Episode Title: "The Vest"
Writers: Meredith Stiehm & Chip Johannessen
Director: Clark Johnson
Previously on "Homeland":
Somewhere in America, an old man makes a suicide bomb vest loaded with ball bearings. Back at the CIA, David Estes (David Harewood) struggles with the aftermath of the bomb that killed Saudi diplomat Al Sahrani (Ramsey Faragallah) and several other people. The agency also has a severe lack of leads on Sgt. Tom Walker (Chris Chalk); the former POW turned terrorist. David is soon summoned to speak with Vice President William Walden (Jamey Sheridan); who turns out to be very displeased over the entire Walker affair. He orders David to fire someone over the bombing incident and he doesn't particularly care who gets the blame.
At the hospital, Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin) shows up to check on Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes); but she seems to be in the midst of a complete psychotic break. As Carrie's mannerisms becoming even more manic, Saul and the hospital doctor get Carrie to admit that she's been under the treatment of her sister, Maggie (Amy Hargreaves). Meanwhile, the other POW turned terrorist traitor, Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis) brings his wife, Jessica (Morena Baccarin) and their children on a family trip to Gettysburg before his campaign heats up… although their daughter, Dana Brody (Morgan Saylor) is noticeably reluctant to go.
Finally getting Carrie back to her home, Saul stays until Maggie arrives. She explains that Carrie is bi-polar and that the explosion in the park must have set off her ongoing illness. Maggie gives Carrie her pills and she privately tells Saul that Carrie needs days to return to her normal mental state (which to be accurate, was never all that stable to begin with). Reluctantly, Saul agrees to return after work to look after her. At Gettysburg, Brody passionately explains the significance of what happened at the battle during the Civil War and he is especially adamant about making sure that his son, Chris (Jackson Pace) understands the meaning of sacrifice for a cause.
Shortly thereafter, Brody also tells his daughter to take care of her mother when he won't be around, which seems to unnerve Dana. Before lunch, Brody excuses himself to buy a toothbrush… but in reality, he slips into the shop of the old man from the top of the show and picks up his suicide vest. Dana sees Brody place the vest in their trunk, but Brody claims that it is a gift for Jessica. Inside the restaurant, Brody demurs when the patrons call him a hero; but he stands up and allows them to introduce themselves as they gather around him. Back at Carrie's home, Saul relieves Maggie and he apologizes to a sedated Carrie for not recognizing her problem sooner.
As Saul picks up Carrie's assorted files, he notices a common thread and he spends the night assembling the files into a timeline of Abu Nazir's (Navid Negahban) activities which is delineated by Carrie's color markers. Back at the hotel in Gettysburg, Brody seemingly gives his son the same speech he gave Dana earlier. In private, Jessica tells Brody how happy she is and they get intimate. In the morning, Dana tries to examine the suicide vest and she starts to open the package before Brody catches her in the act. When Carrie wakes up, she seems more like her normal self and she is ecstatic that Saul recognized the timeline she had worked out.
Carrie notes that there is a period in Abu Nazir's timeline that is not accounted for; which may have been punctuated by mourning. Saul leaves Carrie in the care of her sister and her father, Frank. Unfortunately, Carrie's manic phase isn't entirely finished and she fixates on Brody as the only man who can tell her what Abu Nazir was doing in the missing time. Frank is unable to talk her out of making the call and when Carrie reaches Brody (shortly after the family's return), he suggests that it would be better if they meet in person. Shortly thereafter, Dana shows her boyfriend, Xander (Taylor Kowalski) the footage she secretly taped of her father standing completely still for 15 minutes during their trip and she notes that he was behaving strangely the entire time.
Back at Carrie's place, she covers her injuries with makeup and dresses like she's going to be intimate with Brody. But when the doorbell finally rings, it's David and several of his agents, who have arrived to clear out Carrie's home of anything that was classified. David tells her that Brody called him and he confessed to the fling between them, but he also told David about Carrie's illegal surveillance and her "harassment" of him. David also notices Carrie's diminished state of mind and she stops her family from filling him in. But Carrie absolutely freaks out when the agents begin tearing down her timeline wall… which is almost certainly not going to go over well during her next employee review.
As "Dexter" continues to fall from its perch, "Homeland" continues to rise up as Showtime's best drama. This series has been steadily getting better all season and it is peaking at just the right time.
The MVP of the hour was Mandy Patinkin, who gave Saul some terrifically understated reactions as he discovered the depths of Carrie's mental issues. The camera angles and editing also had a lot to with the effectiveness of Saul's scenes. However, Patinkin even made Saul's quiet contemplation compelling. It seems strange to say that you can actually see Saul think and know almost exactly what's on his mind. But that's what happens.
Claire Danes was also very good at portraying Carrie in a much more unhinged way than we've seen her before. The only time that Danes didn't seem genuinely unbalanced was the cartoonish scene in which Carrie ran out of her sister's car towards the park. That was a little bit too over-the-top. In the majority of her scenes, Danes was ably assisted by Patinkin. I particularly liked Saul's quiet horror at the way that Carrie got so worked up over needing a green marker… and the eventual reveal of what she was doing was also well played.
It seems like I've misjudged Sgt. Brody. It was easy to assume that Abu Nazir was grooming Brody to be his highly placed man in the U.S. government, like "The Manchurian Candidate." Instead the plan seems to be for Brody to blow himself up alongside the Vice President; which seems like a pretty wasteful plan… until you remember that the V.P. supposedly ordered the airstrike that killed Abu Nazir's son.
Listening to Brody speak, it's clear that he not only loves his family, but he also has a deep passion for his country too. That's why it's hard to wrap my head around Brody's motivation. The terrorist mission against the V.P. was to avenge Abu Nazir's son, whom Brody had grown close to. And Brody is so set on that plan that he's willing to throw away not just his own life, but the chance to happily live on with his family. Those are not the actions of a sane man.
Given Dana's suspicions towards Brody, it seems likely that she'll be the first person to stumble upon his plot. I'm very curious to see what Brody's reaction would be at that point. Would he physically harm his own children just to avenge another child… that wasn't even his?
It's also difficult to see where "Homeland" could possibly go in the second season, if Carrie is drummed out of the CIA and Brody goes through with his attack. However, the unpredictability of the story is one of the best aspects of the series. My best guess for the season finale is that either Brody or Walker will be successful in their mission; which opens the door for Carrie to return to the CIA in some capacity because she was the only one who saw it coming.
Stranger things have happened…
Crave Online Rating: 9 out of 10.