"Homeland" is better than any show on television at exploring the gap between what should be and what is. On its face, "I'll Fly Away" is about Brody coming apart, all the lies straining him at his seams, and Carrie trying to hold him together; or about Dana's determination to right a wrong. Underneath, it's about what the characters do when they come to the edge of that chasm between "in a perfect world" and where they actually live.
Brody is losing it. He can't explain to Jess why he balked at helping Dana confess; he's late to a meeting with Roya, and he can't explain why; in the end, as he screams at Jess during their argument, he just can't, period. He can't balance what he should be (the hero, Congressman, good father, and husband) with what he is (the traitor who compromised, distracted with his family -- when he's home at all; when's the last time a scene had him interacting with Chris? -- and acting like he's cheating on Jess even if he isn't…yet). He calls an audible with Roya and walks away from their deal, and that's another "what should be" (i.e., the end of it), but the CIA still needs him, and if Brody's no longer motivated by protecting his family, Carrie's going to have to find another carrot.
The fantasy suite
Carrie herself is motivated by should-bes she cherishes, despite knowing they're impossible -- that she belongs with Brody, that her colleagues should trust her. In the motel she's hiding Brody in, she half-jokes that this "isn't the future I imagined for us," but when he asks her somberly what she did imagine, she admits thinking, if they completed this mission together, "then you'd be a real hero, and that fact would somehow make everything you did before" -- what is -- "not matter." Carrie loves that man; she believes (in) him, especially when, looking at her mouth in that way men do, he tells her fondly that she's even crazier than people say. Her face is half-hidden by a curtain of hair that creates a halo, and looking through this, she sees what she needs to, and kisses him.
One colleague does trust Carrie's instincts; she picked a hideout she knew Saul could find. Unfortunately, he bugged the room, so the entire team is treated to the soundtrack of the jackrabbit Brody/Carrie sex that ensues, and Quinn interprets it as evidence of his own should-bes about Carrie: she's unstable, her feelings for Brody have compromised the op. Saul, arguing on Carrie's behalf through significant nausea at having to listen to her Do It, points out what Carrie is: she has good instincts and she's trying to keep Brody on the team. Quinn looks almost saddened by the realization that, although Carrie screws up a lot, she's not a screw-up -- but he agrees to see what happens.
Brody does what he (or Carrie?) thinks he should: calls Roya, apologizes, and re-commits himself to Nazir's plan. Back at HQ, Carrie is ungracious to Saul when he questions whether her liaison with Brody is about his value to the operation, his value to her, a symptom of her disease, or some combination. She snaps that she's not Saul's daughter and he can't tell her what to do -- but he can, he should given her history, and she seldom objects to his paternalism when it's in the service of something she wants.
The meet with Roya goes forward. Roya disables the GPS on Brody's phone and takes him to a random meadow as the surveillance team freaks out. Out of the bushes, the New Guy appears; nobody can see what's going on, and Carrie gets a bad feeling, so she jumps out of the van and heads towards the three of them as Quinn bellows at her to acknowledge his direct order to do…not that. As we watch Carrie's blonde head, both beacon and target, once again going with "should be" (saving Brody, asset and/or lover) over "is" (likely to get them both killed), a helicopter appears, and as Carrie faces what might be the worst "is" of all, yelling, "They're gone -- they're just gone," Brody is bundled into the chopper…
…and taken to Abu Nazir, who should not be in the country undetected. Buuuut here he is.
Department of "Homeland" Security
Nazir's presence exemplifies how the show navigates "should be" and "is" even within its own self. The Gettysburg attack that didn't get the mission shut down, the on-again off-again between Carrie and Brody that sometimes feels more like fan service than logic, Carrie having a job at all…none of that "should" work. "Homeland" goes with it, hoping that good enough momentum and acting, and the chemistry between Claire Danes and Damian Lewis, can make it stick. Usually that faith is rewarded; when Nazir steps into the light and croaks, "Neeecholaaas," you feel a little "really?" but mostly "niiiiice."
Don't worry; we haven't forgotten Dana, whose should-be-vs.-is is more serious than most, but at the same time just a part of growing up. From the police station, she takes a bus to Mike's house, tells him what happened, and asks if she can stay overnight, just to get away. Calling to ask Jess's permission, Dana gets a surprising what-is (Jess trusts her judgment), and gives Jess an unwelcome one (Carrie was at the police station), before asking Mike if he had a hard time "vanishing" from their lives. He did, but, he adds, "There was no question in my mind what was the right thing to do." "And you actually did it," Dana says.
It's not clear Mike did do the right thing, if you net it out -- the way he's connecting with both the Brody kids in the episode, focusing on how to help Jess foremost, suggests that the "should be" here is Mike as head of that household. And he's trying to help Dana do the right thing, though, as it turns out, she can't. She wants absolution, but the woman's daughter is not only completely unreceptive to Dana's apology; she's already taken a payoff to keep quiet (from the Waldens, we assume), and warns Dana not to open her mouth or the money will disappear. Dana is horrified, disoriented, and when she wails into her mother's shoulder that she killed someone, should-bes spill out of Jess: you didn't, it's okay, it's going to be okay. And it should be, whenever we say it, and so often it isn't.
Odds and ends
The front door of Carrie and Brody's motel room has an anchor on it. Hmm.
Fantastic acting by Morena Baccarin this episode; her quick swallowing of the rage tears when she hears that Carrie had a hand in Brody's confession volte-face is great work.
Nifty editing as well; the show can get a bit tricksy with handheld work and whatnot, but the cut from a nauseated Dana in the passenger seat of Mike's car in broad daylight to Roya in Brody's passenger seat at dusk was nicely done.
"Homeland" airs Sundays at 10 PM on Showtime.