TV Club

Homeland 207 recap: “The Clearing.”

Why did Saul bring a bottle of wine to an interrogation?

Mandy Patinkin as Saul Berenson (right) in Homeland
Mandy Patinkin as Saul Berenson (right) in Homeland

Photograph by by Kent Smith/Showtime.

In Slate’s Homeland TV Club, June Thomas will IM each week with a different partner—policy experts, intelligence researchers, critics, and even Slate commenters. This week she chats with Slate’s managing editor, Rachael Larimore.

June Thomas: Rachael, I wanted you to be my IM partner this week because you’re my go-to authority on modern parenting, but on reflection, I guess you don’t need to read a lot of manuals to know that letting your kids get away with murder isn’t a good idea?

Rachael Larimore: Well, my kids are a little younger than Dana. But even my limited experience has taught me that you are correct. Lying about murder will catch up with you.

Thomas: Any conversation that begins, “We killed someone” should probably end at the cop shop. Then again, I almost buy Carrie’s line: Brody can’t alienate the vice president because they’d lose their only connection with Roya Hammad and Abu Nazir. If he’s not careful, Brody will end up having to become president to avoid being prosecuted as a traitor!

Larimore: I wasn’t at all surprised by Carrie’s reaction. She’s just doing her job. Cold and calculating and sometimes heartless, but she’s trying to stop a terrorist attack.

Thomas: Yes, though I don’t know about “heartless.” Her conversation with Mike was odd—sure, she might be playing him, but that whole line about how Jess and the kids might need someone to lean on soon made me wonder if she meant that Brody would be dead or in jail—or if Jess would need to remake her family because Brody was going to leave them for Carrie.

Larimore: I got that same vibe in the conversation with Mike. And to be honest, I’m having a hard time with the Carrie-Brody kissy-face-time. I’m glad that Brody asked if she was just playing him, and I want to believe she is. If so, she’s amazing, because she’s very convincing. But she’s put herself in peril to go after terrorists, and Brody is obviously a terrorist, and with everything she went through when it was thought she was crazy about Brody … I’m just having a hard time with her feeling real affection for him.

Thomas: Yes, her “eyes are open,” as she said last week.

A big theme of this episode was that helping people can go very wrong. Dana wanted to help the woman who was killed in the hit and run, because “it’s the right thing to do,” but Saul’s good-will gesture to Aileen Morgan ended up with her lying in a pool of blood on the floor of the Waynesburg penitentiary. I can’t remember for sure, but wasn’t Saul the interrogator when one of Brody’s captors managed to kill himself when someone at the CIA slipped him a razor blade in Season 1?

Larimore: If he wasn’t the interrogator, he was there.

Thomas: Am I crazy to be suspicious of him?

Larimore: June! I can’t twist my brain around Saul being a bad guy.

Thomas: I know it’s most likely that Aileen really was playing a long con, complaining about her eyesight to get her hands on some spectacles (though in my experience, lenses are generally plastic these days, and there aren’t a lot of sharp points in modern frames), but I started to wonder about Saul when he bought out that bottle of wine. I can’t remember for sure if Aileen was a Muslim or had fallen in love with one or was offended by U.S. behavior during her youth in Saudi Arabia, but as soon as I saw that bottle—a strange treat for a Muslim or someone who is in sympathy with radical Muslims—I was worried something was going to go wrong!

Larimore: Your danger sensors were on higher alert than mine regarding the wine. I merely thought he was trying to get her to spill the intel that he needed, and that he was playing good cop. One point to you!

Saul’s scenes with Aileen also showed how difficult it can be to know who to put your faith in. He trusted Carrie in Lebanon, even when everyone else was against her, and it paid off. And here he trusted that Aileen was giving him real intel, and not only was it wrong, but it completely backfired.

Thomas: If I can reveal my hawkish international security tendencies here, if Saul isn’t a mole, I hate the implication that “our” treatment of Aileen was what turned her suicidal. She had shown her willingness to kill—or to be part of a conspiracy to kill—in Season 1. Locking her up in an underground cell didn’t do this to her, the ideology she follows did.

