In Homeland “The Vest”, Carrie (Claire Danes), who is bipolar, has a manic episode. When on her medication, Carrie has a track record of forming accurate judgments in her work as a C.I.A. agent. However, when she goes off her medication, and becomes manic, no one believes what she says. An unexpected theme in “The Vest” is that people who experience mania can still have an accurate perception of reality.
A manic episode is an “abnormally and persistently elevated, expansive, or irritable mood and persistently increased goal-directed activity or energy, lasting at least one week…”1 When Saul (Mandy Patinkin) visits Carrie at the hospital, he is visibly stunned by her changed personality. Carrie is irate that the nurses do not have a green pen. Later, her mood is euphoric—in one shot, she smiles gleefully for no apparent reason.
In addition to an abnormal change in mood, there are seven major symptoms that can manifest during a manic episode. These include “pressure to keep talking”, “flight of ideas or subjective experience that thoughts are racing”, “decreased need for sleep”, “increase in goal-directed activity”, “distractibility”, “inflated self-esteem or grandiosity”, and “excessive involvement in activities that have a high potential for painful consequenes.”2 In “The Vest”, Carrie displays six of the major symptoms of mania.
The first symptom of Carrie’s mania is she talks at a very fast pace. When Saul visits her at the hospital, 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 a “flight of ideas” and a unique revelation. She tells Saul “there is a bigger, pernicious, Abu Nazir-worthy plot…” Saul doubts what Carrie says, but she is convinced that another terrorist attack is imminent even though she has no evidence.
After her release from the hospital, Carrie has a “decreased need for sleep” and an “increase in goal-directed activity.” She studies and color-codes boxes of classified documents until late in the evening, and only gets tired when she is given medication.
Although Carrie has a singular focus on stopping another terrorist attack, she is easily distracted. When her sister Maggie (Amy Hargreaves) stops in traffic, Carrie impulsively gets out of the vehicle, crosses the street, and is nearly hit by a car. As she stares at the plants sprouting from the soil, she has a revelation that this is analogous to a coming terrorist attack. To Maggie, Carrie is living in a world of her own, seemingly divorced from reality.
The sixth major symptom of mania is grandiosity: an “unrealistic and exaggerated concept of self-worth, importance … and ability.”3 Carrie believes that she is right, and that everyone else is wrong. Her father, Frank (James Rebhorn), tells her: “Feels good out there, doesn’t it? Like you’re the Queen of the world.” To Frank, Carrie’s behavior is grandiose. She has overestimated her abilities as a C.I.A. agent.
The final outcome of Carrie’s manic episode is ironic: The person experiencing mania has more insight and understanding than people who are in a normal state of mind. Later in the series, there is a terrorist attack, just as Carrie predicted. This is the one aspect in which Carrie’s manic episode is atypical. When a person becomes manic, they are absolutely convinced that their revelations are right, but in reality, they are often wrong.
- American Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM-5 (Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing, 2013), 124.
- Medical Dictionary, s.v. “grandiosity,” accessed November 9, 2017, https://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/grandiosity