It’s officially Sunday morning and I’m up after too much coffee at dinner, followed by a minor fiasco wherein I thought my car had been towed in downtown San Francisco, but it turned out I only parked a block away. No matter. It all gave me a chance to think strategy. And strategy on a Sunday always leads me to Homeland.
I’m somewhat of an unlikely show devotee and defender. A few friends, none of whom have seen the show, have accused it of being blind war propaganda and an insidious way to support the war on terror. I see their point. However, being a writer and having seen the show (every episode, actually), I think the show is much more than a vehicle for any possible message about the dangers of terrorists. It’s often about the dangers of those tracking the terrorists, and by extension, the dangers that lurk within each of us. It is about the darkness within that we refuse to see and the ways that can deeply damage even the most noble actions by acting without seeing the entire picture or knowing the true motivation for our choices. And there are few characters that better exemplify this than Carrie Mathison.
*If you have not seen the first episode of season 4, please be aware that there are spoiler alerts below*
It wasn’t until a few days after the show had aired that I realized just how brilliant the first episode of season 4 was. When I first watched it, in the moment I could see that Carrie was still, heartbreakingly, very Carrie. She’s married to the job, to the ideals she’s holding up, and she makes poor choices as a result. But it goes much deeper than that.
This is the two of Swords from the Rider-Waite-Smith tarot deck. This is also Carrie Mathison. One of the primary meanings of the card is that the person is unwilling to look at the situation and blocking oneself off from emotions and refusing to feel them. The symmetry of S4E1 with the first season really drove home for me how much Carrie has deliberately blinded herself to what is going on around her. The tension in the episode overtly builds around her complete abandonment of her daughter in favor of going back to Pakistan to serve as Station Chief. What underlies that surface, though, is much more powerful and has yet to be teased out fully. (Don’t get me wrong, child abandonment is a powerful thing.)
In the first season, Carrie was a terrorist hunter. She tracked Brody and trapped him. By getting close, she learned that he had been turned because of a drone strike that killed innocents, in particular children. In S4E1, she acts on incomplete information, information she openly questions, only to order a drone strike that does much the same – it blows up a wedding. She refused to fully question that gut instinct that told her there was something crucial missing. In the process of doing so, she turned from terrorist hunter to terrorist maker, in one basic order. She did later try to justify the bombing on the grounds that the terrorist sought had indeed died and that those with him knew what kind of man he was and what risk they were taking, but it seemed evident she didn’t buy her own rationalization.
In the Two of Swords card, the person there holds two swords, one in either hand, with arms crossed over the heart and a blindfold over the eyes. This strikes me as particularly fitting because by cutting off the heart, there is a conscious decision to cut off any knowing that comes from a source other than the mind. It was that gut instinct that told Carrie that Brody was a terrorist. Whether or not he turned into a great love for her and the father of her child, she was still dead on about his intentions when he returned home. It was that other knowing, the knowing that came before thought, that made her an excellent agent. Now she’s found herself with more responsibility, both professionally and personally, and she’s closed off a major source of intelligence. Moreover, she’s wielding great weapons without clear vision and harming people in every sphere of her life.
It does make sense that she would shut down emotionally. She watched someone she was in love with be executed, she had his child, and the only place she has ever felt confident is at work. She was never good with handling her emotions, which I think is too easily chalked up to her Bi-Polar Disorder. That is certainly a component of it but, like with most things on the show, is not the entire story.
The Swords cards tend to be all about the rational mind. They are about thinking and logic, processing with the brain and not the heart. What is interesting, though, is that it’s Carrie’s blocking off of this other center of intelligence that makes her unable to adequately see what is before her and use her logical mind to its best abilities. She has willfully blindfolded herself by cutting off her intuition. The only way for her to see clearly is to lay down the swords and remove the blindfold, which would mean opening up her heart.
This isn’t a situation faced by Carrie alone. She is so easy to identify with despite her unlikeable characteristics because she’s on the same archetypal journey many of us are on. Too often, when someone has a knowing that is inexplicable, an intuition, s/he is questioned on what tactile, tangible proof supports it. That’s how it was for Carrie in the first season. She was so rejected by society that she turned to electroshock therapy, only to be vindicated after she underwent the procedure. How often do we do a less medically extreme version of this to ourselves? How often, when questioned, do we back down and accept someone else’s truth as our own? How often do we close our hearts and, in the process, blindfold ourselves because we’re no longer receiving the whole picture? Carrie’s case is always an extreme one, but it’s in that extremity that we can find the safety to see our own shadows, to see the way we cut ourselves off not only from those around us, but from our inner self.
This image of the Two of Swords from Deviant Moon Tarot can take it even further:
When I see this one, it makes me think of the terrorist eradicator meeting the terrorist maker. As you can see, the two warriors share a lower body and each has an element of light and dark (the leg on each side is the reverse of the upper body). To me this speaks of the classic Jungian idea of integrating one’s shadow. Carrie will have to reckon these two sides of herself and I suspect it won’t be an easy task for her. It’s certainly not for anyone who attempts to do so. This is a battle most of us will have to face to some degree in our lives, should we choose to really look at ourselves and our motivations for acting. Where inside us in the one who makes terror for ourselves or others? How can we bring that element into the light?
It will be interesting to see where this journey takes her, at what point she decides to truly see, and, more importantly, what it all costs her.