Homeland, Ep. 2.04-05: “New Car Smell” and “Q&A” successfully realign the show’s narrative and characters

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Season 3, Episode 4: “New Car Smell”
Written by Meredith Stiem
Directed by Jeremy Podeswa

Season 3, Episode 5: “Q&A”
Written by Henry Bromell
Directed by Lesli Linka Glatter
Airs Sundays at 10pm ET on Showtime.

Yep, Homeland pulled a Homeland again.

The final moments of “New Car Smell” once again offer a scene that more timid showrunners would reserve for the show’s distant future, and the episode seems to tease an “out” for these events often enough that the writers must be aware of exactly how to manipulate expectation for maximum impact. When Carrie and Congressman Brody first re-encounter each other, their chemistry is immediately reawakened, making it seem as though we’re headed for Torrid Mathison/Brody Affair 2.0. Thankfully, that’s not at all the case, and instead, sensing that Brody has sorted out precisely what’s up, she opts to end the deception and get Brody arrested for his crimes.

In TV-series plotting terms, this is the equivalent of Skyler or Jesse ratting out Walt on Breaking Bad – only instead of that occurrence maybe happening at some point in that show’s final episodes, Carrie nailing Brody doesn’t even get season-capping status. That’s some ballsy storytelling.

It’s that scene that best distinguishes “New Car Smell,” which is otherwise solid but hardly groundbreaking. We do get an intruiging addition in the form of Estes’s “inside man” David Quinn (Rupert Friend, now battling Damian Lewis for best American accent by a Brit on the show), who already tests Carrie’s patience early and often. We also spend more time with Dana and the new object of her affections, the VP’s son.

But it’s “Q&A” that seems likely to be the fulcrum episode around which the season pivots. Written by producer Henry Bromell, of the late-and-occasionally-great Rubicon, “Q&A” boasts what may be the best and most profoundly moving sequence of the show’s run to date: the Brody-Carrie confrontation in a dank CIA inerrogation room. The scene has incredibly heavy lifting to do, narratively speaking. It has to bring Brody from unrepentant terrorist collaborator to potential CIA asset. It has to establish Carrie’s levels of emotional involvement and distress. It has to sell us, once again, on Brody’s initital conversion to Abu Nazir ally, which for my money never really worked in the first place. Finally, it has to chart a viable way forward for both the show and the characters themselves.

Homeland has always been superlatively acted, but the writing has been a little spottier, at least in terms of plausibility. The show is heavy with coincidence and contrivance when it needs to be. But “Q&A” is a stripped-down writers’ showcase, in which our leads are broken down to their respective essences only to have to reconstruct themselves anew. That Bromell gets the teleplay credit is appropriate, since the centerpiece sequence recalls the best of Rubicon‘s late-season run, only imbued with a massively affecting relationship at its centre. That Brody’s new job as a CIA asset is really the only logical way forward from the ending of “New Car Smell” after even a little reflection scarcely matters; it’s predictable, certainly, but the execution is immensely satisfying. The series has once again been completely realigned, and its future as a compelling, relevant thriller is assured.

Simon Howell

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