Carrie’s Manic Episode: Homeland (2011)

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In Homeland “The Vest”, Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin) learns that Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) is bipolar. When on her medication, Carrie has a track record of forming accurate judgments in her work as a CIA agent. However, when she stops taking her medication, and has a manic episode, everyone believes that she is delusional. A central theme in “The Vest” is that people who experience mania can still have an accurate perception of reality.

During the manic phase of bipolar disorder, there are specific mood and behavioral changes. These include “extreme irritability”, “an overly happy or outgoing mood”, “an overly long period of feeling high”, “being overly restless”, “increasing activities”, “sleeping little or not being tired”, “talking very fast”, “jumping from one idea to another”, “having an unrealistic belief in your abilities”, “having racing thoughts”, “being unusually distracted”, and “behaving impulsively.”1

Carrie displays all of the mood and behavioral changes associated with mania. At the hospital, she is extremely agitated. When Saul visits her, she is enraged that the nurses do not have a green pen. At other times, her mood becomes euphoric—in one shot, smiling gleefully for no apparent reason. Carrie also has increased physical and mental energy. In her hospital room, she cannot sit still, and after her release, she sorts and studies boxes of classified documents until late in the evening.

Another symptom of Carrie’s mania is that she speaks at a very fast pace. When Saul first sees her, he is visibly stunned as he witnesses her changed personality. He tells her, “You’re not yourself. You’re talking very fast. Your thoughts are running together.” Carrie’s thoughts are moving faster than her ability to speak.

With racing thoughts, Carrie has unique revelations that no one else has. She tells Saul, “There is a bigger, pernicious, Abu Nazir-worthy plot out there and we have little time.” Saul doubts what Carrie says, but she is convinced beyond any doubt. Her father, Frank (James Rebhorn), who also suffers from mania, reminds her, “Lots of gut feelings, things I have to do—there’s good gut, and there’s bad gut. And if I wait a while, I realize it.” Although Carrie is aware of her mania, she is certain that her gut feelings are true.

To Saul and her family, Carrie has lost her judgment, her ability to discern between what is true and false. Her sister Maggie (Amy Hargreaves) tells her, “You’ll need to trust my judgment now,” but Carrie does not listen. As she stares at the plants sprouting from the soil in a community garden, she has a revelation that this is analogous to the coming terrorist attack. To Maggie, Carrie is living in a world of her own, seemingly divorced from reality.

The final outcome of Carrie’s manic episode is ironic: The person experiencing mania has more insight and understanding that those who are in a normal state of mind. This is the one aspect in which Carrie’s portrayal of bipolar disorder is atypical. Unfortunately, when a person is manic, they are absolutely certain that their revelations are right, but in reality, they are often wrong.

Notes

  1. “Bipolar Disorder in Adults,” accessed March 18, 2015, National Institute of Mental Health, http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/bipolar-disorder-in-adults/index.shtml
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