Last week fellow critic Tim Goodman said of Homeland that he hoped his fears of the series turning into 24 weren’t coming true. Yes, “A Gettysburg Address” did have the distinct tone of a show turning from a complex emotional drama into a CIA spy fest, and admittedly that episode was not the series best (not to say it wasn’t good, it just wasn’t quite to the standard to which we’ve grown accustomed). “The Clearing,” another strange episode, didn’t feel like 24, but did feel for the first time like Homeland is just buying time. There’s a difference between a building-block episode that starts moving key players into place and a filler episode, though “The Clearing” seems to belong somewhere in between — some interesting general points were raised, but our characters remained fairly stagnant. Hit the jump to join my prison wine and cheese party. Before everyone’s blood pressure and ire rises to dangerous levels, let’s look at what Homeland did really well this week. Picking Aileen’s story back up gave us more time with Saul, which we haven’t had much of this season, and also really made some excellent comments about solitary confinement. The New Yorker‘s Atul Gawande wrote an exceptional piece in 2009 about whether or not solitary confinement can be construed as torture. As he says to start, we humans are social creatures, and to deprive us of interaction and, as Aileen brings up, even something like sunlight, can have terrible effects on the brain. Homeland draws a parallel here in Aileen / Saul’s interaction and that of Nazir / Brody. Saul always played Good Cop with Aileen, from their cross-country journey to the wine and cheese he brought to their prison interview. Like Nazir, Saul showed compassion and offered hope when there seemed to be none. Also like Nazir, Saul was hoping to turn Aileen away from her deepest beliefs and come over to his side, to help his cause. Aileen’s plan from the start though was to find a way to kill herself. She planted the seed early on about how her eyes were bad, leveraging Saul’s sympathy into loaning her glasses. It was a risky move and one not particularly likely to succeed, but that’s the kind of coincidence we buy into with Homeland, and there’s nothing wrong with it. It was a neat trick too that she had bargained her way into getting a day by the window as “a wonderful last day.” At the pool at the fundraising event, a dim-witted woman asks Brody suddenly if when he was tortured he had ever wanted to kill himself. Brody’s desire to live was strong (he did, after all, “kill” Tom Walker the first time in order to survive), but any desire he had to die because of his torture or because of his guilt was cultivated by Nazir into making him a suicide bomber, something that wore off once Brody was reintroduced to his family (and most particularly thanks to Dana’s phone call in an important moment). Even though Brody downplays his hero status later saying “all I did was not die,” that in and of itself is incredibly large. He didn’t die as a POW, no, but he also didn’t die as a suicide bomber. And every time he cheats death, his life becomes infinitely more complex. Here is where things started to break down in “The Clearing,” though. Carrie being the one called in to handle All Things Brody felt too convenient Talking to Mike Faber was fine (even though he is clearly not going to back down one bit except perhaps in talking to Jess about what he finds, until there is more evidence), but to have Carrie be the one to stop Brody and Dana from going to the police? Carrie introducing herself to Dana was a weird moment – did the ECT make Carrie forget their all-important bomb-stopping conversation? Further, one of Brody’s key lies to Jess is that Carrie no longer works for the CIA. It would be very possible that Dana could mention to Jess having seen Carrie at the police station, was there really no one else available to make that intercept? In any case, poor Dana is now wrapped up in her own Guilt Quilt just like her dad, though kudos to her I guess for being the most moral person I’ve possibly ever seen in trying hard, really hard, to get an Accessory to Manslaughter charge brought against her. On the other hand, the idea that Dana went to the funeral was ludicrous, wasn’t she afraid of the daughter recognizing her? How did she even find out about it? The part about the collection plate containing $12 was also a particularly Dickensian moment. It felt like too much — less is more, Homeland, and Dana’s guilt was clearly eating away at her (as it was Finn, though he was likely more concerned about getting caught) without those flourishes. Similarly (and back to Carrie), Carrie and Brody’s meeting in the clearing at the party felt forced in a way elements of their relationship hasn’t in the past. Maybe, like Dana’s funeral attendance, it felt unnecessary. We know they have complicated feelings about each other — no episode did better at setting the perfect foundation for that than their weekend getaway at the cabin. More interestingly, is this relationship affecting Carrie’s mood? We haven’t had any mention of her bipolar in awhile, or shots of her at home coping with her emotions, one of the strongest elements of the show. What “The Clearing” set up for the weeks to come is that the CIA is back to knowing almost nothing about Nazir’s next plans, which means Brody will be pressed into working overtime. That, along with the campaign stresses and Dana’s rebellion from The Way Things Are should make for some explosive (possibly literally) next few episodes.