On Carrie’s calling
Claire’s comments in THR, published Thursday, about what drives and motivates Carrie, got me thinking about a really interesting and key shift in her journey that I’d not thought about before. As a foundation, here’s what she said:
Her driving force really is her patriotism, her devotion to her country. That’s tested in a lot of different ways, and she keeps returning to it. She wonders if she’s qualified to continue doing her work as somebody with her condition, and then we discover this season that maybe that’s not as much of an obstacle as her role as a mother. She has to really come to terms with that reality, which is obviously a very painful one. Her calling is real and powerful, and it’s something that she’s had to honor no matter what the cost, basically. There has been a lot of cost, [but] I think she’s not so afraid of her condition anymore. I think she used to believe that disqualified her from a human connection, but she is extraordinary. If she is careful about focusing her gifts, she can be very constructive, and if she’s not, she can be the opposite of that. There’s always that tension.
This got me thinking about the unique way in which both Carrie’s mental illness and her role as a mother were addressed this season, as well as how they both challenged Carrie and her devotion to “the mission.”
When Carrie tells Brody, mere hours before his eventual death, that she believes she was put on this earth for their paths to cross, we understand for a brief yet monumental moment how she perceives her own purpose. Maybe it was originally about patriotism (“I missed something once before. I wont–I can’t–let that happen again”). In that moment, she seems to have convinced herself that it was all, ridiculously, left up to fate. If not for Iraq, if not for that prison cell, if not for… And on and on.
Since Brody’s death, and the potential dismantling of that understanding of what all this meant, much of Carrie’s journey–both personal and professional–has been about her arduous, at times frustrating, road to understanding her identity, her place, and her home. In other words: who is she, and where does she belong? This journey has mostly revolved around the quartet of mother, calling, illness, and connection. If Carrie could “have it all,” she would be a loving and caring mother, kick ass at work, maintain her mental and personal well-being, and share intimacy and love with someone who reciprocated.
In season four, while she quells her new role of mother, she commits fully–and scarily–to the calling, becoming The Drone Queen. At the end of the season, she has an epiphany (after speaking to her own mother) that her illness doesn’t default her into a lonely, loveless existence.
In seasons five and six, she devotes herself to motherhood (and connection in various degrees) while trying to suppress the calling. She experiments with the direct relationship between the calling and her illness–i.e., the “super power.”
It’s not until season seven that all these things converge and then combust. We talked at length this year about the ways in which the show was or was not making a statement about women having to “choose” between motherhood and careers, home and work. We asked, with exasperation, why couldn’t Carrie have all of it? And, indeed, she wondered the same things. She thinks, late in the season and with false clarity, that she is capable of it. (The intersection of Carrie’s illness, her devotion to the calling, and her own failures as a mother in “Clarity” make it one of the most important episodes ever of the series. In hindsight, it offers the best indicator of both the writers’ and Carrie’s understanding of her purpose and identity.)
As time has passed, I’ve believed more and more strongly that the show actually wasn’t making a blanket statement about all women but rather a statement about the extraordinary circumstances of one woman: Carrie Mathison. Namely, that the supreme risk and self abnegation involved in what she does (in all she does) is what, as her sister says, she was “born to do.” And something that she’s been pulled to since childhood.
(Indeed, I think the writers tipped their hand by showing all the ways in which Maggie–raised in the same house as Carrie–does have it all. “It” being: a loving husband, beautiful family, and successful career.)
Nevertheless, it’s difficult to take comfort in her heroism and daring when we see the great human toll it takes on her and those in her orbit. We are meant to ask–constantly–at what point the ends are not justified by the means. Was Carrie’s tenuous sanity worth losing if it meant saving American democracy? What about Franny’s well-being? Could there have been another way? If there was, would it have led to the same outcome? The show has always been about the very real, very human stakes of the work Carrie does (and, to a lesser extent, war overall).
The show has also always been about the choice (they even named an episode after it!), which Carrie must continue to make, time and again, between her “calling” and between “human connection,” as Claire terms it. They were the first points in the quartet that were emphasized, most notably in season one with Carrie’s not-really-a-question “I’m gonna be alone my whole life, aren’t I?” The show explores the ways in which they might be mutually exclusive (and not just for Carrie, but for Saul and Quinn, too).
Which brings me back to “I believe I was put on this earth for our paths to cross.” In this single line of dialogue, Carrie doesn’t choose between one or the other. She ties them up together so that they are intertwined. The calling is the human connection. (Additionally, she’s pregnant with his child and earlier that season exploits her mental illness to get back to him. To her, they are all inextricably linked.)
She says she sounds crazy. As the audience, we wholeheartedly agree. But Brody doesn’t. He says it’s not crazy. It’s the only sane thing left to hold onto.
When Brody died, and in her grief, she did let go. How could it have been her sole purpose given the way it ended? Watch as she recoils from her daughter, later from Saul, then from Quinn.
There was a line drawn after Brody died. On one side of it, a Carrie who understood who she was. We can scoff and roll our eyes and say she was deluded and out of her mind and HELLO HE WAS A TERRORIST. We may be right about all of those things. This may not be the final destination.
On the other side of that line, however, is a Carrie who has flailed, who is lost, who struggles, who has tried various permutations of motherhood, calling, mental stability, and human connection–though never all at once–at the cost of a number of human lives. The possibility that they might all be tied together in some fantastical, fateful amalgam seems but a fleeting memory.
It’s also a Carrie who has been indoctrinated into a different kind of a calling, the kind Quinn articulated clearly in his letter. The kind of purpose that drives out all else–your family, your health, your connection–the way darkness drives out light.
I have nothing to add right now but I want this to save and read again, because I thought so many times about all these questions. Thanks for writing such a thoughtful and thought-provoking post!