Wanting someone who wants you, but it just can’t happen. Circumstances — marriage, family, professional responsibilities — keep you apart. Wondering what it would be like if you were together. Would the things that lend your attraction urgency — that tinge of crazy love, an edge of obsession — would those qualities become overwhelming if you spent all your time together? Does the danger that seems to sexy now inevitably lead to frustration, anger, even repulsion?
These are among the elements that made this week’s Homeland so good, so distinctive, so unusual — so, at one moment, hot. Note: If you’re looking for a full recap of this week’s Homeland, a terrific episode for Mandi Patinkin’s Saul as well, you’ll find it here on EW.com. I’m concentrating on Carrie and Brody this week, because this hour, “The Clearing,” was one of the most interesting and revelatory ones to date about how the show’s creators view the dynamic between Homeland‘s two crucial figures. SPOILER ALERT: DON’T READ FURTHER IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THIS WEEK’S HOMELAND. You might also not want to read what I have to say if you enjoyed the lousy Saturday Night Live sketch that decided the funny thing about the show is that Carrie is just a crazy broad. (Good Patinkin impersonation by Bill Hader, though.)
After last week’s action-movie moment of the shoot-‘em-up at the tailor’s shop in Gettysburg, this week found Brody rattled, quick to anger, and distracted, depending on who he was dealing with. Carrie began the episode applying a professional, clinical eye to Brody’s situation: “He’s a f—ing double agent, no s— he’s stressed… He needs to feel a sense of control; power.”
One of the excellent new developments stemming from Brody’s recruitment into CIA spying is that now Carrie, Saul, Peter Quinn — even Estes — have to get involved in Brody’s personal life; they have to traffic-cop the family and marital problems that might deter their terrorist-thwarting. Thus the marvelous early scene — one of many in this episode written by Meredith Stiehm — of Carrie going to Mike and telling him to stop sniffing around in Brody’s past. Here was super-tough, competent Carrie (“Cease and f—ing desist — understood?”) as well as the carefully delicate Carrie that spoke to Mike as though she was talking to herself.
“It’s hard to want something or someone that you just can’t have,” she told Mike about his love of Jessica, as we knew she was consciously or subconsciously thinking of her own sentiments toward Brody. “I hope you get what you want,” she concluded, and can damn well bet she meant that sincerely, because, down the line, with mission perhaps accomplished, she’s thinking Mike can go off with Jessica and she can have Brody all to herself.
Not many minutes later, however, she would be holding hands with Brody. They met in the Virginia forest clearing that gave the episode its name. (Boy, Brody sure spent a lot of time away from Jess and that fundraising party, didn’t he?) The pair embraced fiercely; there was a quick bit of urgent, furtive, nicely sloppy-intense make-out kissing. “Is this for real? Are you just handling me?” asked Brody, that last phrase a delightful pun on what’s being done in this scene. “I don’t want you to feel used,” said Carrie, the sort of phrase you hear coming more often from a male character in a movie or TV show. ”
“I do feel used and played and lied to,” replied a rather breathless Brody, hugging, smooching, squeezing. “I also feel good. Two minutes with you and I feel good.”
I ask you, dear reader, who among us has not been in a situation like this? Minus the five dead Federal agents and the Vice Presidential flattery and the daughter involved in a hit-and-run death, of course.
This episode was directed by John Dahl, who has directed other excellent hot-love, hot-action films, perhaps most to the point here 1993’s Red Rock West and 1994’s The Last Seduction, as well as at least one episode of Damian Lewis’ excellent, underrated NBC series Life. Dahl and the producers kept cutting back and forth between subplots, which leant the hour a superb tension. Yes, there was a significant development with Saul’s tragic interaction with the imprisoned Aileen, and with Dana’s insistence on reporting the hit-and-run accident to the police.
But there is no doubt that the central aspect of “The Clearing” was the connection between Brody and Carrie. The espionage genre has always been a good, even easy one to use to mine metaphors for illicit love. But for a demonstration of the way wariness, urgency, and helplessness can play into both, this was a romantic hour made all the more effective for being rendered with such hardboiled terseness. Once again, Claire Danes’ performance and the way the show’s writers, particularly Stiehm, opt to portray her, achieve an utterly original presentation of the way one powerful yet vulnerable woman can act out in these situations. And Damian Lewis delivers on Brody’s defenselessness when proffered affection after his imprisonment, even as the character never seems fundamentally weak.
For the purposes of Homeland, when Brody and Carrie’s relationship will explode remains as significant as when the terrorist threat explodes.