For three seasons, Homeland has been having it both ways with the exceedingly charismatic Damian Lewis, who plays the tortured Nicholas Brody. A good guy one episode and a bad guy the next, he began as a presumed-dead American soldier turned into an Islamic terrorist before being “saved” by the C.I.A.; he was then disavowed again and propped up on heroin in a basement in Caracas before most recently being re-recruited by Saul (Mandy Patinkin) in the hopes that he could get close enough to assassinate the Director of Iranian Intelligence, General Akbari (Houshang Touzie), thereby promoting Saul’s true asset within Tehran, Majid Javadi (Shaun Toub).
At first, the season’s penultimate episode, “Big Man in Tehran,” appears to be business as usual: When Carrie’s (Claire Danes) plan to have Brody stab Akbari with a cyanide syringe as two Israeli agents provide an explosive distraction fails, Brody flips once more, with both Akbari and Abu Nazir’s widow (Naz Daravian) promising this former “sword of Allah” the chance to be a hero, the beloved man of the people that he always wanted to be. Embraced by the citizens in a publicity stunt, he destroys the needle and welcomes the chance to denounce the United States, heralded as “the U.S. Marine who bombed Langley, the American hero who said ’no more.’”
But as the episode continues, it becomes clearer that if Brody is a sword, he’s the unreliable, perilous one that Damocles used according to Greek legend. Carrie’s convinced that Brody’s still working for the C.I.A., looking for an opportunity to strike, but then again, she also stares at her slowly swelling belly whenever she hears the man’s name. Back at the C.I.A., however, Senator Lockhart (Tracy Letts) and Dar Adal (F. Murray Abraham) want to cut their losses and force Saul to approve a hit on Brody, lest he reveal that Javadi’s been turned by the C.I.A.. (Saul can no longer justify or rationalize Carrie’s emotional responses; after all, he’s the man who set aside his own rage toward the Israeli spy who’d been fucking his wife, simply so that he could get assets in Tehran.) All these issues of faith and trust come to a head in a tensely directed scene in which a desperate Carrie manages to sneak Brody a phone and attempts to steer the man away from the two Israeli assassins sneaking up behind him at the other end of a crowded mosque. As with last week’s “Good Night,” the episode is a thrilling combination of fast-paced action and slow-burning character development—intellectual, but not academically inert.
Unpredictable too: Right up until the very end, Brody could conceivably swing either way, and Lewis’s tortured eyes sell this angst directly to Emmy voters. After all, he’s not lying during Javadi’s interrogation when he explains that he wants nothing more than to stop running, to be accepted as the hero he originally signed up to be. And he’s also telling the truth to Nazir’s widow when he points out how much his actions have hurt his daughter, and how the life he’s living is that of a bare-boned survivor: “We crawl out of the rubble and gather up the bodies.” He’s especially sincere to Carrie when she offers him a chance to evacuate: After once fleeing to the hellish depths of Caracas, he knows what that option offers, and he won’t drag Carrie there with him.
And so, he ends up alone in Akbari’s office, revealing Javadi’s treachery: “I came here to redeem myself,” he explains. It’s not until he smothers the general with a pillow that it’s clear which way he’s chosen to fall. “I killed him,” he says, breathless on the phone to Carrie. “Get me out of here.” This one act might not quite be the full-circle redemption that Brody was looking for (Akbari mentions that the room they’re standing in is the one where Abu Nazir first suggested the plan to send Brody back to the U.S. as a terrorist), but it’s the most honest and alive that Homeland has been since last season’s “Q&A.” It’s ironic: The moment at which the series finally looks to Brody’s future and stops interrogating his past is the moment at which his time appears, at last, to be up.
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