. And the whole time, Mr. Bomb Maker had thoughts of cracking Brody over the head with a crowbar, rock, and SUV! But as ludicrous as it was, it was still absolutely compelling to watch! Damian Lewis polished off his Emmy and used his acting powers to really convey the sense that Brody couldn't believe what was happening either, and that went a long way towards making us forget just how far into space this story went.
But seriously, Brody. Why oh why did you pick up the phone when Jess called that final time? And why would you try and shut up your dying prisoner while on the phone with your wife who can hear the whole thing? When Brody snapped his neck, I'm surprised Jess didn't ask if he just bit into a fresh carrot. There are times when it's necessary to be shocking, but if we're going to take a show seriously, these characters need to do basic things at a 4th-grade level. And that means just letting your phone go to voicemail like the rest of us when we're in the middle of trying to save the life of a suspected terrorist that we just tackled onto a sharp object.
That was followed shortly after by Carrie's attempted suicide by white wine spritzer (hold the soda, add a handful of prescription pills and heavy contemplation). Carrie has always been unstable and has engaged in dangerous behavior before (her first thought was to go find some lonely men at a jazz bar for impersonal sex, I presume), but she's had low points lower than just not being invited to the CIA's debriefing parties so the suicide attempt felt more like a game of Chicken between writers to see how far they could push things.
But again, the scene is sold on the actor's performance and director's eye. Clare Danes took herself to a really dark, deep place in that sequence, making that scene as uncomfortable to watch as anything this uncomfortable series has offered. The eerie calm Carrie displayed after guzzling that second glass of vino and slowly ascending the stairs was downright chilling. To see someone so accepting of what they just did... aye aye aye! And her sudden realization of what she had done was the counterpoint to that, eyes wide in a final live-saving gasp as she booked it to the bathroom to unswallow her death serum. (I love gore and violence, but people vomiting make me squirm.)
These bad days for Brody and Carrie aren't just for show and without purpose, though. Last season, these two found their way to each other when they were at low points, Brody fighting with Jessica after suspecting her of banging Mike and Carrie feeling rejected by her peers for that crazy idea that Brody might be a sleeper agent for Abu Nazir. It made sense at that point for these two to come together, and that opened up the story to a whole new level. We just didn't know how Homeland would bring Carrie and Brody back together in Season 2 in a believable way. Answer: pretty much the same way the show did in Season 1.
There's just one thing. This time around, Carrie's low point was followed by a high point: confirmation that she was right about Brody being a no-good terrorizin' turncoat. Definitely in the Top 10 of "I told you so!"s in history, right up there with Copernicus and that person who warned me about Miracle Whip. But knowing Carrie, she'll use this information as an excuse to get even closer to Brody.
The real question is how Saul will use this information. Will he tell Estes and the CIA, or will he keep it between him and Carrie? And does he now encourage Carrie to get closer to Brody to find out information? Twenty bucks says it's the latter with Saul stuck precariously between an agent that pushes the limits and pressure from the CIA.
"State of Independence" was either a sign that we should strap ourselves in and get used to some borderline craziness as we move forward, or a blip in a series that otherwise pushed extremes yet still kept a foot in believability. But even if we're starting 24: Day Nine, it's hard to pry our eyes from the talents of actors Danes and Lewis and people behind the camera. This is good, crazy stuff.
– Am I the only one who is incredibly tickled when Carrie is driving around town listening to jazz?
– Was there more of a purpose to Saul being harassed by the security in the airport other than to show his sneaky sly ways? Will that memory card switcheroo come back to haunt him?
– Mike was totally gonna bang Jessica again, wasn't he? And Jessica was going to let it happen in HER HOUSE, where Dana wakes up at the slightest BOING from a bed spring. This after almost getting caught by Dana doing it on the kitchen counter with Brody. Are she purposefully trying to traumatize her children?
– Once again, Morena Baccarin put in a strong performance. Maybe it's contagious?
– Who here HASN'T taken a car wash shower?