On Fidelity (Homeland Rewatch S1.E5-S1.E8)

As we move into the middle episodes of the first season of Homeland, the audience is beginning to learn more detail about each of the character’s lives and the ways in which the world of Homeland uses these characters to prioritize certain values over others. A key theme within the show centers on the idea of fidelity. Within the first season, this theme appears to manifest in three different but important ways: fidelity to marriage, fidelity to career, and fidelity to country. Interestingly, the show represents each of these different kinds of fidelity as competing factors whereby a hierarchy of fidelity emerges, placing fidelity to marriage firmly at the bottom and fidelity to country at the top. This hierarchy assists in constructing the narrative urgency that is felt throughout the show.

Within these middle episodes of season one (and even those that preceded it), spousal fidelity is often held up as important but becomes undermined by characters as a direct result of their actions. From the first episodes of the season, Carrie uses the guise of an engagement as a mechanism to encourage a faux infidelity. She does this by using the bond that the ring symbolizes as a way to weed out men looking for a serious commitment, after all the ring suggests that she is technically already “taken”. Although Carrie is not really in a relationship, she is directly undermining the value of spousal fidelity through her actions. Carrie also positions herself, in this middle batch of episodes, as Brody’s mistress in an effort to continue her surveillance of him. Carrie’s actions directly place fidelity to her job above the importance of honoring fidelity related to marriage (even if it is not her own).homeland-mike-and-jessica We already know that Carrie is not above leveraging her sexuality to get what she wants. For example, she tries unsuccessfully to proposition Saul when she feels her job is in peril. She knows he is married but chooses to ignore it in favor of attempting to save her job. Jessica Brody is also an interesting subject when exploring this theme. Because she began a relationship with Mike when she thought her husband was dead, within the confines of the narrative, her situation is often presented as a question: Was her “affair” with Mike even an affair at all? Regardless of a viewer’s position on that question, Jessica continues to harbor feelings for Mike, but by the end of these four episodes, it becomes clear that she is choosing to prioritize her role as wife and mother over her own romantic feelings for someone other than her husband. However, her position as a housewife complicates and entangles this notion of fidelity to spouse and fidelity to job, as Jessica seems to identify strongly with her position/role as a mother, causing a viewer to conflate this role with one that might be considered a “job.” If we assume for a moment that Jessica is, in fact, looking at her role as mother (and wife) as a job and her choice to remain with Brody is a direct result of this, her particular circumstance works in tandem with, but still holds true, the aforementioned hierarchy whereby fidelity to job is trumped by fidelity to spouse.

This sentiment of faithfulness to job over marriage is particularly pronounced in the depiction of Saul and Mira’s marriage. Saul repeatedly prioritizes his work with the CIA over spending time with and appeasing the needs of his wife. Saul recognizes that his work operates as his personal Achilles heel, but regardless,homeland-saul-and-mira he will always leave if and when the CIA calls. He continues to prioritize his job regardless of the damage it is inflicting upon his personal relationships, particularly the one with his wife. Although Saul loves his wife and is sexually faithful to her, which is made particularly clear in earlier episodes when he rejects advances from Carrie, his position with the CIA operates as a stand-in for a mistress, again allowing fidelity to a job to upstage the concept of faithfulness within a marriage. Diane Negra and Jorie Lagerwey note that Carrie has a similar relationship with her CIA position, “always prioritiz[ing] it over family life” (Negra 126). For each of these characters their job is more important than their marital (or familial) relationships.

The highest and most important form of fidelity within the show is associated with fidelity to one’s country. This form of loyalty is the most taboo to break and is so coveted that its practice often operates within the narrative space to excuse behaviors related to infidelities on the lower rungs (so long as the intended end of those infidelities aligns with proving one’s fidelity to country). Carrie takes advantage of this particular rule of the hierarchy of fidelity time and again. Most notably, when Carrie admits to her affair with Brody to Saul. homeland-brodya-and-carrie-first-kissSaul, as the moral center, does not approve, but ultimately allows the transgression to pass without punishment because he understands that this was ultimately in service of her job and, more importantly, a means by which to prove her loyalty and unwavering commitment to protect her country (the most important kind of fidelity).

This hierarchy of fidelity is incredibly important. Brody’s position as “one of us” as opposed to “one of them” when he is stateside is the very thing that makes him so potentially dangerous. Loyalty to country is often so closely held that it tends to be assumed, and therefore his loyalty goes unquestioned (as opposed to the relative uncertainty of loyalty to spouses or employers). His disloyalty (which by the end of these four episodes is undeniable) cannot easily be seen or assumed by any reasonable person, because their default position is to assume he will exercise loyalty (Farred). Carrie and Saul’s hesitance in sharing that Brody might have been turned can be attributed to the uphill battle of convincing Estes that Brody has committed a taboo of this magnitude.

