This week, on “Homeland,” two kids play Operation with with an eccentric family friend as their dad watches on. Except, instead of tinkering with the classic board game, they’re sticking their fingers in a gunshot wound to Nick Brody’s gut. And they’re not in the living room, but a dingy basement in Venezuela’s infamous Tower of David slums. Their father happens to be a gang lord known as El Nino, who has made it his prime initiative to keep a wanted terrorist suspect safe. Oh and that family friend? He may be a doctor. He also may be a pedophile. How’s that for some family bonding?
(It’s safe to assume the writers got the setting idea from this New Yorker piece .)
After much anticipation, Brody is back, in an -- ahem -- exotic locale. Yet his current circumstances -- so many literal and figurative miles from his former family life -- are still full of knock-you-over-the-head parallels to his American homeland. El Nino’s daughter Esme is somewhat of a Dana-figure, loyally attentive to all of Brody’s needs. And before we even see Carrie -- we don’t leave Brody’s personal hell until 30 minutes into the episode -- Brody’s situation is comparable to Carrie’s. He is being forced to take “medicine” -- heroin, a drug that is a hero “so you don’t have to be,” the doctor explains -- he doesn’t want to take. He’s trapped in a place he doesn’t want to be. “I’m better now,” Brody pleads, a refrain we’ve heard Carrie say numerous times before.
Which makes sense, considering Carrie is the reason Brody is stuck in the Tower of David in the first place -- a twisted payback for the psyche ward his actions have landed her in.
“I’m wondering: An American fugitive falls in your lap and with a bounty on his head -- $10 million dead or alive -- and you go through a world of trouble trying to save him, instead of just collecting the reward?” the doc postulates after finishing up Brody’s bootleg surgery.
“Maybe someone do you a favor once,” El Nino responds, later revealing that Carrie Mathison is just that someone.
In fact the entire episode turns on favors. Later in the episode, Brody asks El Nino’s daughter for a favor -- help him escape to a mosque, where he asks the imam another favor -- take him in. Over in crazytown, Carrie suggests Saul did her a favor by sending her to the asylum. She also asks a nurse to let her see a visitor she thinks is Saul. It’s not. It’s a lawyer, positioning himself to be doing Carrie a favor by getting her out of the ward. But Carrie believes that favor comes at too high a cost -- her allegiance to her country.
All this favor-asking highlights how selfish and delusional Carrie and Brody have become as characters. Brody particularly can’t do anything without someone else getting hurt, killed or thrown off a building. And even in Arabic, his appeal to the Imam outside the mosque sounds like classic Carrie crazy talk.
The episode ends with back-to-back scenes of Carrie and Brody. Both have succumbed to the chemicals they were once so unwilling to take and now sit alone, in their dark cells. In doing so, “Homeland” suggests that even a hemisphere apart -- Carrie and Brody are forever connected. It would be a shame if the strong run the show has been on was sacrificed in favor of Season 2’s soap opera-y puppy love dramatics. If that is where the show is heading, maybe Carrie and Brody are better off in their cells.