Homeland (Spoilers)

by Jonah Goldberg

I will try to talk around the major spoilers in deference to the era of the DVR. Still, if you haven’t watched the finale, you should skip this.

First the good news, this season is over. The even better news: there is no plausible reason to ever see Brody’s daughter again. Or, for that matter Brody. 

Let me back up. This season started awful, had a promising surge near the end, then ended badly. Homeland seems to have been cursed with the same problem that befalls many shows: The (perceived) need to keep characters around beyond their usable shelf-life. They should have killed Brody at the end of season one. Or at least early in season two. Instead, they opted to make the show a kind of love story between Carrie and Brody. That’s fine. But in order to keep the love alive, they had to kill the plausibility, again and again. Also, thanks to a good p.r. machine and fans in all the wrong places, the show’s producers seem to have convinced themselves that everyone just loved Brody’s daughter, Dana. To be sure, she was well-played by Morgan Saylor. But the trend of using self-absorbed teenage girls to offer a window into the soul of America, foreign policy, bourgeois morality, whatever just isn’t clever, compelling or entertaining. One episode this season was like a mash-up of Freaks and Geeks and Last American Virgin without the redeeming humor. 

But there are other problems with the show. To be honest, I’m torn about Carrie (Clair Danes). She’s one of the more fully realized and interesting female characters we’ve seen in a while. She was a really fantastic character in season 1. But by season 3, I grew tired of how she was constantly either crying or preparing to cry. And when she wasn’t heading into a cry, she was sniffling like she just finished crying. She’s sniffling so much, half the time she’s on camera it’s like she’s a coke addict with a sinus condition. It’s almost like there’s a lachrymosity clause in her contract. Indeed, if you start to type Claire Danes into Google, it will autofill “Claire Danes Cry Face” pretty quickly. One result:

 

 

At the end of the finale, Carrie seems to telegraph that she’s going to get back to her old self, if only she can get rid of that troublesome baby. We’ll see how that plays out. But my guess is that she will keep the baby if only because it will add a host of fresh excuses to cry a lot. 

You could tell the writers had gotten themselves into a box when, in the finale, they realized — or at least believed — they needed to explain Carrie’s inner state and character arc to the audience. The only problem? They were stuck in the Tehran. So what did they do? They gave this bizarre psychoanalytic monologue to the murderous Iranian intelligence operative Javadi. “I’ve been thinking about you Carrie . . .” he says tenderly.  Really? Were you thinking about her when you smashed a glass and gouged out the throat of your wife three episodes back? It was a really weird moment.

But not as weird as the fast forward to four months later. Maybe it’s me but there was a huge emotional discontinuity between the events in Iran and the scene four months later. Everyone is buddy-buddy again. I understand that this had to be deliberate, given how jarring it was. But it wasn’t clear to me what point they were trying to make beyond, life goes on and “there will be a season four”. Also, and this is a small thing, when Saul says of the new CIA director “he knows how to give a good speech” it would have been good if the director had given any indication he had just given a good speech. “They are heroes” is a nice thing to say, but it’s hardly shorthand for brilliant speech writing either. 

I suppose I should say something about the politics of the show. Let’s start with the events of the finale.  The big news at the end of the season is that, thanks to the CIA, the Iranians have agreed to admit inspectors in exchange for the West dropping sanctions. I can’t help but think this was a very late write-in, but maybe not. Either way, it’s pretty lame. The goal of American foreign policy with Iran isn’t to get the Iranians to admit inspectors, it’s to get the Iranians to give up their nuke or, even better, change their regime. As we can see in the headlines right now, admitting inspectors is nice as a means to an end, but it’s not a triumph in and of itself.  

Now, more broadly. I gather that the left is increasingly vexed about the fact that Homeland has gone from being an indictment of the war on terror and the national security establishment to what some take to be a recruiting video for it. That’s a selling point for me, to be sure. But I think that’s overblown. The show was always very pro-CIA and anti-politician. That hasn’t changed. What’s changed is the political climate outside the fictional confines of the show. Homeland started on Obama’s watch, but it was clearly aimed at the Bush years and the left thought Obama would be more of a break with Bush. That hasn’t happened (at least not enough for the left’s liking), and that creates a little cognitive dissonance for Obama fans, both current and former.  If anything I think that helps the show. Still, politics don’t trump dramatic quality (See the last couple seasons of Battlestar Galactica). I liked the show better when the politics were more recognizably leftwing and the artistry was better.