Mandy Patinkin as Saul Berenson in Homeland, episode five, "Blind Spot." Photograph by Kent Smith courtesy Showtime
Congratulations, Showtime. You managed to get through an entire episode without throwing in gratuitous nudity or sex scenes. Instead, “Blind Spot” was one of the best episodes of the drama so far: a nuanced, tightly controlled look at the major characters and their flaws, with little to serve as distraction (I’m talking about you, Jessica). Remarkably, for a show about counterterrorism and the CIA, this was also the first occasion that enhanced interrogation techniques came up, with no preaching or proselytizing either way. Instead, we see the CIA at work, doing what it does best (or not, in this case): extracting information from known enemies of the state.
Interrogation is necessary because as the episode opens, agents in Islamabad have captured the lone surviving terrorist from the compound where Brody was rescued. This terrorist, Afsal Hamid, is transported to the US (by private jet, naturally, although with a hood over his head the entire time, he probably couldn’t appreciate the swankiness), and Estes tells Carrie and Saul they’re going to interrogate him—with a little help from Sergeant Brody. Carrie isn’t thrilled about this development, but at least, Saul points out, she’ll get to observe how Brody reacts in a high-stress environment.
This comes at a bad time for Carrie, who’s been forced to run back to her sister’s house to steal some of her dad’s meds. We get to meet Mr. Mathison, who appears to be a little nutty, screaming at a baseball game while he irons some shirts. “Did you take your meds?” Carrie asks him. “They’re killing me,” he responds. But yes, he did, and so off she runs, with a turkey sandwich he made her wrapped in a paper towel. For the first time this series, we also encounter Saul’s wife, Mira, who’s back from a trip to India and not all that surprised when Saul picks her up at the airport and then has to rush back to work, leaving her to take a taxi home.
Carrie and Brody meet face to face for the first time since their romantic, rain-soaked encounter outside the church, and things are a little awkward, to say the least. She, acting coy again (flirtatious Carrie!), does her best to act normal, but Brody’s still doing that thing where he stares at her, smiling, and doesn’t say anything. All the flirting ends abruptly, however, when Carrie shows Brody a picture of Hamid. “Do you know this man?” she asks. Brody flashes back to a man beating him and urinating on him. “Yeah, I know him,” he replies, in characteristically understated style. “He was my guard.”
In a room next door to the pair (a room, it’s worth adding, that’s been ominously soundproofed), Saul greets Hamid in Arabic, kissing him on both cheeks as the prisoner flinches. Carrie tells Brody why they need Hamid: to give them information that’ll help demonstrate their power during interrogation. “To prove we have complete control. To demonstrate our omnipotence,” she says. “Will he be tortured?” Brody asks. “We don’t do that here” is Carrie’s response. As the interrogation starts, Saul asks Hamid questions while Brody supplies nuggets of information, telling him that Hamid is devout, and that he also once beat Brody with a bat wrapped in barbed wire. Saul—who, it’s obvious by now, is going to get all the best one-liners in this series—comes out with the following gem: “So, you’re a religious man, and a torturer. What are you, Catholic?”
So far, Hamid ain’t talking, but when Saul mentions Abu Nazir we see a flicker of reaction on the prisoner’s face. And he isn’t the only one. Brody, too, seems to respond, eyes shifting all over the place. Saul tells Hamid of another of Nazir’s men who was captured and his brother, wife, parents, and children all killed by Nazir as a message. “We all know he’s not your average terrorist bent on bringing down civilization,” Saul says. “He has a certain style. A certain registry.” Hamid is still silent, so Saul leaves him with a piece of paper and a purple crayon (really, CIA? A Crayola?), and tells him to write down the names of eight people he wants to save. “If you love your kids like I love mine, I would hurry.”
Brody, whose response to the interrogation has been his signature stare-and-cynical-raised-eyebrow combo, asks Carrie if he can see Hamid face to face, but Carrie tells him that isn’t allowed. She makes up for it by giving him her card and telling him to call her anytime, 24/7. Estes is thrilled with the outcome so far and tells Carrie and Saul they’ve done a superb job.
Brody goes home, where Jessica greets him and seems to be building up to talk to him about something. She’s cut her hair short (“You always liked it short,” she says), and made him a mug of his favorite Yorkshire Gold tea. But something about Brody’s demeanor puts her off, so instead she asks him to take Chris to his karate lesson tomorrow, where Brody Jr. is about to get his blue belt.
