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Can Homeland’s Season 4 Bring the Show Back to Its Roots?

Homeland is one of my guilty pleasures. I came to it from a newspaper review and forum write-up, but after a stellar first season, the show really lost its way and started to think of itself as a Romeo-and-Juliet-style love story. I’ve always kept up. The show is competent, even when it’s about a CIA agent who’s fallen for her would-be-terrorist asset. But while the writers made some interesting choices in that side of the plot, it definitely held things back, because that isn’t the show’s “heart.” Homeland is above all about examining America’s response to terrorism, or what we choose to call terrorism. Conceptually, it’s always had a lot of meat to it, but follow-up seasons decided to focus on Washington intrigue and a character that was probably done after the one season. Season 4 is stepping the heck up. A return to form, a slow-burning character-driven story that once again concerns itself with the methods and consequences of America’s attempts to “defend” itself.

My name is Nicholas Brody. And I’m a sergeant of the United States Marine Corps. Don’t read past me if you don’t want SPOILERS. Homeland-112-Marine-One

Season One and the show as a whole are vaguely Islamophobic pro-US fantasy. The notion of a turned American soldier being placed by terrorists to suicide bomb the most powerful people in the country, with contacts and support within the country that equip him and back him up with sniper fire and all is awfully far-fetched. Homeland takes itself pretty seriously, which means it presents this sort of terrorist activity as a legitimate concern instead of neocon masturbation material. Even as it criticizes America’s foreign policy, it’s working from a place where these are legitimate threats that have to be dealt with somehow. Season 3, for example, makes a bogeyman out of the drone-loving political appointee to CIA director, but holds up Saul Berenson as the good (or at least, necessary) example—a man who uses and manipulates everyone he meets, orders assassinations, and places a psychopath into power in Iran to orchestrate gains for the “greater good.”

Surprise, Homeland's creators wrote for 24

Surprise, Homeland’s creators wrote for 24

But it does criticize, and as a show, it went far to humanize Brody and depict his relatable, understandable intentions. The “bad guys” in the series have opposing interests, but always find common ground somehow with the American characters and the viewer. Brody is spurred to action through a mixture of brainwashing and genuine rage at the dysfunctional, lead shower methods America uses. Abu Nazir, like many terrorists, is motivated by western supremacy and abuses. While other shows have the obligatory condemnation of drones or Guantanamo, they’re usually contained within a one-line joke. Homeland’s politics, which certainly contain plenty to object to, are the subject of the series, and the issues get much more of their due.

Onto Season 4.

"Where'd you find him?" "Some medical school in Islamabad. He's a student there. And he's not a foaming-at-the-mouth jihadist, either; he's reasonable, can you believe it?"

“Where’d you find him?”
“Some medical school in Islamabad. He’s a student there. And he’s not a foaming-at-the-mouth jihadist, either; he’s reasonable, can you believe it?”

Season 4 begins with another botched bombing, and this time Carrie is responsible. To take out a high-value target, she orders a residence bombed, knowing some civilians will die in the process. What she doesn’t realize is quite how many. The target is attending a wedding party. To make matters worse, one of the guests, the target’s nephew, Aayan, was recording a wedding video and managed to escape the blast.

Aayan’s parallel storyline is one of the best elements the show’s ever brought in. Though not a perfect angel (what are those mystery drug ampoules?), Aayan is a good enough kid to really cause problems for the CIA. But he doesn’t even want to. Amid furious protests in Pakistan, the CIA is denying there was a wedding at all, claiming only a few civilians were hit. He’s urged by his friend to leak the video and let it go viral. But Aayan doesn’t want to release it. He’s petrified of the attention it would bring him. His face is visible in the video, easily identifiable by agents who might want to “ask him some questions.” The friend leaks the video without his permission, and a media blitz quickly reveals his details to all interested parties.

This power imbalance, between the targets of US foreign policy and its representatives, is the element I think made Season 1 and the earlier parts of Season 2 so great. The hunt, even when it’s as slow as a weekend on the lake, is where the show is at its best.

Carrie is confronted by the pilot of the bombing run, who calls her a monster. Interesting, because the blame is so often laid at the feet of those lower down, like the pilot, whereas Carrie is absolutely responsible. She subscribes to the pre-emptive strike school of thought. She sees the wedding party as a nuisance, an inconvenient truth, but never seems very torn up about it at all. she really is a monster, and i appreciate that the show came out and said it, if only through a minor character.

carrie-frannie-season-4-homeland

In episode 2 comes a scene where she tries to drown the baby she had by Brody. This was decried as melodrama, and I agree, but I believe this is a good metaphor for Carrie as America itself. This link has been spelled out in the opening sequence for the past four years. An illustration of the mosaic of national traumas that make up Carrie’s motivation, the intro sketches out a lifetime of reasons one might have to be seduced by America’s message of Good vs. Evil. This is a person who grew up with this threat in her mind, who was in a position to possibly do something, anything, when 9/11 occurred, if only she had figured it all out. It speaks strongly to our country’s compulsion to try and fix the horrible consequences of its bad choices, while using the same tactics that made the choice a mistake to begin with.

Carrie produced this baby by cooperating, consorting with a terrorist, engaging in a toxic relationship that was based in distrust. What does that remind you of? And then to really drive the point home, she attempts a pre-emptive strike on her own creation. This isn’t to say the baby is, like, a baby terrorist, but it speaks strongly to Carrie’s character. The baby is a threat to her selfish way of life. To truly take care of it, Carrie would have to drastically change her own behavior and focus. So instead, she protects herself and tries to remove it, using the same excuse America loves to pull out when its buckshot approach is criticized: I’m not perfect, mistakes happen. I should have been paying more attention.

I don’t believe the show will ever come back from being a really good bad show. There’s confirmation that another goddamn love story will be entering the fray vis-a-vis Quinn and Carrie’s complicated working relationship, and the way the plot is going, Carrie’s horrible decision will come to be revealed as the result of conspiratorial bad intel. But for now, for the first three episodes, Homeland is a great show again.

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