Season Review: Homeland

As faithful readers are no doubt aware, my Homeland reviews tailed off after the early going. The simple truth is it’s more fun to write reviews of shows you like than those you don’t. This is part that better shows have enough depth to explore in writing, and part sheer enjoyment of writing about something you like. I feel I owe it to myself (and to my readers) though to write about what in some ways felt like a series finale rather than a season finale.

This was not a good season of television. Most people agree with me on the first half, which focused far too much on Dana Brody for everyone’s liking, but I’ve heard rumblings that they kinda redeemed themselves in the second half once the action started to ramp up. I do not count myself in this camp. As Andy Greenwald astutely pointed out on his podcast a couple weeks ago, there’s nothing wrong with implausibility in television because TV is fiction, but there is a problem when the show forces you to acknowledge the implausibility. This season did just that. Homeland was a novel concept in the first season and it carried the air of realness. As in, this could happen. This feels real. When every detail is explained, then you can go along with the fiction without a second thought. Breaking Bad was probably the best at this–Vince Gilligan was sickened by the thought of loose ends and unexplained events. Homeland’s decision to not have Brody blow himself up was ultimately the show’s downfall, as the writers were handcuffed to keeping his story going and it spiraled out of control. They could no longer explain the fiction.

What saddens me, is that I fear the writers cared more about servicing the characters than what the story required. I asked in my earlier reviews what this show was about. It is now obvious that the answer was the tumultuous relationship between Carrie Mathieson and Nicholas Brody. Unfortunately for Showtime, that’s not the show I want to watch, which is why I won’t be returning for the 4th season. I would also argue the show was never marketed this way, and the writers lost sight of what the show should have been about.

The biggest fundamental flaw this season was that there was no real villain. Abu Nazir was gone, but rather than identify a new threat to American national security, Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon allowed the story to drift aimlessly in the aftermath of the Langley bombing. They will argue this was a glimpse into another aspect of how the intelligence game works. Namely, recruiting and deploying assets. This is fine, but only if it’s in service of a larger realistic goal. Even if America did control the top man in Iran, would he really be able to do that much without any popular support? Furthermore, based on the epilogue it seems like they see season 4 as a chance to reboot the show with Carrie in Turkey and a whole new cast of characters (Gansa says as much in an interview with Alan Sepinwall: “season 4…feels like an interesting place to reset and reboot the show”). So that’s it? Peace in the Middle East was solved by this one play with Javadi? It’s so simplistic it’s offensive.

There seem to be so many half-baked storylines, loose ends, unexplained details, and other problems this season that as a result I felt no connection to anything. Let’s run down the list of problematic stories and plot holes:

The Brody family

Given how the season ended, it makes absolutely no sense what they were doing with Dana, Jess, and Chris. I don’t know how much they respond to audience pressures during the season, but is it possible they heard all the backlash and simply wrote them out of the season’s second half? Why on earth introduce Dana’s crazy love interest as Chekov’s ticking time bomb (in the form of mental instability) if that bomb never goes off? That’s screenwriting 101. Additionally, if we assume they had this story as written and didn’t respond to pressure (and Gansa says in that Sepinwall interview that he was blissfully ignorant of criticism), then I think it was a poor decision to use them at all. Showing Dana deal with the aftermath of a suicide attempt, eventual emancipation, and finally working as a cleaning lady is not a fitting conclusion for her character. It would have been much better to never show them at all–leaving the audience to speculate as to what happened.

Gansa commented in regards to the Brodys reacting to Nick’s death, “I think our audience is smart and sophisticated enough to know what his family’s reaction is going to be.” You can’t have it both ways though. They can’t be smart enough to know how the family would respond to Brody’s death, but not smart enough to figure out how they would handle learning he was the Langley bomber. My theory? I bet they DID hear all the criticism and wrote them out of the show. Initially perhaps they planned on turning Dana into a lead character, someone who overcame her father’s tarnished legacy and family name and eventually went to work at the CIA or something. But after they saw all the hatred they scrapped the whole idea. This leads me to what they could’ve done with all that extra time they wasted on those stupid scenes:

What the hell happened to Brody after he fled the country?

