Brody is back—and worse off than ever. Which is good news for fans of Showtime’s Homeland.
(Warning: spoilers ahead.)
During the first two episodes of Season Three, the marine-sergeant-turned-POW-turned-Islamic-terrorist-turned-CIA-informant was nowhere to be seen. Instead viewers settled in with bipolar CIA operative Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) and her former mentor, newly appointed CIA director Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin), as they sparred over Carrie's sanity and culpability in the aftermath of the massive Langley bombing for which Brody (Damian Lewis) was framed. (He went on the lam in the Season Two finale.)
This renewed focus on psychology and character was a deliberate strategy on the part of creator and showrunner Alex Gansa to correct course after critics bashed the increasingly outlandish plot twists of the second half of Season Two. “I think it’s fair to say that we wanted to start off slower,” Gansa recently told me. “I think we were smarting a bit at the criticism. We knew we had to plot a new course for the show.”
And yet, that strategy left a major question unanswered for the first 100 minutes of the season: When the heck are we going to find out what's happening with Brody?
On Sunday, viewers finally learned the answer: in episode three.
The entire hour was devoted to Brody. He's in South America. He's been shot in the gut. He's bleeding and barely conscious. He's passed from a group of Colombians to a group of Venezuelans. The Venezuelans know Carrie. They're doing her a favor. In an unfinished high-rise in the middle of Caracas, a laconic, cynical "doctor" operates on his new patient. Brody survives the surgery, and a gorgeous, scantily-clad young Venezuelan girl nurses him back to health. Soon, however, he discovers that the Venezuelans are violent, brutal. He wants to leave—to go "to the next place." He is told he can't—that this is the end of the line. He escapes and seeks refuge in a nearby Mosque. It doesn't work out. The Venezuelans recapture him and lock him in yet another tiny cell. Despairing, Brody picks up the syringe the doctor has left for him—and injects the heroin the doctor left alongside it.
Brody the dope-fiend? The rest of the episode was expertly executed—a welcome quickening of the show's pace, and a revival of the kind of mystery and intrigue that made the first season of Homeland so addictive. But on first viewing, I wasn't convinced that Brody would turn to heroin quite so quickly. So I decided to go straight to the source: Damian Lewis.
I think it’s possible to play both things at once because that’s what people do in real life.
The actor was gracious enough to answer my questions. What's up with the drugs? Is Brody and Carrie's grand love affair finally over? And what are the chances Brody survives another season? Lightly edited excerpts of our conversation:
How did you feel when you found out you weren't going to appear in the first two episodes of Season Three?
I wasn’t surprised to not be in the first two episodes. The writers were clear with me that there was lots of story to tell, and I think it was a great decision to do it the way that they did it.
Still, it was a relief to have Brody back on Sunday night. It's never explained on the show, but I'm wondering if you've either imagined or been told the backstory: how did Brody wind up in Venezuela? How did he get shot?
That backstory is… The success of these operations depends to a degree on lack of information for each individual involved. What is most important is that Brody has been sent into a maze of tunnels, if you like. Just passed from one person to the next. Now he’s at the center of this maze. He wakes up, he doesn’t know where he is. I think it becomes clear that Carrie doesn’t know where he is. So Brody is a prisoner again. He is a victim of his circumstances. And we’ll see him plumb the depths.
Case in point: at the end of the episode Brody starts to inject heroin. That moment surprised me. I'm not sure I was quite with you guys—not sure Brody seems like the drug addict type. Convince me I'm wrong.
I think Brody is simply so exhausted with his life and this running and the beatings he takes… and now he’s been shot. So when he picks that needle up at the end of the episode, I think it’s just a moment of… he needs something to take away the pain and take away the memory of everything. It’s a really sad moment. He seems momentarily to just give up and accept his fate. And I think that’s how Brody feels.
How would you describe Brody's larger arc this season? He’s lost his family. He’s the most wanted man in the world. He can’t retreat to a cabin in the woods with Carrie. What does he want? What is he surviving for?
I think he’s surviving a) just to stay alive, because the risk of death every day is high. He doesn’t trust these guys in Venezuela. And secondly, there is a dream of his that he will be able to stand up proudly and say to his family and the American people that it was not him [who bombed Langley]. That he is not that guy. But I think that’s a pipe dream. I have no idea how he can get back to America to make that kind of statement. Brody is a nonperson now. He's living in the shadows. And I think that’s going to be his fate.
Homeland creator and showrunner Alex Gansa has repeatedly said that he has considered killing off Brody every season, and that he could "sacrifice that piece" at any time. How does it feel to always be on the chopping block? Do you think Brody can survive another season?
That’s been a conundrum for everybody. I always got the sense that Brody was going to be around past Season One. But after that... I think the success of the character took everyone a bit by surprise. I don’t think they knew necessarily how the love story aspect of the show [between Carrie and Brody] was going to pan out. I think they were taken by surprise by how popular it was with people.
Carrie and Brody have already been been lovers, then enemies, then lovers again. Where can the relationship possibly go next?
Here's the thing: they never wanted to turn… Homeland was never supposed to be a love story. They’ve written to it because it’s been hugely enjoyable to write to, but now I think they have to work out how to write Brody in without it just necessarily being about that. If they can do that, Brody can go on and on. He’s certainly going to be central to Season Three, from the next episode onwards. He’s going to play a major part in the events of the second half of the season.
You're English, but you frequently play Americans. Is there more to playing a specifically American character than altering your accent?
There’s also a physicality to it. I’ve played a bunch of lower-middle class, kind of blue-collar guys. It’s very different from my experience of life. They have a conservatism to them, I think. And they have a directness to them, too. It all started with Band of Brothers. I learned it for the first time then. But the more I play American the more I realize how different we are—the more I grasp how great a distance I have to travel to embody that type of American man. The way you hold yourself and wear different kinds of clothes—it makes you stand differently. Right down to the handshake—that very firm handshake. It’s very present in the South, where we shoot Homeland, and that has been great for playing these military characters. A lot of looking you in the eye, calling you “man,” calling you “sir.”
It must be difficult to speak with an English accent at this point.
[Laughs] I remain in an American accent, you know, from the moment I get to set. So it’s become a sort of second nature to me to speak that way. I’m not conscious of it sometimes. Sometimes on the weekend I slip into an American accent for no apparent reason. [Laughs] And if I’m surrounded by Americans, I forget to come out as an Englishman. It’s in me.
Brody is a cipher of sorts. He's almost always acting. What's it like to act in two directions at once—to deceive the audience and the other characters on the show at the same time?
It’s complex. It requires a lot of concentration and detail, but that’s what you sign up for. I relish that challenge. It’s just a great, great gift if you get asked to be part of a project in which the writing is that good, because it doesn’t always happen. A lot of the time, because Brody was damaged early on, and because he is a fragile character, he’s capable of believing in two things at once. When he was first falling for Carrie, he was playing her; he needed to keep her close because she was the enemy. And he was scared of her, and wary of her. But he also found himself fancying her, and finding this connection to her. I think it’s possible to play both things at once because that’s what people do in real life. It’s great fun trying to encompass all those things at once. It’s no small feat, but it’s great fun.