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After the reveal in ‘Crossfire’ that Brody has tasked himself with a covert mission in the name of Nazir’s son Isa, we open with a newly re-energized Brody, seemingly now fully on board with the concept of running for Congress and carrying out his mysterious plan (whatever that might be). As Carrie astutely suggested in ‘The Weekend’, it seems that Brody is now committed to playing the long game, carefully maneuvering the people he loves into the positions he needs them, in order to move on to stage 2 of ‘Brody vs. Vice President Walden’.
This episode was, for me anyway, a succession of perfectly executed character pieces which - almost as a happy coincidence – continued to move the story forward. In the opening scenes, we learn from the calm, soft-spoken Saul that, after a week-long surveillance, Al Zahrani (the diplomat in the pay of Nazir) has now been effectively turned upside down by the CIA’s intelligence team and ‘shaken to see what would fall out’. Two means by which to manipulate the Saudi have come to light: firstly - he’s secretly gay despite ostensibly being a devout Muslim married to three women and having ten children, and secondly - he’s spending more money than he officially makes.
Watching the covert film of Al Zahrani, Saul seems at first perfectly objective, then (as will become a theme in this episode) begins to show slight signs of discomfort with what he’s being forced to do in the name of his government. The break-up of his marriage and his recent discussions with Carrie regarding their dim chance for personal happiness color the character’s every move in this episode, and we can’t help getting the impression that Saul is beginning to question his motivation as a gatherer of intelligence.
Brody too, despite now being dead set on his course of action, is fighting his emotions. When the Vice President visits his home unannounced, it’s everything he can do to play the dutiful soldier and not reveal the disgust and hatred he obviously has for the man he sees as responsible for little Isa’s death. Lewis plays the scene pitch perfectly: his eyes never leaving Walden’s face the entire scene, his entire body tense while still constantly smiling, keeping his voice light, answering every question with just the right measure of sincerity – in other words, he’s the perfect politician in the making. The façade only cracks when Walden leans in to slap him warmly on the arm, and we see for just a moment how close Brody is to the breaking point.
After one of the most entertainingly low key scenes in the whole episode
- a meeting between Estes, Carrie, Saul and a state department official, in
which the team quietly demonstrates just how little they care about protocol -
Carrie and Saul are charged with the task of setting up a covert meeting with Zahrani,
using the diplomat’s bank as cover for CIA-endorsed blackmail. Despite being
the more junior operative, Carrie is put in charge of the operation over Saul,
causing her to remind him just who taught her the first rule of interrogation:
that she should try “to find out what makes them human, not what makes them
terrorists”, an observation which we can’t help feeling is meant more for us
than for him.
Ironically then, it’s a slightly less human-seeming Brody that we’re treated to this week. First he makes the perfectly measured decision to use Jess and Mike’s affair to his advantage, by asking his friend to persuade his wife to let him run for Congress, and then calmly goes about the business of cleaning up his mess with Carrie, despite the obvious pain it causes her. It’s a big surprise to learn that Jess already knows about his weekend away, and is apparently accepting of it as ‘water under the bridge’, but less of a surprise to see that Carrie has been secretly hoping that things might work out between her and Brody.
In one of the toughest scenes to watch in terms of empathy, we see Carrie preparing for Brody’s evening visit: pouring wine, putting her beloved Miles Davis on the stereo, nervously applying lipstick, only to be left looking ridiculous and more than a little desperate when Brody finally makes the purpose of his visit clear. As he returns to his car, having accomplished his clean-up operation, we’re left to witness Carrie’s inevitable breakdown, reminding us yet again that this tough, super-smart young woman – who we’ve seen is perfectly capable of emotionally manipulating and threatening Zahrani’s children to get what she wants - is also a deeply lonely and vulnerable human being. As is Saul, who we also see working late again, eating from vending machines and using a ruler to spread peanut butter on his Matzos (a beautiful touch that just had to be Patinkin’s).
In case we needed to be reminded though, this show isn’t all about character development and fantastic dialogue, it’s also about the action. In the final tense scenes we’re treated to a well-paced set-up, which allows the tension to slowly build towards the meeting between the now-turned Zahrani and Tom Walker. As Saul watches from a safe vantage point, Carrie co-ordinates the agents on the ground, spotting what appears to be Walker making for the rendezvous at the last possible moment.
Her instincts honed by years of practice and vigilance, Carrie realizes that something is wrong when she sees the normally right-handed ‘Walker’ carrying a briefcase in his left hand and wearing a watch on his right and attempts to warn the bystanders and surrounding agents, but she’s too late. The real Walker, watching from his own vantage point, triggers a bomb which kills Zahrani instantly as well as five others, leaving Carrie injured and temporarily deafened, staring in horror at a scene from a war-zone before losing consciousness.
With only two episodes remaining in this first season, we have to start wondering now how this story can begin to resolve itself satisfactorily without leaving an awful lot of ends untied and questions unanswered. I for one am eager to find out.