Homeland Analysis: Carrie Does Not Play Well with Others

You can read my latest episode recap over on Happy Nice Time People, the website whose name we all have trouble getting right. This post is my postmortem on From A to B and Back Again.

I’ve seen at least one recapper refer to Carrie’s yelling in the Ops Room as a “breakdown”. Frankly, I find that offensive. I’m not sure I find that offensive as a woman who sometimes raises her voice, as a former mental health worker, or as a person with an occasional mental illness. (Like a gazillion people in the world, I have been clinically depressed).

Carrie may be a bipolar narcissist, but she did not have a “breakdown” in last week’s episode. Let’s give her the diagnosis she deserves.

To clarify, I am not qualified to be your therapist. However, I did used to be qualified to be your therapist in at least one state, and I do have a degree. Previous positions included crisis clinician in an emergency room, as well as being a “mental health professional” who could send people to the state hospital for a “72 hour hold and emergency exam” so I know a thing or two about “breakdowns.”

Yelling does not constitute a “breakdown,” nor is throwing a bunch of shit off of a desk.

Carrie’s sister said earlier in the season, “There’s no diagnosis for what you’ve got.”

That’s not true. According to the DSM, there is a diagnosis for everything. The DSM is the little book your mental health professionals use to bill your health insurance. Without the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual) your shrink would be giving you advice with a serving of fries.

We know that Carrie is bipolar. That is what is known as an Axis I condition. There’s a spectrum. Social anxiety is an Axis I condition, so is bipolar disorder, depression and schizophrenia. These are things you have, and they may be very serious, but they aren’t the crux of who you are. For a lot of these disorders if you found the right meds and/or had the right kind of therapy you could be ok for at least some of the time. Axis II disorders include personality disorders like narcissism, borderline personality disorder, and anti-social personality disorder (what many refer to as sociopathy). It is not uncommon for a person to have both an Axis I disorder like bipolar AND an Axis II disorder. Some Axis II conditions have similar “flavors.” Sometimes even experts will debate which flavor predominates. Is the person a narcissist or more of a borderline? Is the borderline really an out and out sociopath? If a person is too much of a mix, or not enough of anything, there’s even a “Personality Disorder Not Otherwise Specified” to cover the situation.

Axis II disorders are generally hard to treat. These are styles of how you deal with and see the world, but they are also ingrained, possibly even inborn.  “Treatment” requires you to gain insight into how you behave, to wish to change that behavior, and to actually work on changing. Carrie may have her bipolar symptoms under control, but she’s still a narcissist who believes she has special insight and a special destiny.

To some extent this is reality based – she is the station chief in Pakistan. That’s pretty special. She does often have uncanny insights and an ability to see the picture before others do.

But because of her narcissism she doesn’t see people as people, but as objects on a chessboard in a game she desperately wants to win. She doesn’t recognize the contributions of others, including her team. When Fara reminds her that she was the one, NOT Carrie, who found out that Haquanni was still alive, it barely registers. For all her “feelings,” her lack of empathy is shocking. We saw it in the first episode of the season when her main reaction to ordering the attack on the wedding party was that she was “bulletproof.” Quinn – a former assassin – was appalled. Is she a sociopath? Probably not. There’s an emotional flatness to sociopaths and she’s not flat — although since Brody’s death she may be blunted.She believes some other “special” people like Saul and Brody “get” her. That’s a very narcissistic trait.  She has a wide emotional range although her ability to tolerate ambivalence is limited. You’re either with her or against her. She doesn’t take criticism well.

Yelling an order isn’t a breakdown, but it isn’t a great management style. Let’s say in a colloquial way she was a wee bit out of control. What caused her reaction? Did seeing Aayan get shot snap her out of an emotional fog? Did she suddenly feel bad about what she did?

Nope. It’s more complicated.

Carrie had no qualms about sending Aayan to his death. She rationalized that his giving his uncle meds made him less than innocent and therefore, he could be sacrificed. Given her own relationship with Brody, this was hypocritical at best, but that’s Carrie. She believed that if Aayan could lead her team to his uncle then his death would not be in vain. His willingness to be part of her plan was irrelevant to her. She is after all, the Drone Queen, and she must protect the kingdom even if that mean collateral damage.

Remember, she was honest with Aayan about one thing — she did send Brody on the mission that killed him. Watching Brody die, was traumatic for her. But here’s the pathology at work: She needed to repeat the trauma. She needed to send Aayan to die, to watch it happen. Why? Because since Brody’s death she’s barely been able to feel anything. She wanted to see Aayan die because it would have made her feel something and unlike the situation with Brody, she would have been the one in control. She needed to repeat the ritual.

It’s complicated and it’s ugly. This is why serial killers often ritualize some past trauma. This is why teenagers sometimes cut themselves. This is why we all tend to make the same mistakes knowingly and as Dexter Morgan would put it “again and again.”

But the ritual didn’t go as Carrie planned. Watching Haquanni kill Aayan and then not taking the shot, meant that she sent Aayan to his death – for nothing. That was what ate at her.

As for Saul’s presence, here is where Carrie was NOT reacting either irrationally or narcissistically. Taking the shot if it meant killing the former director, her mentor and friend, would probably have ended her career and it certainly would have been a decision that would have haunted her for the rest of her life. However, it’s clearly what Saul would have wanted. The alternative is that  he continues to be beaten and tortured. The chance of rescue is tiny. The odds of youtube showing him being executed are high. She could have ended that possibility and taken out Haquanni and his henchmen. It was the right choice.

Here’s something to consider: Maybe if the team had been on her side, if she didn’t act as a lone wolf and discount the contributions of others, if Quinn had more faith in her decisions and backed her up, then when she yelled “Take the damn shot,” they would have listened.

(Marion writes Homeland recaps at HNTP and a lot more on this blog. She also writes fiction. There’s no donate button on this site, but if you click one of the items above in my picks, Amazon may send her some pocket change.)