Depending on how you look at it, "Broken Hearts" is either an audacious hour of TV, courageous in the chances it takes with the plotting and the viewer's suspended disbelief; or an unrealistic mess that alternates action for action's sake with lecturing monologues that the formidable acting can't save.
Or it's a bit of both. Either way, it's one of the only times in the run of "Homeland" that certain scenes or ideas just straight-up didn't work for us. The writing isn't "Kim is menaced by a cougar"-level ridonk, and "Broken Hearts" does some things well -- the first scene, when Saul tracks Dar Adul to a greasy spoon, is an acting-subtlety master class from Mandy Patinkin and F. Murray Abraham, particularly the moment when Adul gives Saul an amused "so, it's you…how about that" look. Adul's line, "Christ, I miss the Cold War … I miss the rules!," followed by him trailing off, "This bunch…" made us want to see more of the character. And the scene didn't drag out the payoff: Quinn is working for Adul, he is a black-ops guy, and Adul's testy observation that Saul is "too sensitive for this line of work" is one to heed.
Also nicely done: Brody's arrival back at the safe house, in the middle of a steamy smooch between Jessica and Mike. Mike is about to say that last night was no big when Jessica says she "loved last night; it was fun," and she keeps waiting to feel guilty. Brody interrupts the lovefest, and though he doesn't see them kissing, he knows something is up. After the customary clueless interchange with Chris ("Dad, are you a spy now?" he asks, then follows up with the on-the-nose "So you won't be disappearing again?"), Brody has a "conversation" with Jessica that consists primarily of the long, gelid silences of a couple who have forgotten how to like each other.
But then a Nazir operative T-bones Carrie's car and kidnaps her, and this is when it starts to get weird. Nazir sends Brody a video of Carrie strapped to a pipe in an abandoned mill. Do fictional villains have a Craigslist where they go to rent these empty buildings? "2000 sq. ft. lair. Plenty of menacing steam hiss and moody blue lighting, vending machines for henchmen."
"Did you think you could betray me and get away with it?" Nazir asks, before ordering Brody to get into the Vice President's home office and snag the serial number to Walden's pacemaker, which Nazir will then manipulate to wirelessly kill him. Yes, "seriously." If Brody can't get the serial number, Carrie dies. Brody tries to bluff, saying Nazir will kill her anyway, but Nazir bets, correctly, that Brody loves Carrie enough to at least try.
And so begins a "Jack Bauer meets Rube Goldberg" subplot in which Brody manufactures an excuse to visit Walden at home, nips up to the office, and frantically cases the joint for the case containing the serial number. It's a cheap thrill, but well acted by Damian Lewis, whose agonized faces communicate the bowel-liquefying fear of a high-stakes caper brilliantly. Less successful is the "My Dinner With Abu" series of speeches on the nature of faith and/or terrorism back at the mill; foiled in an attempt to reach the sharp tool that naturally has been left lying quite near her feet, Carrie is refusing the water Nazir brings her in favor of trying to puncture his rationalizations about terrorism. He in turn is condescendingly informing her that Americans, "with your pension plans and organic foods," can never know what it's like not to fear death from a position of righteousness.
The scene is patronizing on the level of Aaron Sorkin at his soapboxiest; it probably intends to lend nuance and relatability to Nazir's extreme actions, but this isn't necessary, as first-season flashbacks gave Nazir's mission -- and Brody's -- depth and purpose, without forgiving its costs. It also probably intends to film Claire Danes so as not to show her torso at all, but tiny children know she's pregnant, so this also is pointless.
When Brody retrieves the serial number, there's a stand-off. He wants Carrie turned loose before he sends it; Nazir has no reason to trust Brody. After Brody swears on the eternal soul of Nazir's son, though, Nazir cuts Carrie's plastic cuffs and films her escaping the mill and running away. Another fine sequence for Lewis, eyes apprehensively screwed shut -- but then we go back and forth between Carrie fleeing, Nazir's IT guy programming Walden's pacemaker to go haywire, and Damian Lewis making the scene unintentionally hilarious by staring really hard at Walden's chest. Nothing happens for a while, so Brody removes himself from consideration for the VP slot (as Carrie told him to do earlier in the ep), claiming it's to spend time with family. Walden turns dark red, spits, "[Eff] your family!", and clutches his armpit, but it takes the heart attack a while to do its thing, so Brody says he wants to feel clean again; also, "I pretty much disagree with everything you say and do." Walden's heart is in the weeds and he tries to get Brody to call a doctor. Brody holds the phone out of reach. "You still don't get it, do you. I'm killing you." Yeah, you're killing us, all right…this plot is nuts. Brody waits for Walden to go limp, then calls for a doctor.
Talk about self-destructive
Elsewhere, Carrie has flagged down a tractor trailer, given the team her 20, and called for backup, but has the episode finished being bonkers? No, it has not, because Quinn has informed Estes that Saul "knows" what's going on, so Estes, angry about Saul accusing him (correctly) of using Quinn as an insurance policy lest the drone strike become public, has authorized agents to pick up Saul in the lobby for interrogation. Also, Galvez has risen from his deathbed to help in the search for Carrie, and we like the character, but come on. And Carrie, rather than wait for the team, goes back to the mill, picks up a length of steel pipe that of course is just lying around near the door, and goes looking for Nazir. The episode ends on her hearing a clanking sound and following it into a pitch-black room, because this is a spy genius!
Oh, and Finn comes over to the safe house, and he and Dana exchange wan fortune cookies about how they can't take back what they did, paying off the family is how the world works, et cetera. Finn wants to start over, dating-wise, which is a Chris-worthy fog of density on the kid's part but does allow Dana to sigh sagely, "Whatever we felt, we broke it."
We could make a "yeah, you broke it all right" joke, but the thing is, we mostly enjoyed the episode...we'd have to echo Jess, in that last night was fun. The show seems determined to go in this "nail-biting '24' action" direction, but on balance, we liked "24" too; it's not per se bad. But between Nazir turning into what Roger Ebert calls the Talking Villain and all the abstract speeches about terrorism and the nature of power, the episode is neither fish nor fowl, bogged down in rhetoric in some places, beggaring plot belief in others. The emotional truths tend to carry this show, which is about people, not government. This week, they couldn't, quite.
A few thoughts from you tweeps on the episode:
If Showtime did a spinoff entitled Saul and Waffles,I would totally watch. #Homeland— Adam Wright (@TVDoneWright) December 3, 2012
If you're the CIA and you employ a total fruit loop like Carrie Mathison, you deserve to have terrorists run loops around you. #homeland— Mark Kearney (@mnkearney) December 3, 2012
I am not sure why #Homeland has suddenly veered into 24 territory these past few episodes. Smart characters acting rather dumb suddenly.— Jace Lacob (@televisionary) December 3, 2012
"Homeland" airs Sundays at 10 PM on Showtime.