Everything that could have taken half a season is taking a single episode, and while it's tempting to worry that the writers can't sustain this breakneck pace forever, the ride's just too damn exhilarating to care. 'State of Independence' was simply the best episode of Homeland yet.
Quite apart from boasting some of the most individually powerful scenes in the show's history (Brody's rain-drenched grave-digging, the three stages of Carrie's mental collapse), toying masterfully with its viewers (we're personally going to need several rounds of therapy), and taking all four of its major characters into genuinely new emotional terrain, this episode was a master class in how to turn a scene completely on its head.
Take the opening, in which it looks as though the Lebanese authorities have confiscated that crucial memory chip from Saul, except that Saul is of course much, much too clever for that. Hands up: who else let out a little "woop!" when that bait and switch was revealed?
Meanwhile, Brody continues to outdo himself in the field of unbelievably awkward multi-tasking. If you thought texting terrorists from the Pentagon was bad, try smothering the man you've just accidentally impaled while simultaneously getting a lecture from your wife over the phone. It was a brilliantly farcical moment on one level, but also horrifying in its demonstration of just how out of control Brody is, and how violent he's capable of being in a pinch. And again, it's a stunning mid-scene reversal - Brody goes from desperately struggling to keep the tailor alive to snapping his neck.
Back in DC Carrie does a similar last-minute zigzag, yanking herself back from the brink of death with a couple of well-placed fingers down the throat. The whole sequence is agonising, watching Carrie first slip back into old patterns with the one-night stand garb, then stop short of the door and decide to self-destruct in a more literal and final way.
It looked from the premiere as though she might be reinstated in the CIA with disappointing ease, and while we're glad it hasn't been that simple from a storytelling point of view, it's heartbreaking to watch how crushed she is by their rejection. It doesn't help that the news is delivered with characteristic anti-charm by Estes, although he does at least try (patronisingly) to offer her some praise at the same time.
It's no surprise at this point to see Claire Danes be wrenching and brilliant, but Homeland's other leading lady Morena Baccarin was also given her moment in the sun this week. Jess has been ever so slightly sidelined since mid-season one, reduced largely to nagging and/or playing the dutiful wife except for that one Quran-throwing incident, but her speech here was a poignant reminder of just how much she's suffered.
Baccarin's delivery was spot on: quavery and breathless, gradually shifting into something steadier. This felt for every moment like a real person, who's terrified at the prospect of public speaking yet determined to step up to the plate, and relieved to finally be talking semi-openly about just how strange and frightening her husband's become. It's a shame her hold on the moral high ground was slightly compromised by Brody catching her hand in hand with Mike, in a weird parallel to Dana walking in on the two of them in the kitchen. Awkward.
Saul's total absence from the episode following the opening only made his bookending reappearance all the more powerful, because as soon as Carrie opens the door we know exactly what she's about to be told, and how close Saul came to being too late. What a richly rewarding moment of resolution that was - after Carrie's devastated speech about being wrong last week and the humiliation she suffered yet again from Estes, she now gets to say "I was right." And we're left to wonder where on earth the show can go from here.
- If given the choice to a) snap a man's neck or b) hang up the damn phone on their wife, most people would probably choose Door B. Brody really is a very, very special snowflake. And by snowflake, we mean nutjob.
- It was a nice touch to have Carrie listening to her signature jazz for the first time since season one, as she's beginning to unravel - thanks mostly to the opening credits, that music has always felt closely tied in with the worst of her psychosis.
- Since Estes hasn't seen Brody's confession tape, what was he referring to when he said there was other "actionable intelligence" in the bag Carrie lifted from Beirut?
- The downpour which began as Carrie got home to her apartment, and continued as Brody buried the tailor, felt like a callback to the torrential rain in last season's 'Semper I', when Carrie and Brody first met. It's been way too long since those two shared the screen (and yes, we know, it's technically only been three episodes).