We're at the midpoint of Homeland's second run, and despite the initial intensity of the first few episodes the show has settled now into a familiar formula. Similar to episode seven of last season, Brody grapples with his identity whilst on a weekend retreat, whilst Saul once again tries to bond with jailed terrorist Aileen. Carrie and Brody got some great scenes together, including a highly charged encounter in the woods, but the other characters in the show were served hammy exchanges that failed to provide any real spark.
"I'm not that man"
Instead of a weekend cabin with Carrie, this retreat is with the Vice President at the home of a wealthy benefactor to their potential run for the White House. The various guests of the party single out Brody, the war hero that the media know him as, straight away for attention. One member impetuously asks what his torturers did to him during his eight years in captivity, unsettling the congressman who we've seen struggle under scrutiny in the past. Fancying a dip in the pool to cool off, he feels the eyes around the room watching him, taking in every scar on his body. We know Brody to be a tormented and traumatised individual, who isn't too keen on letting strangers know how damaged he is from the war. One person who notices is Rex Henning, the potential political contributor hosting the party. Seeing similarities between Brody and himself, he tells the former marine that he served in Vietnam and notes how he's willing to support Walden if it helps the congressman ascend to the highest echelons of power. Brody is stunned by the endorsement and the faith Rex is putting in him. Trying to deflect the praise he tells him, "I'm not that man".
"We killed someone"
Dana is also struggling to keep her guilty conscience in check. Attending the party along with Finn, she sees and opportunity to spill the beans over the hit and run accident to their parents, saying, "I want to tell". The reluctant Finn is more cowardly and also more cynical than Dana about the situation. But she can't take the guilt any more and so blurts out in front of both families, "We killed someone". In what was obvious from the start, both the Walden's and the Brody's react in very different ways. A shocked Jessica declares, "We have to deal with it head on", only for Cynthia to coolly answer, "We have to remember we're on the world stage here". The men have the same reaction to the crime, as when Brody asks Walden what to do he curtly responds that, "A screw-up by a couple of teenagers isn't getting in our way". Dana is similar to Brody in that her morality is based on gut instinct. It was Issa's death that jolted Brody against America and similarly here Dana is repulsed by the cover-up of her crime. She doesn't understand why Finn is so defeatist over informing the authorities when he tells her, "This is why I liked you so much, because you don't know how it goes yet". Like father, like daughter, Brody and Dana carry a naivety over how politics tarnishes black and white definitions with a broad stroke of grey.
"Empower the guy"
All this treachery and deceit makes it very hard to trust anybody. Last week's ambush by Abu Nazir's troops has caused Carrie and Brody to be more fearful of one another. That ridiculous Call of Duty-style moment doesn't appear to have been that big a tragedy, as a bullet-riddled Quinn manages to discharge himself from the hospital and get back to work. Noticing the stress Brody is under he tells Carrie to, "Empower the guy". We all knew how she was going to go about doing that. Materialising suddenly in the woods, she consoles a wounded Brody upset over how Abu Nazir broke him down. Carrie and Brody's kiss is half-real, half-manipulation, with a confused Brody confessing, "Two minutes with you and I feel good. How do you pull that off?" Like Abu Nazir, Brody finds himself unable to tear himself away from Carrie and is perplexed over whether he truly wants to be with her or not.
A cell with a view
Whilst the scenes between the two leads containing the same magical chemistry we've become accustomed to, it's the dialogue between the other agent and terrorist that falls flat. In order to get information on the man who met with Roya Hammad, Saul decides to pay a visit to Aileen, the terrorist plotter from season one who's now safely behind bars. Saul's attempts to cajole details out of her fall on deaf ears as she stubbornly demands a window in her cell before she's willing to talk. An exchange stretched out for far too long, when the duplicitous Aileen finally does disclose information, it turns out to be just a ruse so that she could slash her own wrists with the glasses Saul lent her. Pedantically you'd note how Saul appears to carry two pairs of glasses with him, and on top of that Aileen's suicide is incredibly contrived. Returning to find her in a pool of her own blood, she manages to utter one final clichéd line by saying that her time with Saul was, "The best last day I could have".
The sub-plot between Saul and Aileen was designed to enrich that of Carrie and Brody's but felt far too mechanical to ever rile our emotions. The problem at the heart of Homeland is that whilst the performances and exchanges of Carrie and Brody are endlessly riveting, the other characters are nowhere near as developed to ever truly merit our attention. "This is not okay!" Brody yells at Carrie. Maybe not, but as long as the two of them continue to sparkle in their scenes together, I'll be unable to tear myself away from Homeland.