Damien Lewis as Nicholas "Nick" Brody in Homeland, episode two, "Grace." Photograph by Kent Smith, courtesy SHOWTIME
Who names television shows, exactly? Last night’s episode of Homeland was titled “Grace,” which could mean one of three things: a prayer, a fall, or Carrie/Claire Dane’s unique ability to look poised while wearing various unflattering cotton pajamas. Jokes aside, we’re only two episodes in (read our first episode recap here) but Showtime’s newest product is so far proving to be a surprisingly smart and nuanced take on the war on terror, albeit one with a requisite premium-cable gratuitous nudity shot in every episode (anyone who’s ever commented that the CIA is full of boobs has now officially been vindicated).
“Grace” opens with another Sergeant Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis) flashback scene, only this time he’s in a desert, digging what appears to be a makeshift grave for the friend and fellow Marine he was seen beating to death at the end of last week’s episode. Held at gunpoint over the grave, Brody defiantly sings a Marine corps song before abruptly waking up in a cold sweat in his bed back in America. Yes, it was a dream, and yes, his yelling’s also woken up Carrie, who drifted off while monitoring him.
Brody’s mental fragility wasn’t explored in much detail in the pilot, so this is our chance to see exactly what happens when an eight-year POW returns home, and the writers don’t waste much time in letting us know that he’s teetering on the edge. At breakfast, Jessica Brody (Morena Baccarin) shows her husband the bruises he left on her arm during a nightmare in which he was “yelling something that sounded like Arabic over and over,” and after his family departs to go to work/school, Brody contemplates the day alone before sinking into a corner, staring into two walls in what must be a familiar (for him) captivity pose. We’re treated, once again, to a flashback of his bloody, dusty cell.
Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin), meanwhile, is in a fancy-schmancy private club to meet with a judge, whom he appears to have some dirt on. “Are you ever going to let me off your hook, Saul?” asks the judge, who nevertheless gives him a four-week Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant for an unspecified subject. Carrie’s unorthodox spying of Brody is now legal. Saul also takes a phone call from a CIA cryptologist, who can’t seem to find any identifiable pattern in Brody’s mysterious finger-tapping every time he’s in front of a news crew. Could it just be a nervous tick? Knowing the rules of television, probably not.
Carrie, getting ready for work, discovers that she only has one green pill left, which prompts a phone call to “Maggie,” asking if she can come over tomorrow night. When Saul tells her that she’s now no longer in danger of jail, although she’s still far from forgiven, she’s slightly relieved. Still, Carrie remains concerned over Brody’s behavior. “He has nightmares where he repeatedly begs someone to kill him in Arabic,” she says. Saul tells her that could be perfectly normal. She’d know Brody had been “turned,” Saul says, if he started playing the hero card for the cameras.
Cut to a shot of the Mandarin Oriental, which possibly isn’t thrilled about its inclusion in the next scene, since it appears to be an audition for Playboy. Lynne Reed (Brianna Brown), who we later find out is a professional escort for an Arab prince, is auditioning newcomers to join the prince’s harem, and the audition includes standing half naked in front of her, answering some exceedingly personal questions, and appearing to be prepared for a job that “pays in two years what most people make in 20.” Lynne takes a break to call her spa for an appointment—but she’s actually calling the CIA to request a meet with Carrie, who she’s apparently an informant for.
At the Pentagon, CIA and military brass are trying to persuade Mike Faber (Diego Klattenhoff), Brody’s friend (and Brody’s wife’s former lover) to get Brody to reenlist. “We need him in the public eye,” says Carrie’s boss, Estes. “Reminding America that this war is far from over.” Meanwhile, Brody’s wife returns home to find that he’s been sitting in the corner of his bedroom, in pajamas all day. But that doesn’t seem to bother him, because he tells her his day was “great,” and, weirdly, he seems to mean it. In a weird moment of domesticity, Brody makes pancakes while his son plays a brutal video game. “What’s it like to kill someone, Dad?” young Chris Brody (Jackson Pace) asks. Brody, in lieu of answering, notices a photographer in the garden, who he gives ten seconds to get off his property before punching him viciously in the throat, while his son looks on, aghast. Brody disappears into the woods, while Carrie, who’s been watching the whole time, sets a tail on him.
Carrie meets Lynn in a Georgetown spa, where Lynne reveals her big coup: She has secret camera footage of her boss, the prince, meeting with Abu Nazir (Navid Negahban), supposedly the world’s most dangerous terrorist. Carrie’s boss is thrilled that her source is “the only agency asset to have eyes on Nazir in eight years,” but refuses protection for Lynne, dismissing her as a prostitute. This doesn’t deter Carrie from lying to Lynne, however, telling her there’s a team watching her 24/7, and asking her to slip a downloading device into the prince’s BlackBerry.
Carrie’s tail follows Brody into a glitzy mall, which, unlike most glitzy malls, includes a dusty hardware store in which Brody walks seemingly aimlessly through, passing rows of potential bomb-making equipment before stopping in front of . . . doormats. He touches a few of them thoughtfully, then returns home, where he’s surprised to see at dinner that his family now prays before eating: “We say Grace now?” He gets angry at Mike’s attempts to get him back into the military, which are surprisingly transparent. “The brass sent you over here to turn me into some kind of poster boy for their f^&*ing war,” he says. “There’s the door, Uncle Mike.”
Carrie, meanwhile, is visiting her nieces and her sister, Maggie, who’s also revealed to be the source of her bright green antipsychotics. But her sister’s tightening the leash, and only gives her seven pills this time. “Raiding my samples not only enables you, but it jeopardizes my license,” Maggie says. She also reveals that Carrie’s father suffers from the same illness Carrie has, which she can’t disclose because she’ll lose her security clearance, and her job.
Brody is having another vision, only this time, he’s seeing the light. Literally. In a flashback, we see bearded POW Brody stumbling through cells before encountering a bright room, filled with men praying to Allah. Cut to the present, where Brody stumbles into his garage (the only place where Carrie can’t see him), sweeps the floor, takes a newly purchased prayer mat out of a carrier bag, and begins praying himself. This surprising shot, of devout Muslim Brody, then contrasts with the final shot of the episode, which sees him fully dressed in military garb, opening the door to talk to the press, who are still camped out outside. “It’s happening,” Carrie tells Saul, excitedly. “He’s out there playing the hero card.”
So now that we know Brody’s converted to Islam, is it all but inevitable that he’s also a terrorist? Or is this just another opportunity for television to remind us of our own prejudices? Either way, with Carrie lying to her source, Brody lying to his wife, and a mysterious terrorist reappearing after eight years out of the spotlight, it’s sort of inevitable that the tangled web is going to become a lot more complicated in the weeks to come.