We pick up with Brody a couple episodes after the season begins in Caracas, shot somehow, and led to the Tower of David. If Brody is one of the two main characters in this show, why was his entire journey clouded in mystery? Post-Langley bombing he would be one of the most famous faces on the planet, and yet he somehow made it from Canada to South America. I would’ve liked to see how that happened, and it also could’ve been interesting to see Saul’s side-quest of tracking him down.

Why doesn’t the fucking acting CIA director have any type of surveillance on his own house?

This whole shit sandwich involves a few layers. First of all, you have the ridiculously coincidental fact that the man Saul’s wife fell in love with in India months ago happens to be the Israeli agent who is gonna spy on Saul for Senator Lockhart. Are you kidding me? Not to mention how Lockhart even comes upon getting Israel to agree to let this guy spy on the acting CIA director. Secondly, a professional spy, and not just any professional spy but one who happens to lead the government agency that deals with professional spies, has not only no security system in his house, but also doesn’t have any personal security at all. I would think Saul would be a little more careful than that, but what the hell do I know. A quick Google search reveals David Petraeus had bodyguards when he served as director, so there, done.

These last couple observations are all symptoms of bad writing. The people in that room clearly don’t have answers to these questions, so they decided to skip over them and hope no one would notice. Let’s go on to some more:

How is Javadi not compromised as being an American pawn?

OK, so I’ll give you that he comes back to Iran and no one suspects anything, but then it seems like there are WAYYYY too many people in on the game. First you have Javadi arranging secret meetings with Carrie multiple times. What do these guards think is going on? Then when Carrie and Brody are captured at the safehouse, she demands to speak with Javadi. What the fuck? Doesn’t that sound really suspect to these Iranian militia? Furthermore, in the epilogue Saul’s wife credits Saul with being behind these renewed peace talks with Iran. How many fucking people know about this? Doesn’t it strike you that after a while this is going to leak? Someone is gonna tell someone else and then bam, Javadi executed. And while we’re at it, for a guy who seemed convinced he would be discovered and murdered when Saul first approached him about doing this, Javadi has been fairly open about his meetings and seemingly very accessible whenever Saul wants to reach him.

Why doesn’t Akbari keep any guards in the room with him during his meeting with Brody?

This is a guy who the show claims is so private that getting face to face with him is all but impossible. Abu Nazir’s widow herself* needs to vet Brody before he can even SEE Akbari. And yet, he doesn’t keep one guard in the room with him at all times? If we assume Javadi’s men who bring Carrie to these meetings are loyal to him, then doesn’t Akbari have similarly loyal men? It’s simply ridiculous how easy it was to get such a private and well-guarded man (hell there’s a fucking red rope secured by two armed guards you gotta get through).

*Speaking of which, doesn’t an actual public figure seem a little too close to a terrorist here? It’s not like Osama Bin Laden was out cavorting with Pakastani leaders, and yet this guy seems to have been buddies with Abu Nazir. Just one more thing to think about.

Why does Carrie watch Brody die?

There is an obvious writers’ reason for this, which is that in order for the audience to see Brody die and Carrie’s reaction she has to be there. However, it was just another instance of her disobeying someone. I don’t have anything else to add, but could she just listen to someone for a fucking change? Speaking of which…

On what planet would Senator Lockhart let Carrie remain at the CIA?

The previous observation is part of another trend in his show: Carrie’s insubordination. Lockhart has witnessed it firsthand, and while even though she was right to trust Brody with the mission, there are far too many data points of her going against orders. She doesn’t go back to American when Saul demands it, at one point she gets SHOT to prevent her from ruining a mission. She demands to speak with Javadi when they are captured, which could compromise his position as an asset. She has a diagnosed serious mental disorder that has in the past led to erratic behavior including HAVING SEX WITH A TERRORIST SHE FELL IN LOVE WITH! Now in the end Brody didn’t detonate the bomb, but he got in the position to do so in part thanks to securing her trust. If Lockhart is taking over with the philosophy of cleaning house, then I don’t see why he would want to keep Carrie let alone make her a station chief. Furthermore, with Saul’s ouster she could very believably be Saul’s mole at the CIA. Nope, no way, I just don’t believe it.

