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WashingTelevision: Homeland Recap, Episode Six, “The Good Soldier”

Polygraphs aren’t the deadliest weapons in this week’s episode, but they sure do scare the CIA.

Damien Lewis as Nicholas “Nick” Brody and Claire Danes as Carrie Mathison in Homeland, episode six, “The Good Soldier.” Photograph by Kent Smith courtesy Showtime

Before we begin, a few thoughts on last’s night’s Homeland (spoilers ahead). First of all, yikes—it was the most action-filled episode we’ve had yet, and I don’t just mean that in the biblical sense of the word. The writers seem to excel at suggesting these possible, could-happen developments (Lynne getting got, Hamid offing himself, Brody and Carrie getting together) and then accelerating them so you barely have a moment of anticipation before they happen. It’s an effective way to communicate how quickly developments can happen in matters of national security, but it also makes for some cracking TV drama.

That said, I have one significant quibble with “The Good Soldier.” As we’ve gleaned from counterterrorism efforts over the years, the Times Square/Christmas Day underpants bombers, and dispatches from the Bin Laden bunker, most terrorist cells are error-prone, amateurish, and almost laughably inept. Compare that to whoever shot Faisal last night, an outfit so impressive it managed to track down Faisal and Aileen at the motel even before the CIA did, and gun them down in dramatic, James Bond style. (Well, Aileen escaped, but I can’t decide whether that was intentional.) Either way, it’s a stretch—unless you’re on the team that thinks Saul is behind it all, and even then, it’s a stretch to think the CIA would use assault weapons so openly on American soil.

Now, as far as the Carrie/Brody backseat hookup goes, the question we’re left with is: Who’s playing whom? Carrie drunkenly fed Brody the information he needed (about Hamid and the razor blade) after he poured oak-aged bourbon down her throat, which gave him exactly what he required to pass the polygraph. Carrie, meanwhile, as is the wont of countless dysfunctional women with daddy issues, is falling for possibly the worst man she could ever fall for. (I think it’s fair to call a potential would-be terrorist with severe PTSD a bad boy.) It’ll be interesting to see in future episodes whether Carrie manages to glean any insight from this unorthodox relationship with her target, or whether Brody is just a ruthless master manipulator (yup, definitely a bad boy).

As the episode opens, Carrie is obsessively reviewing a tape of the fight between Brody and Hamid, looking for some kind of evidence that Brody passed over the razor blade. Except the altercation happened in the camera’s blind spot, so of course she can’t see anything damning. At the CIA the following day, top brass is furious that such a monumental screwup could have happened, prompting Carrie to jump in and suggest that everyone who was in contact with Hamid (11 people in total) take polygraph tests. Estes is pissed with Carrie for going rogue again, but he complies. Saul doesn’t think that this is going to prove anything, but Carrie bets him a signed Thelonious Monk album that it fingers Brody. (“I prefer Coltrane,” Saul tells her, in another offhand gem of a quote. “Not so fussy.”)

The Hamid team head one by one into the polygraph room, which also seems to double as a kind of confidence chamber—there must be something about lie detector tests that prompts awkward marital confessions, because both Estes and Saul seem unable to keep quiet. Carrie goes first, and guess what? Larry the polygraph guy is played by James Urbaniak, who had a memorable turn in Sex and the City as a shoe salesman with a foot fetish. But Carrie doesn’t seem to notice, and she passes the polygraph, only flunking one question about whether she’s taken illegal drugs since joining the CIA. Oops. Larry asks Estes if he’s married, upon which Estes launches into a tirade about cheating on his ex-wife, so presumably Larry is just a bizarrely efficient interrogator.

Aileen and Faisal, who now know that the feds are on to them, are fleeing from their Barbie Dream House (American flag! Two bedrooms! Proximity to a major airport for surveillance purposes!), and Faisal is terrified, despite Aileen’s insistence that they’re fine. She apologizes for dragging him into all this, to which he replies, “I dragged myself into it. I am a victim of your fabulousness.” Fabulousness? Really? First the SATC shoe salesman, and now this? Saul, meanwhile, is investigating the Faisal house and talks to a neighbor, who tell him Faisal has a Caucasian wife. The CIA tracks Faisal’s car and finds him passing through a tollbooth on the way to what looks like Columbus, Ohio. And yes, he has a woman at his side.

Brody is due to give a speech at the memorial service for his friend and fellow Marine, Tom Walker. But as we found out in the pilot episode, he actually beat his “friend” to death (possibly under duress, but one imagines it still makes things awkward). During the eulogy, he has a few flashbacks, so he gives up on the platitudes and gives a roll call instead. One by one, his fellow soldiers rise, including one who’s on crutches, but when Walker’s name is called, the church is silent. After the service, the group goes to a reception at Walker’s widow’s house, where the soldiers get drunk, inexplicably start rapping “Run Rabbit Run” (who doesn’t love Eminem?), and then get testy with each other. The soldier on crutches wants to know how Brody made it back when Tom didn’t; he’s also pissed that Brody’s a “Boy Scout poster boy” for a war that will cause thousands more young men to get their legs blown off. He informs Brody that all of his fellow soldiers wanted to “bend [Jessica] over the sink,” but only one did, which doesn’t go down great with Mike, who starts beating him. Then Brody starts hitting Mike, and yet another garden event is ruined. Brody flees to his car and drives away.

Aileen and Faisal have made it to a safe house, where it becomes clear that she’s the professional in the group. Right as Faisal’s about to open the front door, Aileen spots a booby trap that’s rigged to explode and ushers him away. Rather reasonably, he wants to know where his wife got all these mad spy skills. “They trained me,” she replies. Faisal is more than a little freaked out and wants to turn himself in, but Aileen tells him that if they do, they’ll “spend the rest of our lives being interrogated in some offshore torture chamber.” Meanwhile, the CIA has used facial recognition software to find out who she is: Aileen Margaret Morgan, 28, five-foot-five, 110 pounds, lived in Saudi Arabia for five years as a child while her father worked for an oil company, which Carrie assumes is where she met Faisal. Carrie also immediately assumes that he’s the one responsible for grooming Aileen into a Jihad Jane, but then lands on the more accurate scenario: Aileen is the one driving the couple toward terrorism.

Saul doesn’t want to take a polygraph, and we soon realize why—he’s nervous and flustered, and when Larry asks him if he slipped Hamid the razor blade, he says no, but his sweaty palms tell the monitor another story. He rips off the sensors and tells Larry he’s “too busy” and he’ll finish it tomorrow. While the CIA agents are being briefed about Aileen, Carrie gets a call from Brody, who’s drowning his sorrows and wants company. He doesn’t want to take the polygraph, he tells her, since he’s too upset: “I could tell them my name and it’d sound like a f%^&ing lie.” He calls Carrie out for acting all official at the Hamid meeting, which is pretty unfair, really. But the dynamic between the two is less awkwardly flirtatious and more honest. Carrie tells him about how nobody could ever beat her at chicken when she was a kid, not even the boys. The pair stagger to Carrie’s car, drunkenly berating Washington-area sports teams (“The Wizards? What kind
of a name is that? What are they, magicians?”), and Carrie tells Brody she’s going to puke (personally, I’ve never found this to be a very effective seduction technique). Instead, she tells him what the polygraph’s about, and as thanks, he ushers her into the back of her car, where we can safely say he does not have the same trouble performing that he does with his wife.

Faisal and Aileen make it to what is possibly the folksiest, most Americana hotel in the heartland, complete with wood paneling, chintz, and CMT on the television. Faisal again insists that he wants them to turn themselves in, but Aileen says she’d rather die. “Yeah?” he responds. “Well, you’re going to.” Famous last words. Aileen runs into the restroom, and Faisal is suddenly mowed down by invisible snipers with machine guns. But Aileen manages to escape through the window, and judging by her face, she wasn’t all too sure that this was coming. Or was she?

Saul, trying to fix his marriage, tells Mira he’s put in for the New Delhi bureau and wants to go to India with her. But—awkward!—she isn’t so sure that that’s what she wants. “We’re good friends sharing a house,” she says. “You play golf, I do yoga.” He replies sadly that that “sounds perfect.” He goes to work and takes the polygraph again, telling Larry all about his marital troubles to the confusion of Carrie, who’s watching. He passes the question about the razor blade and leaves, and it’s Brody’s turn—Brody, who rolled home to his family in the early hours looking hungover and shifty, prompting some derisive looks from Dana. But he’s managed to pull himself together, and he passes the polygraph. Carrie, who’s in the awkward position of really, really wanting her lover to prove himself to be a maniacal terrorist, is dismayed, and tells Larry to ask if Brody has ever cheated on his wife. Brody looks right at the camera, says, “No,” and . . . passes.

So what have we learned? Brody is an amazing liar and appears to be incredibly successful at manipulation. Saul sucks at polygraph tests. Carrie makes terrible, terrible life choices, and Saul might be on to her, judging by his suspicion at that last question. Jessica is now furious with her husband for fighting, drinking, and staying out all night (she doesn’t know about the adultery, but I bet she’d be furious about that, too). Marines love Marshall Mathers. Saul loves golf. The CIA now knows that Carrie loves pills, which could prove to be uncomfortable in a future episode. And everyone, everyone, loves airing their dirty laundry to a polygraph guy. Except Brody, of course, whose laundry is so filthy it’s practically condemned.

What did you think of last night’s episode? Let us know in the comments.