Over at the CIA safe house (although “safe” isn’t really the word for it), Hamid sits half-naked in the interrogation room as death metal and flashing lights alternately pound into the room. We also see the A/C running in overdrive and Hamid shivering in the cold. Eventually, after a night of Slayer and chilliness, he cracks (who wouldn’t?). “I don’t know anything. You know I don’t. This is how we operate for precisely that reason,” he says. But he does give them an e-mail address to which he once forwarded a message “from someone else” (presumably Nazir, or someone similarly high-up, judging by his inflection).
Instead of taking Chris to karate, Brody gets gussied up in full military garb, medals and all, and goes to see Estes. He wants a meeting with his torturer and believes the CIA owes him that much. “I did exactly what you’ve asked of me, sir. I gotta close the door on that chapter of my life. Please don’t rob me of the opportunity to do that, for my own sanity if for nothing else.” Estes, who has a lovely picture of himself and Condoleeza Rice behind his desk (Washington moment!), is reluctant at first, but eventually agrees. “Let’s go close that door, Sergeant,” he says. Elsewhere at the CIA, a cryptologist is tracing the origins of the e-mail address Hamid gave them. It bounces around the world before landing at . . . the university where Faisel teaches. Remember Faisel? The professor with two houses and a wife who likes semaphore?
Carrie does, and she pounces on this information, telling the team that their number one priority is now to find Faisel. She calls Virgil, who does some investigating in Faisel’s office and finds a piece of mail with an address on it. “Know where that address is?” he asks Max. “It’s right next to the f^&*ing airport.” Brody visits Hamid and sits calmly opposite him, pulling the prisoner’s lunch away from him. “You beat me,” he says to Hamid. “You humiliated me. You killed my friend. But you did not break me. You should have killed me when you had the chance.” Hamid, by way of response, spits in his face, and the two tussle, falling to the ground. Hamid repeats something unintelligible as the CIA agents lead Brody away.
Brody returns home having missed Chris’s karate match; luckily, Uncle Mike was there to take him, and is also in Brody’s kitchen, doling out ice cream. This understandably infuriates for Brody, who, it’s fair to say, isn’t in the best mood. Later, Brody walks into Chris’s room to try to make amends, and finds his son praying. “You got it done today like I knew you would,” Brody says of Chris’s karate achievement. “You know why? ’Cause you’re my son.” Chris tells Brody that he and Jessica prayed for him to be alive every night he was away. And now? He prays “that you’re gonna be okay.”
Carrie and Virgil are all over the Faisel house like a rash, but then Carrie gets an unexpected call—Hamid is dead. Somehow he got hold of a razor blade fragment and slit his own throat. At this point, she still doesn’t know about his visitor, but she correctly assumes that if Hamid is dead, someone has also tipped off Faisel. She, Virgil, and a team of undercover agents raid the house, but it’s empty. Meanwhile, Saul’s wife has been doing some soul searching, and she’s pretty fed up with being the wife of a CIA operative. “What I need is to make my life less about you,” she says. They’re interrupted by Carrie, who’s gotten hold of video footage showing the altercation between Brody and Hamid and wants to come clean about her suspicions about Brody to Estes, prompting a vicious fight with Saul. “I’m going to Estes, with or without your approval,” she says. “Then take some boxes, because you’re going to need them,” he counters. Ouch.
This altercation with her mentor isn’t great news for Carrie, who packs up her desk before running to Maggie’s house, telling her sister she’s pretty sure she just quit her job. Maggie takes care of her, pouring her wine and tucking her into bed with her two nieces. Except Carrie, as usual, can’t sleep. “Are you worried about the bad guys?” her adorable niece asks her. “Come live with us. We’ll protect you.” Carrie smiles and says, “No, honey. That’s my job.”
This episode was the first time we actually got some background on Saul, which naturally makes me more suspicious of him. After all, he was the one who told Carrie not to air her initial suspicions about Brody, and he was the one who knew about the surveillance cameras in the Brody house. Is it possible that behind his grizzled beard and lounge-singer mellifluence lies the cold mind of a terrorist? Almost certainly not, which is why this show is so much fun. But regardless of Saul, Brody’s innocence or guilt in this episode may prove to define him for the series. If he slipped a razor blade to Hamid (which we’re likely supposed to think he did do), then he’s guilty. If not, he’s just a survivor of eight years of torture and unthinkable conditions who’s understandably a bit twitchy.
What did you think of “Blind Spot?” Let us know in the comments.