Posted in Television

Man in the Mask; Woman in the Hijab

It’s no accident that two of the most charismatic characters on television are also among the most damaged. One hides the full extent of his wounds behind a tin mask; the other, seemingly a healthy young woman, is one whose psyche has been splintered and (hopefully) mended. Enter “Boardwalk Empire”‘s Richard Harrow and “Homeland”‘s Carrie Mathison, brilliantly played by Jack Huston and Claire Danes.

Richard Harrow brought last Sunday’s rather mediocre episode to life when he kidnapped Mickey Doyle at gunpoint, barged into Nucky Thompson’s office and forced him to reveal that his boast about killing Manny Horvitz was a lie. The dialogue that ensued after Mickey quaked out of the room was “Boardwalk Empire” at its best, simultaneously laconic and revelatory. Despite the number of people Richard has killed (63 by his own admission), he remains a man of honor. His insistence in claiming ownership of Manny Horvitz’s murder was not simply pride of authorship—he wanted it known why that man had to die. And when Nucky expressed surprise at the rationale behind the act, namely vengeance for the murder of Angela Darmody, we saw the true face of the man once more. Implicitly acknowledging that Nucky killed Jimmy, but also understanding the code of war, Richard somberly notes “Jimmy was a soldier. He fought. He lost.” When he assures Nucky that neither he nor his family will have anything to fear from him, you believe it. The capper, when Nucky, still haunted by Jimmy’s murder, asks whether he ever thinks about the people he killed, Richard’s terse response (“You know the answer to that yourself”) sealed one of the most riveting scenes aired to date on “Boardwalk Empire.”

There’s a delicious irony in the fact that Richard Harrow, destroyed in so many ways by the war and earning his living as an enforcer, has become, after Angela’s demise, the unselfish heart of the show. This makes for an interesting contrast with “Homeland,” which had its season premier on Sunday. It was absolutely absorbing from start to finish—watching Brody (speaking of damage) get squeezed by Abu Nazir’s envoy; trying to figure out who Nazir’s mole in the CIA is; seeing Jessica’s trust in her husband erode when he confirms that he is indeed a Muslim, perhaps causing her to realize that Carrie may not have been totally around the bend in her accusations.

But it was Carrie’s re-emergence from the shadow of her illness that made this an episode to relish. Damaged by years of living with bi-polar disorder, and more recently by the electro-convulsive therapy she elected to undergo, Carrie is a bit fragile when we first see her tending her garden. It’s heartening to see her rip into Estes for appealing to her patriotism when he asks her to undertake a mission; it’s frustrating to see her struggle to retain the details of her cover, knowing that her therapy has made hash of her short-term memory. But when she arrives in Beirut and is tailed on her way to meet Saul Berenson, her mentor, the fireworks really start. What a great sequence—she ignores Saul’s directive, slips into the market for a quick change of hijab, knees her pursuer in the groin, kicks his gun under a table and swiftly exits, a big fat grin of triumph on her face (hence the episode’s title, “The Smile”). And you realize that giving the guy the slip was only gravy–Carrie knows she’s made it back, and so, to our delight, do we.

Bravissimi!

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