“Tower of David”
October 13th, 2013
It’s been a few months since I watched the first two episodes of Homeland‘s third season. They were made available to press ahead of the show’s panel at the Television Critics Association press tour, which was logical—in that it allowed those in attendance to ask informed questions rather than random guesswork—but also daring. It was daring because in the two episodes screened for critics, Nicholas Brody did not appear for even a brief sequence, and yet Damian Lewis was seated on the panel at the Beverly Hilton.
I tweeted in advance of that panel that I was interested to see how the room responded to this (among other facts about Homeland‘s third season, specifically the increased focus on Morgan Saylor’s Dana), but Showtime was quick to offer clarification: a trailer revealed early footage of Brody’s first appearance in “Tower of David,” and the panel confirmed he would return in the very next episode beyond the ones we had seen. Part of me had expected them to treat Brody’s return as a surprise, leaving his fate open-ended, but from the beginning Brody was something the series was very open about, creating a certain suspense to see how the show planned on reintegrating the character into the narrative.
“Tower of David” works as a structural exercise in character development, drawing a parallel between Brody and Carrie’s respective prisons. However, it fails to acknowledge and mitigate the issues that plagued the two characters’ development last season, leaving an episode that works up until the point you look into the past rather than the present/future.
These will be brief thoughts, but I’d argue the show it right to understand that Carrie and Brody find themselves in similar situations. Both are damaged, weakened and unable to perform to the best of their abilities. They are also both victims of systems that have failed them, systems of power that have isolated them and wronged them. They are also architects of their own destruction, reckless in ways that endanger the lives of others and have contributed substantially to their respective predicaments. Is Brody innocent? Maybe. Is Carrie sane? Possibly. But their situations are neither black-nor-white, a predicament simultaneously thrust upon them and reflective of their actions over the course of the past two seasons. Linking the two characters is effective and meaningful, and results in an episode I thought worked well as an hour of television.
Where it struggled is in reconciling the fact that this connection wasn’t simply something the show has used as a useful narrative tool. The second season made explicit gestures toward Carrie and Brody being star-crossed lovers, a decision that made this episode difficult for me to swallow. It was moments like discovering Brody’s Venezuelan caretaker/captor—carecaptor?—is only doing this because Carrie once paid him a favor, as though Carrie is inadvertently his guardian angel, or where Brody says he needs to talk to Carrie as though he hasn’t yet realized both the idiocy of such a decision and the need for him to think of his own fate before that of Carrie’s. Even if these moments are ultimately rebuffed by the narrative—Brody doesn’t get to call Carrie, and his captor still turns out to be kind of a dick—there are these vestiges of the romanticized connection that keep me from focusing on the useful narrative parallels and focus on the broad strokes the series chose to highlight last season.
“Tower of David” doesn’t give into this notion as it could have, resisting the urge to have Carrie wistfully staring out her window at the moon before cutting back to Brody doing the same. It doesn’t have Carrie worried about Brody’s safety, focusing her attention on her fractured relationship with Saul and the revelation that there are those who would like her to work against the CIA. It was not an awful episode of television, and although it doesn’t say a lot about what the show will look like going forward—the lack of other characters limited this capacity—I wouldn’t say that it sets the series on a terrible path.
However, what it proves to me is that the show has not and perhaps cannot get past the way the second season ended from the perspective of characterization. I wouldn’t considering this something that destroys the show’s appeal, and—like Todd VanDerWerff—my issues with this season have not been terribly debilitating given my general enjoyment of Dana-related storylines despite some narrative hiccups. However, “Tower of David” was an episode that despite doing what it was doing fairly well couldn’t help but be tainted by its ties to the characters’ past, a handicap I was hoping to see Homeland shed and which does keep me from fully embracing a show that—given its somewhat uneven plotting—really needs to be embraced in order to be fully enjoyed.
- I’ve been watching The Truman Show—we’re screening it for students—the past few nights, and I watched part of it directly after watching this episode, and caught Marcia DeBonis as the nurse who tries to keep Truman from going back into surgery at the hospital right after catching her here as the nurse working with Carrie at the institution.
- Since I saw a few people drawing lines in the sand: I continue to believe Homeland—while not adding up to as much as it once did—has enough strong elements to keep watching.