Stepping outside of or against this hierarchy of fidelity is unlikely to be met with favorable results, a reality with which Helen Walker will likely contend in coming episodes as a result of her favoring loyalty to her spouse over cooperation with authorities of her country. homeland-helen-walker-on-phoneAfter all, her misguided defiance of this paradigm seems to have directly resulted in the death of two Muslim men who were praying in a Mosque. This tragedy has already been alluded to as a public relations nightmare for the CIA. As season one winds to a close in the following episodes, these coming pieces to the story will play a critical role in either upholding or dismantling the fidelity hierarchy that the start and middle of Homeland, season one, have been constructing.

Works Cited:

Farred, Grant. “‘An American has been turned’: Thinking Autoimmunity through Homeland.” Derrida Today. 7.1 (2014), 59-78.

Negra, Diane and Jorie Lagerwey. “Analyzing Homeland: Introduction.” Cinema Journal. 54.4 (2015), 126-131.

8 thoughts on “On Fidelity (Homeland Rewatch S1.E5-S1.E8)

  1. Marilyn
    This is a solid identification and analysis of fidelity. When I watched the show, I picked up on Carrie’s fidelity with Brody and it would become a significant problem. In addition, although I felt sorry for Saul and his personal situation, it was apparent that is first dedication is to his job. I really enjoyed reading your response. I think this is an interesting dynamic to the show.

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  2. Thanks for discussing this topic. One of the great dramatic moves in political thrillers is pitting important responsibilities against each other, and often these responsibilities involve those of private vs. public life. Sometimes the private feelings aid the public good, as in a film like Die Hard. Most often, though, the public life hinders the private life with the private life compromising the public good. Homeland isn’t the only show currently using this tactic. The FX series The Americans does this to an even greater extent, with all major characters dealing in some form or another with the challenge of balancing government work with family life. I’d be interested in your opinion of how Homeland resolves many of these issues over the course of the series. It seems that this tension, while highlighted in the early seasons, sort of falls away in the more recent seasons.

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  3. I really appreciate your analysis of the theme of fidelity, especially your discussion of fidelity in marriage. According to my personal values, fidelity in marriage is highly important, but I did not find myself as upset as I would have expected when I saw the scenes involving cheating. I think that the way the show deals with different levels of loyalty, it had me more focused on the importance of Carrie’s job, or on the importance of protecting the country. I got distracted and interpersonal loyalty fell a little lower on the list of important values in the context of the episodes.

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  4. I agree with your assessment of Saul’s suspension of concern about Carrie’s having sex with someone they are surveilling–he does put mission over morality. But how screwed up is that? Saul and Carrie are such zealots that no conventional morality is even an issue to them. The narrative sucks us in and we want to see them successful, but in the back of my head I am thinking, “No, I don’t want amoral CIA agents following their personal agendas.” I think in a lot of ways Homeland is like 24 in that it is a rationalization for really bad behavior, but it’s just done more elegantly this time.
    I don’t think I have a copy of the Derrida article. Can you email me a PDF?

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  5. I thought it was interesting how you chose the theme of fidelity to focus in on this week. It was an approach I didn’t think of, outside of the obvious marital infidelity Brody committed against Jessica. Despite the fact that Jessica slept with Nick (although I did not view that adultery since Jessica truly believed Nick was dead), I felt some empathy toward her. I also felt sorry for Saul since as you mentioned, he serves as a moral compass for the show.

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  6. Watching Saul completely miss the boat during his wife’s visit was honestly sort of uncomfortable, you want to reach through the screen and shake some sense into him. I think of the old adage “if you love what you do you’ll never work a day in your life” is intriguing. I think “your” is the main issue, because to those in your life you are still working…does that make sense?

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  7. I like how you analyzed this. It is true that everyone in the show seems to center fidelity to careers and countries than the things we were once told was most important like family and love. In fact it is so common now in this show that you almost seem to think it is worth it. As I said in another blog everyone seems to be working and doing things as long as it turns out favorably. If it is for the greater good then it is ok.

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  8. Good points here! I definitely think it’s interesting that Jessica’s choice to stay with her husband has to do with marital fidelity, as well as fidelity to “job,” (as a mother and in some ways, caregiver to her spouse.)
    I think the storyline with Saul is particularly heartbreaking. It’s clear that he puts his job first– this doesn’t make his love for his wife any less legitimate..but it certainly doesn’t make for a successful partnership.

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