In a series that just featured an explosion carried out by a suicide bomber, deadly snipers poised to take shots at the president, and an American-born Marine prepped and ready to blow up the highest levels of U.S. government with a carefully crafted vest of mass destruction, for me, the most telling shot of this week's episode of Homeland was Saul's face as he witnessed Carrie go halfway to cuckoo town. Saul's stunned mug was identical to the way mine has been all season long—jaw agape, eyes wide open, with an air of "HOLY JEEBUS WTF OH MY G!" The Showtime drama has been superb (except for one blip) all season long, and "The Vest" somehow found new ways to give its audience Saul face all over again.
After the events of last week, Carrie is not doing too well, to put it succinctly. Nearly being killed by a suicide bomber would knock a few screws loose in anyone, but Carrie and her fragile psyche got blasted right back into a straight jacket. We learned Carrie's true problem—she's bipolar—and got to see it firsthand in a powerful performance by Claire Danes, who managed to show us a new side of Carrie that we all feared was lurking somewhere inside her.
But that's what you get with Carrie Mathison. She's a brilliant FBI mind with unmatched drive, but she works outside the rules and is prone to mental meltdowns. For every unbelievable act she commits (sleeping with Brody, going face-to-face with white supremacists, cursing like a tipsy sea captain), there's an earnestness to her superior work that makes her invaluable to the CIA and her supporters. More than once I had was reminded of John Nash, the lead character in A Beautiful Mind. That movie was great because of the character, and Homeland has achieved success by taking what made that character great and creating another one who gets to stick around for more than just two hours. The threat against our country? Just icing on the cake that's shaped like an exploding White House.
So after we saw Carrie highlighting her way around Abu Nazir's master plan with a pile of classified documents, Saul's reaction was even more interesting than the meaning behind the puzzle. As Carrie's level-headed support system and disciplinarian, Saul often serves as representative for us, the audience. Like us, Saul's spent enough time with Carrie to know that her madness and brilliance aren't mutually exclusive, but every time he sees an instance of either he doesn't know if he can trust it. Watching Saul alternate between concerned father figure, amateur shrink, and professional mentor elicits all kinds of emotion: sympathy, sorrow, and exhilaration. And Saul nailed all those emotions in every subtle look. Brilliant work by Mandy Patinkin in a role that contrasts Danes' by showing that less is more. These two sharing the screen are what TV die-hards wish for for Christmas.
While Carrie was derailed by her lack of meds, Brody was off on a boring family vacation that was ostensibly about spending some quality time with his wife and kids before the political machine consumes him. Except that wasn't what it was about at all. Brody was in Pennsylvania to pick up a new vest, one that's built to kill anyone within 100 feet at the press of a button. As with most things in this series, I did NOT see that coming. Whoa. His talks with his kids about the importance of the man who defied logic at the Battle of Gettysburg weren't history lessons, they were prologues to what he's about to do. Brody has come to terms with his mission, and he just wants his family to understand.
But after getting a call from Carrie, he had one more loose end to tie up before setting out to meet Allah. Brody assured Carrie that he'd come around to her place (ooh! Another date!), except instead he completely buried her by selling her out to Estes and admitting to their tryst. With Estes already under pressure from Vice President Walden to fire someone in the name of PR after the explosive disaster with the Saudi diplomat, seeing Carrie off her rocker and showing classified documents to friends, learning about Carrie and Brody's incredibly inappropriate relations, and finding out she'd been involved in illegal surveillance didn't make it difficult for Estes to dismiss Carrie from the agency. Absolutely brutal. But what will happen when Carrie's insanity is proven right?
"The Vest" took the show's two main characters and spun them in completely opposite directions. Carrie was at her most manic, and Brody was at his most serene during the most important part of the story so far. While Brody was doing his best to deceive his family and everyone around him, Carrie was struggling to get people to believe her theories. It's a situation where the enemy is a few steps ahead and bureaucracy is hindering the path toward the truth. Gee, does that sound familiar?
When we started Homeland, we were filled with doubts. Doubts that Brody was a terrorist, doubts that Carrie was competent as a CIA agent. Those doubts have now become certainties. Brody's dead-set on harming America, and Carrie's suspicions were absolutely right. It turns out that what we were sold on initially is true, but unlike in other cases where wheels spin and plots are stretched out, the ride back to the beginning has been anything but unnecessary.
"The Vest," perhaps Homeland's most well-put-together episode to date, was incredible and guaranteed where I will be next Sunday night. This has to be one of my most anticipated finales in recent memory.
– I know that annoying teens can be, well, annoying, but I'm still very pro-Dana. She's a smart kid, and what teen wouldn't be bummed about heading to Pennsylvania to see the spot where a bunch of people died a long time ago?
– We still don't know exactly what Tom Walker's plan is, but a few folks on Twitter have posited that it could be to stop Brody, probably under orders from someone else. It's an interesting theory that the show would have to wiggle around to make it happen, but it's certainly a possibility if motive can be established.
– I'm going to have to backtrack a bit on Vice President Walden being a mole, but I will not backtrack on my assertion that he is a major jerk.
– It can't be said enough: Danes was fantastic in this episode. Scary fantastic.
Question: What's your stance on Brody now? Is he 100-percent jerk, or is he still somewhat sympathetic?
Follow TV.com writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom