Last week’s episode of Homeland was off the chart epic. It was easily one of my favourite hours of television this year and will likely secure the show a place on my ‘best of’ list (coming in late December/early January). So this week’s episode was likely always going to suffer in comparison, though I can truthfully say that at this point Homeland has yet to deliver a truly disappointing episode. ‘Achilles Heel’ just felt more like another domino episode as pieces are set up so that they can eventually be knocked over.
Let’s break it down…
We open on Tom Walker (Chris Chalk), thereby immediately confirming that he is in fact alive and well in the streets of Washington. He’s panhandling cars at red lights within sight of the White House, and collecting keys and instructions from Middle Eastern men with diplomatic plates (apparently from Saudi Arabia). The reveal that the key and address lead to a storage locker with a sniper rifle was a little obvious, however, given the information we learned last week about the airport target. Although this reveal may have been anti-climatic, the episode still had a few other interesting tricks up its sleeve.
The return of Tom meant that we got to see more of his (now remarried) wife, Helen (Afton Williamson). Early in the episode we learned that Tom’s son had seen him outside of school, and when Saul checked the Walker phone records, they discovered that Tom was calling the house each day to hear his family’s voices on the answering machine. The episode was built on the idea of everyone’s personal weaknesses (hence the title). Saul and Carrie were convinced that if they could track the calls, they could apprehend Tom and bring him in before he could launch an attack. To do so, however, they needed Helen to keep him on the line (like several recycled plotlines, this is another stolen bit from 24). While Saul (Mandy Patinkin) dealt with a crisis at home, Carrie (Claire Danes) was given the reigns of the task force, charged with pep-talking Helen through the phone call with Tom. After a heart to heart with Carrie about how lucky she was to have been married to Tom, Helen eventually managed to confess everything she had been waiting seven years to say to the husband she thought had died. The one-sided conversation was emotional, but undercut by the obvious: it was clear as soon as Helen began talking that she would warn Tom about the agents tracing the call.
The resulting chase left two men dead in a Muslim prayer room (a seemingly strange choice by the showrunners unless this returns in future episodes or if the show is trying to channel The Killing). Walker got away, and CIA boss David Estes (David Harewood) ended up siding with Agent Hall, the visiting FBI agent, to curb the fallout with a press release touting Walker as a terrorist threat. Later Saul confirmed that the decision was productive: in five hours they received 2000 tips from the public to follow up on. Presumably these will come into play in the coming weeks since their link to Walker through Helen has been compromised.
The other story was about rebuilding the marriage between Brody and Jess (Morena Baccarin). After a rocky period the last few episodes, both sides apologized and bonded over a party thrown by wealthy society lady Elizabeth Gaines (Linda Purl). We’ve previously seen Gaines at church when she took an interest in Brody, and her intentions became clear when a congressional sexting scandal made breaking news. How Gaines has so much information is unknown (she knew about the scandal before it was revealed and confessed to Saul that the incumbent would be out of office within days). No matter how many pies she has her fingers in, however, her intentions to turn Brody and his “perfect” marriage into a political play should be interesting to watch develop.
The perfect marriage was certainly on display in the family scenes: first with a family card night and then after the party when everyone sat down to watch Ice Age. The look on Jess’ face as Brody stole popcorn from their daughter was stirring. After two weeks of caustic infidelity and threats to their marriage, they’re both making an effort to rebuild. Even their apology session regarding her ‘infidelity’ (strangely mirroring similar scenes on this week’s The Walking Dead) was progress.
As always, Homeland does nothing better than highlight the contrasts and similarities between its characters, so as the Brody marriage was brought back from the brink, the show stuck a fork in Saul’s union with Mira (Sarita Choudhury). She followed through on her threat to return home to India after realising that Saul’s Achilles heel was his inability to say no to work. While I appreciate that they’re rounding out Saul’s character in much the same way they’ve done with Brody and Carrie, I can’t say that I’ve found these domestic scenes overly engaging. Perhaps it’s because they don’t reveal anything to us other than the fact that Saul is a workaholic, which is something we learned when Mira first arrived. Let’s face it: Carrie is also a workaholic, but there’s added depth to her beyond that. With Saul, we still know very little beyond his religious upbringing and his dedication to the CIA, and this storyline hasn’t added anything more to that. Here’s hoping that now that Mira has left, the show gives Patinkin something juicier to work with than being a melancholy husband.
- This episode was Mike-free (Diego Klattenhoff). Is he the Homeland equivalent of Ringer’s Juliet, in that he doesn’t really contribute anything to the show? Did anyone miss Mike?
- Despite my reservations about the success of the Saul storyline, I deeply appreciated his final scene with Carrie when she asked if she’ll end up alone because of her dedication to the agency. Todd VanDerWeff at AV Club highlights how well the episode handled Carrie’s storyline in this week’s episode and I’m inclined to agree that it was nice to see a familiar topic handled in a mature, non-sexist manner.
- I was left lukewarm by the big reveal at the end of the episode that Brody is still involved in the terrorist plot because it feels like a reversal on the progress from last week. We already knew that Brody was a gifted liar when he beat the polygraph, but by confirming that he’s still lying about his intentions, it feels as though the show has taken the cheap way out. We’ve been to this well several times already this season and like Alan Sepinwall, I feel the show is about far more than just “who is and isn’t a terrorist.” Other reviewers were more supportive of the twist, so I’m interested to see what other people think?
- With only four more episodes left, are we building towards a dramatic confrontation between Tom and Brody, or is there a reversal in the works wherein Brody is somehow redeemed so that Damian Lewis can stay on the show for its second season?