C.I.A. Director Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin) has spent months putting his plan for an Iranian regime change together, and yet as he watches his team attempt to smuggle Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis) across the Iraq-Iran border, it feels more like gambling than a major intelligence operation. (In fact, a slightly comedic subplot—and an extension of the casino metaphor—revolves around Saul’s fixation on Black Jack chewing gum, which he keeps running out of.) The truth eating away at operatives like Carrie (Claire Danes) is that she’s thousands of miles away, watching the man she loves through a night-vision camera feed, trusting in blind luck to avoid an international incident. Even the White House Chief of Staff (William Sadler) and his C.I.A. liaison, Dar Adal (F. Murray Abraham), can do little more than exert the limited influence of a drone’s Hellfire missile: In the end, for all the big plans and grand strategies, this mission boils down to little more than faith.
For the viewer, “Good Night” swiftly rewards the faith of those who’ve stuck with Homeland through the sometimes rocky third season: The perfect balance of action, character development, and drama, it’s easily the best episode of the season, if not the entire series. Taking a cue from Breaking Bad, the action largely unfolds over a brief period of time, allowing the tension to ratchet up as the operation gets more and more dangerous. To begin with, Brody’s comrades inform him that because an oil-laden truck is passing the checkpoint, surveillance is heightened, which forces them to take a riskier alternate route. Along the way, the team is halted by Iranian police, whom they are forced to dispatch after they appear to recognize Brody. Then, splitting up into smaller groups, Brody’s truck sets off an IED, which eventually leads Brody and his team to get pinned down by Iraqi fire. The situation is so dire that Saul actually pulls the plug on the mission, bitterly acknowledging to Senator Lockhart (Tracy Letts)—who has the grace not to gloat—that it’s now a military, not an intelligence, operation.
And yet, despite everything he’s been through, Brody still has faith. He begins the day with an old marine trick, turning his socks inside out so that he gets the fresh side. When his supervisor, Yousef (Jared Ward), points out that both sides are unclean—one sweaty, one dirty—and that it’s all in his head, Brody merely smiles and says, “Look at me: I’m a new man.” Later, in an exquisitely shot scene, he tells Yousef that he has no need to write letters home (farewells in the event of his death), and makes his peace with Allah, performing his daily prayers as the sun begins to set. Finally, with nothing but darkness and the light of tracer fire blanketing his position, Brody dashes for the border, 300 meters away, refusing to abort his mission. Carrie pleads with him over the radio: “You have no sanction, no support on the ground, and no extraction plan. You will die over there.” But Brody continues to believe: “You’re wrong, Carrie, and you wanna know why? Because you’re going to get me home…You’ll find a way. I have faith.” And he’s rewarded with a sudden luminescence—not the light at the end of the tunnel, but the spotlights of an Iranian patrol, to whom Brody immediately turns himself over.
“Good Night” could have ended there, but instead it briefly explores the scarring this mission will leave on Brody, whether he survives it or not. Recalling the last several times he was locked up in an interrogation cell, he warns an inquisitive Yousef—captured only because he turned back to ensure that Brody made it across the border—that everybody breaks under torture. “I lost track of time, pretty much right away, but I figure [I held out for] seven days. Long enough for them to change their frequencies and battle plans.” Of course, both men know that seven days most likely won’t be enough time for Brody to complete his mission in Tehran; when the Iranian intelligence agent that Saul flipped, Majid Javadi (Shaun Toub), arrives, the first thing he does is permanently silence Yousef.
Ultimately, it isn’t luck or faith that Homeland is interested in, but humanity: Saul, potentially throwing away his career to save his own men; Carrie, risking everything with her uncontrollable (pregnant) emotions; and Brody, seeking to redeem the honorable marine he once was, even if it means once again becoming a terrorist.
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