There isn’t a show on television that does intensity like Homeland. If last week’s pilot felt slightly laid back, the show doubles down tonight with a nail-biter of a secret op and then a mind-blowing twist in the final scene.
But first, we begin with Carrie meeting her contact. She’s been on the run since she evaded her tail and tracked Fatima down on her own at a prayer meeting, rather than at the expected rendezvous spot. The risky maneuver pays off with a sweet piece of intel: Abu Nazir is in Beirut to meet with Fatima’s husband (one of his top lieutenants) tomorrow. When Carrie heads back to the CIA safehouse, despite a compassionate hug and kiss from Saul, she doesn’t quite get a congratulations. Instead, she gets concern from Saul, then needling from Estes about how Fatima’s story may not be credible. Carrie’s word is not enough, and without Saul having been there to assess the intel, they can’t decide if they should act on it since it could put American lives at risk.
The irony is, when she’s at her most heedless and risk-taking, Carrie is at her best. Just like when she evaded the trackers last week, she’s confident and secure when cajoling Fatima into talking to her, giving us a glimpse of the old Carrie. It’s only when she doesn’t have that adrenaline rush pumping through her, when she’s left to think and be still, that Carrie crumbles. She overhears Saul saying he didn’t want her on the mission and she has a panic attack, leading to a fantastically passionate confession to Saul about how badly it messed up her mind being “so sure and so wrong” about Brody. She tells Saul that she understands why he can’t trust her, and that she wouldn’t trust herself either, but that the Carrie of five years ago who recruited Fatima, “that one I’d trust.”
As for our congressman, cracks are starting to show in his previously unruffled façade. At a fundraiser put on by a weapons contractor, Jessica, who’s taken quite well to the political spotlight—having become Vice President Walden’s wife Cynthia’s protégé—is asked to help co-host a fundraiser for veterans. When she mentions this to Brody, he cuttingly says that if she wants to help vets, she should “take out” everyone at this party. Jessica isn’t the only one getting close to VIPs though, Dana and the VP’s son, Finn, who came to her aid when she spilled the beans on Dad being a Muslim, have a banter-y exchange that seems to point to young love being in the cards. One can only wonder what kind of problems that entanglement might cause for Brody.
He’s got other more immediate problems though. He’s apparently patched things up with his old friend Mike, who comes to ask Brody to use his new congressional clearance to look into Tom Walker’s death. Seems the old squad thinks it’s fishy that Walker, the best sniper among them, couldn’t hit the VP in three shots, but took out a nobody like Elizabeth Gaines. Brody reluctantly agrees to look into it.
Back in Beirut, Saul and Carrie wait for the operation to get off the ground, Saul having given Estes the green light. There’s a lovely quiet moment as the team hopefully waits for Abu Nazir to arrive, when Carrie plaintively asks Saul why he stopped calling her after her electroshock therapy. He tells her the doctor said he was hindering Carrie’s recovery by reminding her of work. It’s ironic though, because this episode highlights that, as fearful as we are about Carrie and the risks she takes, we should also be worried for Saul. She could be the (professional) death of him. By all rights, Saul shouldn’t trust Carrie, not because she’s not smart and good at her job, but because she takes crazy, unnecessary risks. As we’re about to see.
All our major players—even Brody who, upon meeting the VP for a meeting at the Pentagon, gets pulled into a conference room with the Joint Chiefs of Staff—are watching the operation go down in Beirut via video monitors. The op hits a bump when unexpected vans of hostiles block off the street and seem to have made the team. It’s a false alarm, but the increased threat means they’ll have to kill Nazir on site not just take him in. To everyone’s shock, Nazir actually shows up, but then, just as the snipers get him in their scopes, a terrified Brody covertly texts him a warning under the table, and he gets away. Brody shakes and (flop) sweats buckets. His dry cleaning bills must be a fright.
As it goes down, Saul and Carrie are hustled out of the safe house, speeding to pick up Fatima at her apartment and get her to safety. The hostiles are closing in on her apartment block, when she comes out and gets into the van, but Carrie—unable to give up the chance to get something, anything against Nazir—demands her keys and runs into the building, ransacking the study for papers. It’s an incredibly tense sequence as enemies converge from all sides, shaking the van and wielding guns, so that the team has no choice but to drive off. But Carrie excels under pressure. She runs off, even as the hostiles race after her and try to corner her. She even beans a guy on the head with a brick and keeps going. An American agent comes to her rescue, and they meet up with the van again. Once in the car, Carrie’s a shaky mess, as she tosses the bag of random paperwork she grabbed to Saul.
Brody meets up with Riza, the journalist-slash-Nazir-agent who’s become his defacto handler, and finally loses it, yelling that he can’t be texting Nazir in the middle of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He tries to beg off, saying he’s filled his role and he’s not their guy anymore. She says he’s more important than ever and threatens to stay in touch. A subdued Brody then goes to meet his old squad at a bar, insisting to them there was nothing in the classified file about who killed Walker. Lauder, the drunk loudmouth who exposed Mike and Jessica’s affair last year, is there for a nice bit of continuity and complains that Walker never would have missed the shots, even going so far as to suggest it was a distraction for something else going on. That hits too close to home and Brody flips, insisting “Walker’s not the person you think he is! He stopped being Marine the day he turned traitor.” Of course, he’s not only talking about Walker here, but himself, and we watch an unsettled Brody return home, where his composure is only restored after a brief, normal conversation with Dana.
Across town the next morning, a different homecoming is happening. It’s heartbreaking to see Carrie return to her family’s quiet suburban house and look around like she doesn't recognize it. She sits silently on the couch, resetting her watch to the clock (a lovely subtle metaphor about the resetting of her internal clock, too). Vegetable lasagna has never seemed less appealing.
But salvation comes from the most unexpected of places. The paperwork Carrie grabbed at Fatima’s apartment yields nothing for a tired Saul, until, in a real stroke of coincidence/luck—the kind which it’s almost hard to suspend disbelief about—Saul notices something sewn into the pocket of a bag. This show relies on luck a lot, probably more than is prudent, but when the payoff for it is as shocking and important as it is here, it’s easy to suspend disbelief. Saul finds a memory card and pops it into his computer. A video player pops up immediately and the still image is Sergeant Brody, in his uniform. It’s the missing video he recorded at the end of last season!
It’s a real holy-crap kind of moment, because while most of us loyal viewers knew the video would surface sooner or later, few probably expected it to be this quickly. We see Saul watching it and wonder what comes next, what this means for now-Congressman Brody. Will Saul keep it to himself or go right to Estes? Or to Carrie, to let her know she’s vindicated? What if he doesn’t do either? There were hints in season 1 that Saul could be the mole (though it seems inconceivable to me). But if so, what does he do with this? Homeland is always very good at playing with ambiguity, so smart money is on his immediate actions being somewhat inscrutable as they keep us guessing. But this is an axe that’s bound to fall awfully quickly, and the showrunners have already hinted that it’s a gamechanger for the entire series.
It’s a bold, ambitious move for the second episode of the second season. As always with Homeland, the fallout is bound to be breathtakingly compelling.
Tara Gelsomino is a reader, writer, pop culture junkie, and Internet addict. You can tweet her at @taragel.