Should You Keep Watching ‘Homeland’?
Without the weak distraction that Brody brought to the last two seasons, 'Homeland' has an opportunity to rebuild the show -- and Carrie's character -- to what it once was.
This article deals with specific plot points from last night’s double-episode season return of Homeland. Spoilers ahead.
After Homeland’s impressively deranged third season — a roll call of insane asylums, Venezuelan heroin dens, CIA child-killing, tedious runaway teens, ill-planned Iranian assassinations, and the killing off of a main character — there are a couple ways to feel about the double episode which opened the show’s fourth season last night.
You could feel optimistic. The writers cleared the slate and set Homeland up for a bit of a reboot, centred around Carrie (Claire Danes) kicking arse and taking names in South Asia/the Middle East, while dealing with the strain of being a single parent.
But most likely you feel a little less than positive. The ham-handed way the program treated season three’s plot lines — Nicholas Brody-in-Iran; the tone deaf/nauseating Dana Brody story; ‘bad’ Senator Lockhart taking over Saul’s CIA director role; and, of course, ‘CARRIE’S PREGNANT!’ — while ignoring all semblance of logic and sense probably made you go, ‘Nope. Just nope. Never again’.
Before we answer the question on everyone’s lips — Is this show still worth watching? — let’s catch up on what the hell just happened to kick off season four.
- Brody’s dead: Yep. Marine Sergeant/Congress Representative/wannabe terrorist Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis) was killed at the end of last season. Finally, the show’s most progressively boring character over the past two seasons has been mercifully done away with. And with him goes any mention of his family.
Move along; nothing to see here.
- Carrie’s in Kabul! Wait! Now the USA! No, now Pakistan: She’s now a CIA station chief in charge of drone strikes — which seems not only reckless on behalf of the CIA, but, y’know, a potentially devastatingly dangerous decision on par with thinking that Clive Palmer seems rational.
- Carrie had a kid: That this rebooted season of Homeland isn’t referred to as Homeland: Spy Mom pains me more than anything else. Carrie has had Brody’s kid, but dumped the terrifyingly ginger Brody baby unceremoniously on her sister in the ‘States.
It seems Kabul — just like most of the world — has no place for red-headed kids. (NB: your devastatingly handsome writer is also a red-head.)
- Quinn is still awesome: Homeland’s resident black-ops badass Quinn is still badass. He’s also going through a crisis of faith and questioning just exactly WTF the CIA are doing — while drinking too much, sleeping with his landlord, and kicking the crap out of douchebags in cafes who make cracks about his landlord’s weight.
He’s long been the show’s best non-Carrie character, and the writers are finally realising it.
- Saul’s not with the CIA anymore: Nope, the former CIA chief is working (badly) in the public sector, where he gets to shrug and go back to being a bearded head-kicker and ideological crusader. ‘Evil’ Senator Lockhart (Tracey Letts) is now in charge of the CIA, and all the ‘white bad guys in suits’ clichés.
The premise of the season is solid enough: when the CIA blow up a wedding party that was housing a bad guy, all hell breaks loose and Carrie — obviously — is in the middle of it. The strike’s only survivor, a Pakistani medical student named Aayar (Suraj Shawar), is trying his hardest to not become a political pawn.
Pakistan CIA chief Sandy Bachman (Corey Stoll, House of Cards) is quickly killed off; he appears to have been doing something nefarious in return for intelligence on terrorist targets. Now Bachman’s source has seemingly turned against the CIA, and Carrie has to figure out what’s going on.
Cue a lot of bug-eyed Carrie moments, and a lot of her acting so irrationally and loathsomely that it becomes exceptionally hard to empathise with her. Y’know, just like almost everything across Homeland’s past two seasons. And now she’s shipping off to Islamabad.
So: Should You Keep Watching?
At its heart, Homeland works as a multi-level examination of the way the west responds to its (self-created) moral problems, in the Middle East and at home. The threat of terror strikes informed the show’s paranoid-vs-pragmatic worldview, while subtly looking at the motivations behind potential attacks. The moral questions behind the USA’s War on Terror/Middle East policy — and drone strike killings — is portrayed with realistic murkiness, demonstrated when Carrie casually says of their target, “We trained him, didn’t we?”
Beyond the over-generalised portrayals of anyone with dark skin (something they’re clearly trying to change with Aayar), the trouble for Homeland began when they hitched their bandwagon to an ill-conceived ‘star-crossed lovers’ storyline between Brody and Carrie — and now we’re dealing with the consequences.
It effectively neutered Carrie’s character, and it seemed as though the writers simply didn’t know how to keep writing a strong female. Oh, um, maybe she LOVES him, and that’s, um, like a source of tension and conflict? OH OH OH — and she gets PREGNANT!’
Don Draper and Tony Soprano were never pushed into the shadows in favour of a love story; any time they got involved with anything to do with ‘love’, it informed their character; it didn’t subsume them, or become their reason. That’s what Carrie has felt like for the past two seasons: a shell that only acts in order to help the spectre of Brody. And now, without the distraction he brought to the last two seasons, Homeland has an opportunity to build Carrie’s character back to where it was before the writers lost their nerve and hijacked her into a love story.
Unfortunately, the writers have chosen to leave the result of the affair — her Brody baby — in the United States. Which is a shame. Baby Fran led Carrie to opening up for what felt like the first time ever, as they sat in her car in front of Brody’s former home. This — plus the complicated conflict of a mother, as she tries to ignore her parental responsibility — finally gives a hint of humanity to a character that dearly needs the writers to give her more to work with.
Can Homeland fix Carrie?
Carrie is best when on edge, skirting the CIA’s rules and telling people she’s right while delivering some of TV’s finest eyeballing. As she proved while hunting down a former Pakistani intelligence staffer at the CIA’s Langley headquarters, she’s an intuitive intelligence-gathering arse-kicker, and her battle with mental illness — the moment in the season opener where she contemplated drowning her poor baby made for terrifying viewing — adds a compelling dimension to her, amid bouts of clean-skin-chardonnay-and-tequila-quaffing and random-redhead-bottleshop-guy-sexing.
She has the potential to be one of TV’s classic characters, but Homeland keeps screwing it up. And by relegating her Brody baby to the status of an absent afterthought, rather than a catalyst for growth and the exploration of life as a professional single (white) mum in Pakistan, it seems to be happening again.
Even if Carrie would be a terrible co-worker/boss, she doesn’t have to be likeable; simply realistic. She’s an intensely intelligent character, and the writers just need to use that. If they manage to — and steer clear of any ‘coming to terms with her loss’ storylines — maybe we’ll get the Carrie we deserve.
In last night’s double episode, Quinn told Carrie “It’s not all about you”. But here’s hoping the rest of season four actually is.
Homeland airs on Monday nights at 9.30pm, fast-tracked to Channel TEN.
Jaymz is a New York-based writer. He tweets from @jaymzclements.