The needle and the damage done

Homeland – “The Tower of David”

“The Tower of David” is all about the end of the line. Dimly-lit rooms with concrete walls. Being beaten down mentally and physically. Trying to escape where you are, and being pulled back. Accepting defeat. Lithium and heroin, two very different drugs serving very similar purposes. Crippling solitude.

The return of Nicholas Brody was going to be tricky no matter what. “The Tower of David” handles it with little aplomb. He is lost, he is confused, he is injured, he is captive. Even after he recovers from his gunshot wounds, he is not allowed to leave. “Better” is meaningless. Instead he is denigrated until he accepts his captivity. But this is nothing new for Nick Brody–he says as much near the episode’s end. By the time he reaches for the needle himself, and sits alone in his dark room, he has reached, by all appearances, the end of the line, the point from which he can never return.

The same can be said of Carrie Mathison. The show shifts from Carrie/Dana to Carrie/Brody, a smart choice for dealing with the most fragile piece of season three’s puzzle. Carrie is also “better,” but it’s not enough to get her visitation, to get her out of the psychiatric ward. What those in charge want is not “better,” but “cooperative.” For Carrie, that means always remaining calm, no bad moments, surrendering control. For Brody, it means accepting that he can never leave Caracas. For Carrie and Brody, there’s no autonomy left. They are subject to the whims of those who hold them captive. And by the end of “The Tower of David,” both have lost the will to fight.

But here’s the thing: those pushing Carrie and Brody down are not entirely wrong. Both are highly destructive forces, hurricanes who move with their own agenda, sucking up those who come too close and leaving a trail of destruction in their wakes. Carrie and Brody have each destroyed so much already, and that doesn’t even account for the wreckage outside of Langley.

“The Tower of David,” however, is not about answers. Instead, its small movements forward in plot are surrounded by mysteries. Homeland has made the distinct choice to keep its cards close to its chest this year, a move that I find smart and am enjoying much more than many. After such an over-blown second season, with the plot of Homeland having careened off a cliff of insanity, they need to go through these steps slowly and methodically, piecing together the Brody narrative in a way that benefits the show moving forward.

Because of these elements, I feel there’s not much to say about “The Tower of David.” It’s not truly a board-setting episode, as Carrie and Brody are the only characters we check in on. It’s not a bottle episode, as they’re worlds apart. There’s little exposition, and only slightly more plot. It’s a difficult episode, made even more so by removing the most contentious elements. A month has passed since Carrie’s hearing, but we know nothing about what’s happening outside, with Saul, Jessica, or Dana. Brody is back, but no one knows, and at this rate, it doesn’t look that’s changing any time soon.

Instead, “The Tower of David” works as a character study of sorts. We’ve seen Brody and Carrie in very similar situations before, but things are no longer working in their favor. And while they feign towards a more driven story with the scenes at the home of the couple from the Mosque and Carrie’s attempt to talk to her visitor, they’re misdirects, leading us back to a place where we’re forced to watch these characters drag themselves down to rock bottom. Brody injects and Carrie and ingests, and together, they’ve never felt more alone.

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