At the center of the 1939 World’s Fair in New York, the Trylon and Perisphere struck an arresting pose. A 700-foot-tall three-sided tower and an 18-story spherical exhibit hall, respectively, the pair were designed to express the utopian promise of the fair’s theme, “Building the World of Tomorrow.” But as repurposed by Homeland, the allusion curdles into cruel irony: In “Trylon and Perisphere,” the future appears bleak indeed.
An intimate companion to the season premiere, exhuming the personal consequences of life during wartime, “Trylon and Perisphere” succeeds in establishing the psychological state of play with much the same straightforwardness that “The Drone Queen” traded in politics. Accompanying Sandy Bachman’s corpse back to the United States, Carrie (Claire Danes) and Quinn (Rupert Friend) spend the days preceding Sandy’s funeral in various states of dissolution. Confronting motherhood with her usual quiver of defensive strategies, for instance, Carrie suddenly appears as fragile as ever. She’s more fearful of her infant daughter than any adversary in Islamabad, turning from her sister’s door upon hearing Franny’s cries. Indeed, to see Carrie staring dazedly into the distance as Maggie (Amy Hargreaves) prepares to depart for the day is to witness her terror at the prospect of a relationship she lacks the ability to handle.
The episode skillfully constructs a mirroring effect in which Carrie faces the consequences of her personal and professional decisions, the thematic echoes between them amplifying both. “The word is ’accountability,’” C.I.A. director Andrew Lockhart (Tracy Letts) says of the airstrike on the wedding party. “You’re being recalled.” “You bring a life into this world, you take responsibility,” Maggie scolds, after Carrie goes missing for the afternoon. Though Homeland has never portrayed its protagonist as anything less than deeply flawed, “The Drone Queen” and “Trylon and Perisphere” suggest a new, more consequential vein of imperfection at work in Carrie’s character. Heretofore, her misperceptions, obsessions, and failures of judgment have revolved around the fatal detail that slipped through her fingers. “I missed something once before,” she lamented to Saul in the series premiere. “I won’t, I can’t let that happen again.” Now, with the force of the U.S. military behind her, Carrie’s faults seem more likely to set in motion the self-made tragedy of a true anti-heroine. The buck stops with her.
In this context, the unsettling sequence of events that begins with Carrie and Franny parked in front of the Brody family’s former house and ends with her preparing to return to Islamabad registers as accountability rather than abandonment. The bathing scene features Carrie’s most fateful moment of decision yet, creating a tension between accident and intent to rival any of Homeland’s chases and stakeouts. The literal slipperiness of the moment seems genuine: As she loses grip of Franny’s arm, the fear that her parental incompetence might endanger her daughter segues into the concern that her psychological distress poses an even more intractable threat. Though Carrie’s thoughts of infanticide pass almost as quickly as they arrive, the die is cast. Once convinced that carrying the pregnancy to term would keep Brody close, she now understands her decision to have been an act of magical thinking. “There’s not even a diagnosis for what’s wrong with you,” Maggie says bitterly, but of course there is. Carrie’s mental illness compounds her overwhelming grief, and Islamabad is her only escape hatch.
I found myself less enthralled by Quinn’s precipitous slide into alcoholism and rage. He’s long been one of Homeland’s foremost ciphers, and while the series was bound to add flesh to the character at some point, I’m not yet convinced that PTSD (to which Carrie half-jokingly alludes when she bails him out of jail) is the most fruitful path. It remains to be seen whether his drunken dalliance with the overweight apartment manager will go anywhere, though there was a wistfulness in the way he looked at her lipstick-marked note that indicated the potential for something more interesting than a one-night stand. The damsel-in-distress routine in the diner seems merely an opportunity for Quinn to fly off the handle (he’s in jail for going ham on two guys making vicious jokes about her weight), rather than our introduction to a complex, mutually caring relationship. Wherever you come down on the politics of Louie’s “So Did the Fat Lady,” the episode at least gave over seven minutes to Vanessa’s stem-winding speech; “Trylon and Perisphere” depicts its “fat lady,” whose name we never learn, as a passive observer of Quinn’s pain rather than the sufferer of her own. Though I’m willing to reserve judgment for now, if the series ditches the subplot, I’ll be sorely disappointed; the episode raises too many fraught questions about sex, intimacy, and body image to get off the hook so easily.
By contrast, Aayan’s own way through grief, recalling actor Suraj Sharma’s performance as a shipwreck’s lone survivor in Life of Pi, continues to intrigue. On the one hand, he’s hugely sympathetic, with Sharma’s warm, open features conveying the multiple waves of emotion that crash over him as a reporter confronts him on campus. “The Americans are murderers, but what they did to that man. How is that any different?” he asks, referring to Sandy Bachman, before demanding a modicum of privacy. On the other hand, Aayan remains mysterious, the as yet unknown quantity in this season’s equation of troubled characters. What’s in the vials stored in his closet, and why does he feel compelled to hide them at his classmate’s home, a bus ride from the city center?
In the end, though, as is so often the case on Homeland, the inner lives of the characters propel the political drama forward. Taking the word “agent” seriously, this is a series that often examines how seemingly insignificant individual choices shape wider events, and Carrie’s conclusion that she cannot stay in Washington for Franny’s sake leads her to the episode’s juiciest new detail. Former C.I.A. Case Officer Jordan Harris (Adam Godley), whom Lockhart transferred to the career-killing Archives Division following a leak, reveals that Sandy gained actionable intelligence on U.S. targets by trading top-secret information. The brazen encounter with Lockhart at Sandy’s funeral is vintage Carrie, the moment in tonight’s doubleheader at which I finally accepted that Homeland is back to basics. Threatening to squawk at the upcoming congressional hearings unless Lockhart appoints her Islamabad station chief, she’s as canny, courageous, insubordinate, and impulsive as ever. It’s as if no time had passed at all.
But Carrie is also (still) selfish, damaged, obsessive, even dangerous, an unknown quantity of her own. “Carrie, here’s the thing,” Quinn tells her at episode’s end, when she berates him for bowing out of the investigation in Islamabad. “It’s not about you.” The lesson is one Carrie has yet to learn, even with all the water under the bridge, which may explain the faint hopelessness of the titular allusion. In 1939, the Trylon and Perisphere peered into a “World of Tomorrow” that never came to pass. War broke out in Europe that September, and when the fair closed, according to the Washington Post, both structures “were melted down to make bombs.” The more things change, “Trylon and Perisphere” suggests, the more they stay the same.
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