Homeland, Ep. 1.04, “Semper I”: Jumping in Time and Changing the Game

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Homeland Season 1, Episode 4: “Semper I”
Written by Howard Gordon & Alex Gansa
Directed by Jeffrey Nachmanoff
Airs Sundays at 10pm ET on Showtime

Though it may not look this way on the surface, Homeland is quite an ambitious series. What the show does is play within the tropes of the typical conspiracy thriller while pushing the boundaries of our expectations of that genre. Homeland could easily have been “24 with a woman,” but the writers have recognized that there is room to breathe within the formula. Nothing makes this clearer than the fact that “Semper I” takes place three weeks after the events seen in the previous episode.

The jump in time is not revealed immediately. We first get to spend some time with the characters. It’s obvious that they have started to become more comfortable in their roles. Sgt. Brody is having his regular hard time at home and is off doing publicity stunts for the military. Carrie has become obsessed with watching the Brody family to the point of predicting Brody’s actions and recalling where he misplaced his tie. Knowing that three weeks have passed changes our view of what’s going on. Both Carrie and Brody have essentially found themselves in an obsessive rut. Carrie errs more on the obsessive side, Brody on the rut, but both are equally and increasingly frustrated. Homeland made that jump ahead in time not to throw us off balance, but because we didn’t really need another three or four episodes of Carrie watching Brody act only vaguely suspicious on her surveillance monitors. That’s great writing, and even greater confidence, which is great to see in this genre.

The Brody family story of the week focuses on Brody’s erratic behavior, especially in light of his suspicions about the relationship between Jessica and Mike. Brody has been quite successful in maintaining a façade of normalcy in the public arena, but at home he is becoming more and more distant and angry. The effect on Jessica and the kids is palpable. One of the best scenes in the episode features Jessica actually connecting with Dana over the potential of their family breaking up. The culmination of all this is a shooting at a house party. We hear a gunshot and immediately our minds race to Brody having shot Mike. That might have been too crazy, too early, and as it turns out Brody only shot a deer that had been trampling the garden flowers. It may not be the murder of a human being, but it’s an obvious sign that Brody is in a bad mental state. Jessica confronts him with an ultimatum: get help or get out.

Carrie, meanwhile, is forced to give up her surveillance. While she does have a lead to go on in the form of a jewelry-based money transfer, and while she comes much closer than she realizes to catching the couple now in the middle of the terrorist plot, her heart just isn’t in it. Last week the show played around with the idea that the surveillance of the Brody family was like watching a lurid reality TV show. This week we see the darker side of that. Carrie has become obsessed to an unhealthy degree. You’d almost think she was in love with the man she suspects of being a covert terrorist.

Both stories come to a head when Brody decides to go to a veterans’ support group after his outburst. Carrie follows him to the church where the meeting is taking place. She peers in, sees that he’s there for benign reasons, begins to walk away, and then… she walks in. This is a perfect example of Homeland upending expectations. If this was 24, Carrie would have found a way to keep the surveillance going, or she’d go rogue and conduct illegal surveillance herself. But this isn’t 24 and the focus here is on character. What we get is a game-changing move from Carrie that leads to a game-changing scene in the church parking lot. The bond immediately formed between Carrie and Brody is fun, but it’s also unnervingly based on a series of deceptions and lies. Such a scene is invigorating, not only on its own, but what it says about the jumps this series is willing to take. It ignores all preconceptions of format, which makes what could be a stale TV plot into something of greater depth and intrigue.

Did you like the game-changing nature of the final scene? What do you think will come of the new Carrie/Brody relationship? Let me know in the comments.

Corey Atad

  1. Corey Atad says

    Both of you point out some really great stuff, and I think it all point to the skill we’ve been seeing in the writing. What could all come off as sloppy and over the top and cliche instead comes across really well because the writers know where and when to show restraint.

    It’s not a perfect show by any means. There are some things that work better than others, but it’s a testament to the writing that the scene between Jessica and her daughter felt so genuine after a couple weeks where that teenage daughter storyline felt a little too forced.

  2. tmack says

    To address a couple of events in this week’s episode. Most important and bizarre first–the Carrie/Brody encounter. Knowing what we do about these two people, that both Carrie & Brody have psychological problems that ensure their behavior will be unpredictable at best, the personal encounter seemed both over the top yet understandable simultaneously. On some level, I think Carrie has developed empathy for Brody although still obsessing on his potential criminality. A running theme for Carrie is her ability to distinguish reality and illusion, a skill propped up by her medication. There is a scene where she is shown with lights flashing over her, making her appear as if she’s experience a psychological disturbance–then we’re presented with the lightning from a storm as explanation. The point is we are as much in the dark on Carrie’s true grip on reality as we are on Brody’s true psychology. Both are enigmas with concealed behavior that makes them both impossible to interpret.

    At first, I’m sure everyone thought, or was supposed to think, that Brody was going to go postal after washing his hands and fiddling with his gun. But viewers probably figured properly that it was way too soon for Brody to go off like that and spotted the set up with the deer and the ruse of Mike long before the shots were fired. That was too obvious. But connecting Brody and Carrie via the lightning, highlighting their psychological imbalances, was a nice touch.

    Both Carrie and Brody are in pretend mode, posing as normal when they are are anything but. Isn’t this out of the Manchurian Candidate Handbook? One off-balance soldier going after another? Curious to see how the writers will twist this for Homeland.

    1. Kate Kulzick says

      Carrie and Brody’s insti-chemistry is probably also helped by the tidbit we got this week confirming that Carrie tends to go for married men. I doubt that was a throwaway.

      1. tmack says

        “Carrie tends to go for married men” Yeah! Like when she tried to schmooze Saul after he found her surveillance. What happens when you bond with your target–do you help him, or do you kill him? (Hmmm. Sounds like a logline:)

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