End of Season Report: Homeland, Season 3 – Part 1

16 Dec

Carrie swears in

There’s plenty to talk about, and my various complaints about Homeland have changed over the course of the season. There’s really one that’s been slowly building and peaked in the last couple of episodes and has just been driving me so crazy that I’m going to devote a full post of this report to it, and then come back with a second post about everything else. Homeland has a major plausibility problem all around, but there’s one aspect of that issue that gets even deeper to Homeland’s core.

Carrie Matheson is a brilliant, brave, and daring operative. She’s undertaken dangerous missions on behalf of the CIA, made intelligence breakthroughs, and had correct instincts on a deep cover American traitor when no one else did.

She’s also an absolutely terrible, unreliable and untrustworthy employee, who was fired supposedly irrevocably at the end of the first season after it was discovered she had an unreported serious mental condition she’s only part of the time willing to seek treatment for. She should really never be working for the CIA again.

In the third season, Saul, and thus the entire CIA (for some reason, the CIA in Homeland seems to employ six people, but that’s something else entirely) have placed their most important mission in the hands of someone who is far too completely compromised to be an agent they can place any reasonable trust in, someone so in love with the agent she’s monitoring that she can’t possibly react like an agent needs to.

At the end of the first season of Homeland, Carrie was fired because it was determined she had hidden her only occasionally treated bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder is a serious condition, and it’s easy to feel for Carrie, but it’s also easy to understand why the CIA wouldn’t want a loose cannon walking around with access to extremely classified information. I wondered what her firing would mean for the show because I believed it would feel cheap to have her rehired after a huge deal was made about her never working for the CIA again after her breach. There were no loopholes left in that scene, no two ways about it, she was out, for good.

Sadly, my concerns were well-founded. The writers didn’t have an ingenious plan to either find another line of work for Carrie or focus on new characters. Somehow, of course, the CIA found a way to her come back, first, through a cheap loophole as not a member, but as an outside consultant to help with Brody because of their bond. The bother to even hang the lampshade felt half-assed. Soon, however, Carrie was just back for good and the fact she was fired just a season was sort of forgotten about and relegated to the past.

After being rehired, Carrie went on to constantly disobey orders over the course of the second season. Her superiors would constantly tell her not to do something, she’d do it, they’d reprimand her, and then eventually they’d simply let her back out there for some reason, even in situations when there wasn’t even some stretch of an imperative that she was the only person who could do the job.

In the beginning of the third season, events were repeated with Carrie being apparently fired for sleeping with Brody after Saul rats her out to the Senate. I applauded this direction. I didn’t know what they’d do with Carrie, and sure, it was a personally mean thing to do for Saul, but Carrie really had this coming through her repeated patterns of behavior. Saul never lied or framed her; he made her take the hit, sure, but all of his accusations were entirely correct. This extremely satisfying discovery that actions have consequences was undone by the revelation that everything that transpired in the first couple of episodes was part of an extremely elaborate long con between Saul and Carrie, one that really made less sense the more you thought about it. I didn’t think Carrie deserved to be an asylum, certainly, but there was some middle ground between being locked in an asylum with the key thrown away or being part of a million to one insanely intricate plot.

Back in the fold, yet again, throughout season three, Carrie continued to disobey orders. This would be problematic in almost any field, but as an intelligence agent for the CIA, she’s putting lives and missions at risk. Just because she thinks her orders are wrong is not an excuse to disobey. Honestly, if it really felt like she was getting unjust orders all the time, then I’d still feel for her even if she was technically doing a bad job by disobeying them, but that was not the case at all. The orders Saul gave may not always have worked out, but they’re always well thought out and carefully considered, and made it extremely hard to feel sympathetic for her. She disobeyed an order halfway through the season that required her own organization to shoot her to prevent her from moving further, and she nearly ruined a vital CIA operation in the last couple of seconds only to be bailed out by an extremely, extremely unlikely outcome when Brody kills his target rather than giving up Javadi. Even if Carrie made the right call, it wasn’t her call to make, and Saul’s call was as equally well thought out and valid as hers.

And then, when this is all over when it all works out against absolutely any odds, instead of getting reprimanded for almost blowing up the mission several times out of making judgments based on her love of Brody rather than her best operational judgment, or obeying extremely reasonable orders from her superiors, instead of getting fired or demoted, she gets PROMOTED. Carrie gets a huge PROMOTION for doing an absolutely terrible job. What am I missing?

Carrie is akin to the coach who makes the wrong decision at the last minute which works out and gets rewarded for the result rather than the process, leading everyone to ignore both the fact that she made the wrong decision and the fact she made so many wrong decisions before the last minute that her team should have won easily. And maybe the argument is that, well, those coaches get rewarded, for being lucky, rather than for being good, but I don’t think that’s the argument we’re getting her. I could be wrong certainly, but I really think we’re supposed to getting the notion that she deserves this promotion, it just drives me up a wall. Again, Carrie is very smart, ambitious, daring and talented, and I can imagine there are lines of work in which her skill set would be rewarded handsomely but she’s clearly a hugely irresponsible wildcard in the intelligence field

I’m basically tiring of living in this backwards world which refuses to deal with characters and consequences and plausibility. Carrie pegged Brody as a traitor, and absolute points for that, but then she went out and slept with him, multiple times, and let him escape. She may have been right about his role in the Langley bombing, sure, but she violated so many protocols it’s mindboggling.

If this was 24, where Homeland showrunners Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa used to work, the correct response would be, who gives a shit? Jack Bauer did that, and yeah, Jack Bauer was pretty awesome, but he would never get away with any of it in the real world.

The difference is that Homeland still wants us to treat it as a serious show; a show about issues in the modern surveillance state facing difficulties balancing privacy vs. danger. Homeland set itself up as a show that was going to be real about the CIA and the intelligence community more broadly, and one that was going to hew if not to the letter of reality, at least much closer than most sensationalist spy shows and movies. But it’s impossible to take it seriously when they don’t take it seriously. I’ll have more related points and other notes in part two.

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