Larimore: Exactly. The scene with the prison warden annoyed me: How do you get to be the warden of a supermax prison, which presumably holds multiple people who the government needs access to, and treat someone from the government like that? I had other believability problems elsewhere in the episode that were greater, but still.

Thomas: What were your other issues?

Larimore: Going back to the scene with Jess and Cynthia, the vice president’s wife, I realize Jess and Brody are new to politics, but I’ve always thought Jess was more ambitious about Brody’s career than even he was. So as much as I know that you don’t cover up a murder, I expected Jess to at least realize that she was sitting in a room with the wife of the vice president and that going to the D.C. cops right that second wasn’t going to happen.

I guess they are trying to preserve some of Jess’ innocence in the face of her being swallowed up by the political world, but it still rang hollow to me.

Thomas: Besides which, this was a woman who just a little while earlier had accepted that her husband had killed his former platoon-mate and co-captive, Tom Walker. She shook that news off easily enough!

Larimore: That was my next point, believe it or not. I mean, really. If you do suspect that your spouse has offed his old Marine buddy, are you really going to confront him about it in the backseat of a car while you’re being driven to a political engagement? That’s the kind of thing you save for the kitchen table after the kids are in bed.

Do you think that she had prepared herself for his saying “Yes I killed him” before she asked?

Thomas: She must’ve on some level, right? (And there was a lot of bad tradecraft going on in those cars. The chauffeur barrier isn’t completely soundproof. It reminded me of when Peter Quinn was talking on the phone with Saul, and Max, sitting in the same room said, “I’m not mute, you know.”)

Larimore: I think she must have. And that makes Jess the most mysterious character on the show right now.

Thomas: Agreed! She hasn’t yet sold her soul for the possibility of power, as everyone in the Walden family seems to have done. And Dana’s determination to report the crime is a great testament to Jessica’s parenting skills—after all, Brody was in a hole in Iraq; he doesn’t get to take the credit on that score. But at the same time, Jess has shrugged off some pretty big bombshells.

Larimore: She’s had a lot to absorb recently, with finding out Brody’s a Muslim, kicking him out, discovering he’s working for the CIA, and now this. What is going on inside her mind? How can she reconcile all these things?

Thomas: I guess we’re going to see what those eight years without Brody did to her.

What did you make of Rex Moneybags? It was so kind of him to invite everyone to a country weekend at Downton Abbey—or a big-money fundraiser as they call them in contemporary America. But his connection with Brody seemed genuine. He rehabbed that magnificent thoroughbred horse, surely he can rehab a ginger Marine?

Larimore: I liked Rex Moneybags. And yes, when he was talking about how he fixed that horse, right after Brody had just gotten done talking to some wealthy idiots who are more like the type of folks you expect to see at a political fundraiser, about how he was broken during his time as a POW, the symbolism was hard not to notice.

Thomas: Especially since the horse was helped by swimming, and Brody then had his own time in the pool. For both of them the alternative was—and perhaps still is for Brody—being taken into the field with a gun. Yikes!

Larimore: Do you think the writers want to rehabilitate Brody? They’ve done a nice bit of tap dancing this season—just as we thought they were writing themselves into a corner by having Brody arrested, they turned him into a double agent. How long can the show go on with him in this position? Surely the search for Abu Nazir won’t drag on quite as long as the search for Osama Bin Laden

Thomas: I wonder. As he showed us (albeit improbably) in Beirut, Abu Nazir does put himself in public places—and after Gettysburg, I guess we can expect another opportunity to get back onto his trail. But Rex’s endorsement of Brody for president in eight years makes me think the writers could stretch things out for much longer if they want to.

Larimore: Thank you for having me, June! My closing advice is to not drink any wine with Saul.

Monday: What other writers and Slate commenters thought about Episode 7.