Thursday, 1 November 2012

BRODY LED THREE SO-CALLED LIVES? HOMELAND SERIES TWO


The second series of Homeland begins with Carrie on her meds and teaching EFL, while Saul is cruisiaround Beirut dressed as Meyer Lansky, and might as well be wearing a sign saying 'shoot me, I'm the CIA station chief here and I'm Jewish'. But having disposed of Carrie, the CIA then send her back to Beirut, which in Homeland terms is basically a teeming street market bordered by crumbling houses and populated by shifty-looking people who automatically follow strangers and threaten them. Sort of like Brooklyn.

Meanwhile Brody, everybody's favourite Marine sergeant turned Congressman is now a viable Vice-Presidential candidate; in fact more viable than Paul Ryan, while moonlighting as an Islamic terrorist. It's a shame he appears to be a Republican, because he'd fit right into the Obama White House with that profile. He's picked up a new handler, an English-accented woman (Roya Hammad, played by Zuleika Robinson, left) who's somehow got White House press credentials for her grad student blog, because we have to make it easy for Al-Queda, and because no one's yet figured out that Damian Lewis, despite having served in the 101st Airborne during WWII, is British. But then so is the guy playing Carrie's careerist nemesis at the CIA, David Estes (played by David Harewood).

By a quirk of picking up the right cloth shoulder bag on her way out of her Beirut contact's apartment, Carrie unwittingly delivers to Saul a copy of Brody's suicide-bomb confession—which of course has never been used, but the Al-Queda types like to carry around with them when they head to the teeming markets to do their shopping. Saul manages to sneak it out of Beirut, by hiding a copy which the Lebanese version of Homeland Securtity confiscate, and now we now that the psychologically disturbed Carrie was right, David was wrong, and Brody is now a problem.

In fact, Lewis' adjustment to American life has an extreme flaw, which is when he gets into casual dress. He seems to prefer a kangol and polo shirt (this is a marine sergeant, not a suburban golf pro, remember) two sizes too small early on. But then, in episode three, despite his having to make an important political speech with the VP (played by Jamey Sheridan as if he's Michael Murphy), Roya sends him to drive the Al Queda bombmaker who's a tailor in Gettysburg to a safe house. The illogic of this boggles the mind, especially since in other ways Al-Queda are supposed to be all-powerful, with assets everywhere in America. But it gets even worse when Brody arrives in Getttysburg walking stiffly through town in a casual outfit of baseball cap, windbreaker, and slacks that appears to again be too small for him, as well as brand-new, starched and ironed. And he walks with a prissy kind of stiffness which would make him stand out in any small town, unless it were the set for a remake of Invaders From Mars. I thought maybe this was somehow a sort of character comment, a cunning reference to Fifties paranoia, or to his inability to adjust to civilian life as a spy, but I suspect the reality is that either Brody is more comfortable in uniform, whether Marine or politician, where he can be as stiff as he likes, or Lewis is more comfortable in British casual wear.

Then, as he tries to change a flat tire without a jack, and chase his passenger through the woods in a rainstorm, which winds up in his having to kill him with the patented TV neck-breaker while he talks to his wife who's wondering why he's not at the speech. Watching Lewis trying to balance these elements of his it occurred to me what I was seeing was a 21st century version of I Led Three Lives, the Fifties TV show which starred Richard (no relation) Carlson as Herbert Philbrick, 'citizen, communist, counter-spy'. I recalled mentioning the show as one of a number of examples when I wrote about Homeland's first series last year (link here). But now the parallel was more direct, although in this case, Brody has only two lives, I thought with some disappointment.

That disappointment lasted only as far as episode four, in which Carrie hands Brody the ulitmate hotel bar pick-up rejection: just as he's about to embrace/strange Carrie agents burst into the room, and this CIA version of the Murphy game sees him led away with a black hood over his head, headed to Gitmo or some safe house torture chamber.

So the stage is set for Brody to be turned—whether by persuasion or by the sort of combination of therapy and drugs that has been so ineffective with Carrie—into a real Herbert Philbrick. He's the war hero who's been turned by Al-Queda who can now operate as a double-agent, thereby doubling the risk, and, as Philbrick discovered, making even the simplest daily tasks fraught with suspicion, deception, and of course danger. The possibility is then open for the CIA, knowing that Carrie is a head case and has already been involved with Brody, assigning her to be his handler, which will add an element of the 'will they-won't they' dilemma so beloved of American television morality, and it leaves the continuous question, which was never a problem for the audience following Richard Carlson, of whether or not Brody's latest conversion is real.

Complicating the issue will be Brody's Marine ex-buddies, the most demented of whom is convinced (correctly) Brodie played a part in the murder of his fellow convert to Islam, the sniper Walker, and a burgeoning sub-plot of romance between Brody's daughter and the son of the Vice-President, which raises the worry that the need to keep a teenaged audience interested by showing them versions of themselves, which so plagued 24 that it quickly became unwatchable, could well take over the show. I can see Abu Nazir sending the Teen Terrorists to the US and infiltrating them into Sidwell Friends School.

I Led Three Lives was a paradigm of the Red Scare during the death-throes of the McCarthy Era. Homeland is threatening to become exactly the same thing—with the hugely exaggerated threat of the enemy within being overcome by the increasingly harried misunderstood hero. Lewis does a great imitation of Richard Carlson worried he won't be able to find a pay phone in time to let the FBI know where and when the cell meeting is where the latest secrets are about to be passed on to Moscow. Beneath the flash of the plot, the twist of Brody's being a successful politician and a legitimate Moslem/terrorist (which thus far in Homeland appear to be the same thing) and of course the distinct pleasure we take in watching Clare Danes go all psycho every week, Homeland is, at heart, an old paradigm come home to roost, I Led Three So-Called Lives, under the guise of My So-Called War On Terror.

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