Ever since bipolar CIA agent Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) arrived on television last fall with the debut of Showtimes Homeland, theres been something of a struggle to define her.
She isnt exactly a conventional antihero: As she pursues sleeper agent Sgt. Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis), we actually want her to win, rather than hoping shell get a long-delayed moral comeuppance of the kind that Breaking Bads Walter White so clearly has coming.
But shes not a conventional hero, either, given her complete disregard for rules and boundaries, and the mental-health issues she has under intermittent control. Homeland is, I think, doing something new: While antihero shows often end up as sly critiques of masculinity (Tony Soprano), Homeland actually offers a defense of Carries emotionalism, turning it into a superpower rather than a feminine weakness.
The antiheroes who have dominated television for the past decade have tended to embody both the strengths and pitfalls of various masculine-coded traits.
In The Wire, Jimmy McNultys bullheadedness means that major crimes that might otherwise have gone uninvestigated are pursued and prosecuted, but his unchecked determination and supreme self-regard do great harm to the people unfortunate enough to be part of his personal life, and in some cases, to the careers of those who follow him down countless rabbit holes.
Walter Whites obsessive attention to detail and enormous drive to make up for his past failings lead him to become a dominant producer of methamphetamine, but that same need for control also leads him to terrorize his wife, Skyler.
Mad Mens Don Draper is a man whose masculinity, which made him so successful, is now losing its currency.
As with these guys, Carries strength is also her weakness. But rather than impressing us with her competence and then showing us how toxic that competence can be when its applied to other areas of her life the traditional antihero trajectory Carrie started out this season fragile and vulnerable, unable to take the emotional risks and strains of intelligence work, and has grown stronger by expressing her emotions openly and honestly.
She scored a victory when she reconnected with a former source, the abused wife of a Hezbollah commander.
She renewed her bond with her mentor Saul by opening up to him about how deeply damaged she was by being wrong in her investigation of Brody. He reciprocates that honesty by showing Carrie Brodys martyrdom video before he shows it to anyone else, guaranteeing shell be roped into the restarted investigation.
Carries emotional intelligence her volatile and, yes, feminine instincts, rather than the practiced cool of most spy heroes is what drove last weeks episode.
She has none of the cold rationalism or killing competence of a James Bond, and her angry determination is as personal as it is patriotic.
I liked you, Carrie, Brody says in the moments before hes shackled and hooded. I loved you, she spits back at him. If only the circumstances had been wildly different.
But in the end, she gets the man that no one else could.
And in doing so, she proved that the thing that got her fired from the CIA, her mental illness, her quavering lip and her extreme sensitivity to others, are the greatest assets in a room full of high-tech surveillance equipment and guys intent on playing it cool.