In the epilogue, what do people think of Brody?

Assuming the general world knows that Brody assassinated a key Iranian leader, couldn’t the CIA then reveal that he took credit for the Langley bombing in hopes of securing asylum in Iran and completing this mission? Even though we fast forward 4 months for the coda, couldn’t this have at least been addressed? Instead, all we get is Lockhart denying Brody a star despite his heroics. It would’ve been nice to get something on his public perception. What is the explanation for how/why the purported Langley bomber shows up in Iran to seek asylum, but then murders the top official?

Javadi’s speech to Carrie

The last thing I want to address is the monologue Javadi has while Carrie is pleading with him to keep Brody alive. This was one of the most insulting-to-the-audience pieces of writing I’ve witnessed on a show of this alleged caliber. Why did Alex Gansa and Meredith Stiehm (the writers of this episode) think that any of this needed to be told to us explicitly? Javadi says to Carrie (but really, to us) that she did everything not for America, but for Brody. Now everyone sees Brody through Carrie’s eyes–even Javadi! It’s essentially an explanation by the writers of all of Carrie’s actions, but it’s wrong. Are we supposed to think, oh it’s OK that she tried numerous times to thwart the interests of national security, because she’s IN LOVE! How wonderful! Furthermore, why does Javadi even care? I don’t believe for a second he’s actually been thinking day and night about why Carrie would subject herself to what she went through. Nothing up to this point has made him sympathetic, or even have any feelings at all, and yet now he’s the voice of reason? Actually, now that I think about it, anyone compared to Carrie can be a voice of reason. But I don’t think Javadi, and by extension the writers, is right. Sure, there are now some people who believe Brody has redeemed himself (like Saul), but not the  world at large. Gansa says in the Sepinwall interview that the CIA could never reveal Brody was working for them (I’m not sure I buy the explanation but whatever), so why can everyone see Brody through her eyes now? The answer is that the AUDIENCE finally has no doubt about where Brody’s loyalties lies, on a show where they’ve kept a morsel of doubt right until the very end. Even when he reveals to Akbari that he is a CIA agent, right before he kills him, we aren’t sure what he’s going to do. But now, having been executed, we know. I am plainly insulted that a character had to say this out loud, as if we are too dumb to know it by now.

That was a lot to get off my chest. I hope everyone can use this as a primer for the anti-Homeland side of the debate at holiday parties around the country. I’m signing off.

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3 Responses to Season Review: Homeland

  1. davecrewe says:

    I didn’t like this season on the whole but I didn’t mind the last few episodes, and enjoyed the finale a lot. I think once it got to a core of emotional truth I could forgive all the implausibility, but I’ll definitely agree that the intricacies of the plot wouldn’t stand up in a stiff breeze.

    • kyra says:

      Let me make one final comment on how poor I felt the finale was handled then. If the story was really one of Carrie’s love for Brody, how can she even stomach working for the agency that led him to his death? For that matter, why is she so seemingly OK with his death 4 months later? Doesn’t the fast forward in time coupled with her wanting to give up her child devalue the loving relationship they had?

      And sure, you can respond that ‘Brody would want her to move on,’ and I get that. But this is a story created by the writers that clearly meant to underscore how much they loved each other. To end their saga with Carrie drawing a star in marker after putting up a very meager by her standards fight seems cheap.

      • davecrewe says:

        Oh, I don’t necessarily buy the Carrie/Brody love story. What I liked about the finale was the way that it explicated the way that Brody was chewed up and spat about by an unfeeling system, with each side using him as a pawn, and each manipulation leaving him more ragged and less an actual person – to the point that he was almost relieved facing his death. I pretty much checked out of the Carrie/Brody thing around the end of season 2, but Damian Lewis sold me on Brody as an individual.

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