End of Season Report: Homeland, Season 3 – Part 2

18 Dec

HomelandSeason3-2Phew. I just disposed of my central infuriating point from season three. Let’s now get down to some odds and ends.

Homeland’s showrunners  clearly think Carrie and Brody’s romance is the center of the show. If they didn’t, I’m not sure what Javadi’s monologue in the finale, which seemed directed to viewers at least as much as to Carrie was about, where he convinced her that it was, as it fairly obviously was to viewers as well, always about him that she did everything she did. I think this was a central misreading of what made the first season work that explains some of the missteps of the past two seasons. Carrie and Brody’s relationship is important undoubtedly, and their chemistry in the first season was one major asset. Getting chemistry confused for romance is a dangerous thing though; there was something there, but once Gansa and Gordon put their finger on what it was, love, the relationship lost what made it so intriguing. This sounds like more of the type of complaint you see in a comedy – the sexual tension is more interesting than the relationship itself, and it’s related but that’s not exactly it. The issue is that the fucked up chemistry worked for those two characters, where the idea of love never really did. The breakfast in bed scene at the end of the second season was one of the most excruciating in the series because it didn’t really make sense for either of the characters, and placing that love at the center of Carrie’s motivations was misguided at best.

More on Brody – I’ve said this before, but Gordon and Gansa killed Brody at least a year too late. Brody was a great character, but a character with a necessary expiration date. The longer they kept him around, the less it really worked, and the more they had to concoct hard-to-fathom explanations for why he’s still out there. He ran out of reasons to be interesting. Damian Lewis does his best with Brody throughout but the character was out of life and paralyzed the show, keeping the show in stasis when it needed to be moving beyond Brody. There’s a natural desire to keep around interesting characters for as long as possible, but usually in hindsight it’s better to kill them or remove them while they were at their most charismatic rather than after they lost the luster they had and felt used up.

The second season ended with a bang, and the third with a whimper, and as confused as I was with where Homeland was going to start the third season, I have even less idea for the fourth season. The showrunners have a clean slate more or less to work with, but I have less confidence than ever that they will do something interesting. If I was in their shoes, I would consider the ballsier moves of either moving on at the CIA without Carrie and Saul, or moving on with Carrie and Saul in their different respective roles, but I can’t imagine there’s any chance of that happening. The only part I feel confident in, and massive respect if I’m wrong, is that something will happen that forces the gang to get back together in Washington.

Senator Lockhart, I believe, is supposed to be the villain, and while I started out viewing him as the antagonist because Saul is the best, the longer the season went the more I thought that he’s totally right, and this CIA is totally dysfunctional. It’s not so much that I felt like his approach was better as much as I felt his critique of the competence of the old school CIA people doing it the way they wanted to wasn’t working. I think this conflict could have been much better served by portrayed it more deeply as a battle between two valid points of view rather than with Saul as our hero and Lockhart as our villain. Shows are usually better when there are merely two different plausible ways of seeing things, rather than a clear right and wrong.

Plausibility was a major issue for me throughout the season, largely on Carrie’s end (as mentioned exhaustively in my previous Homeland post) but really greater than that. The insanity and audaciousness of Saul’s plans boggled the mind and just seemed way too far-fetched, and though Homeland did do a lot of lampshade hanging throughout this season, I still wanted more reality, and frankly, at least one of their plans to fail, to appreciate just how risky they were. The plan was too big, the CIA carrying it out consistently seems too small. It has always bugged me that the CIA on Homeland feels like it employs six people at any one time. There was no greater example of the plausibility problem than the cheap trick fake out that basically turned the first few episodes of the season inside out. Beside the within show unlikeliness of the plan’s success, many scenes of Carrie by herself didn’t really make sense if she knew she was on part of a plan rather than actually trapped in a mental hospital.

I was actually intrigued by the direction of the first few episodes of the third season. Homeland seemed to be dealing with the notion of consequences, something I think very few television shows do, and something I thought provided an intriguing direction. The potential of a near-permanent falling out between Saul and Carrie, well, it was sad, but damn if it wasn’t interesting, and it was a powerful way of saying the show may be good and it may not be, but it’s moving forward and away from the status quo. The CIA made a whole lot of dumb 24-ish mistakes the first two seasons, and it’s time to pay the piper. Instead, with the twist, the show went disappointingly in the exact opposite direction.

I almost forgot to write anything about Brody’s family, largely because they basically disappeared from existence halfway through the season. I don’t think that was a bad thing, and the fact I entirely forgot about them probably says a lot, but I didn’t hate them by nature as much as most people I knew. I did think the way they were used was poor, but I also thought there was something there in exploring the relationships of a family broken so completely between getting their husband/father back and then discovering he’s not who he once was, going from loss to ecstasy to tragedy so quickly. The family’s done, and since I don’t trust Homeland’s writers, I think that’s the right decision, but I think this was an opportunity lost.

This has been a largely negative write up, and as happens after I type for a while, I feel even stronger than before about what a disappointing season of Homeland this was after the show had a real chance to get away from the problems of the second season. However,  to leave on a positive note, I’ll briefly talk about the one aspect of this season I liked most.

Javadi is the best new character the show has introduced in ages and was exactly the type of character the show could use more of, and I hope the show doesn’t fuck him up. He’s a cagey character who gives with one hand and takes with the other, a perverse parallel of Saul who made different choices and who is willing to do what it takes to get away, but not without an occasionally magnanimous side when it suits him. He’s in many ways a villain but he’s a pragmatic nontraditional villain who serves the heroes when it suits him.

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