Photo: Courtesy of Showtime.
If you're an avid reader of Vulture and Alyssa Rosenberg's Homeland recaps or even if you've just been listening to what friends and critics in general are saying about the new season, you may be in the same boat as several of us at R29. You're a regular viewer, you have been since season one, you're obsessed with the show and find yourself literally enduring physical pain in between episodes. And, yet, all the talking heads are telling you it's awful. It's gone downhill, Dana is ruining everything, and what was supposed to be a "serious" show about politics is turning into a silly romance novel. You have your opinion, but are perhaps wondering if you're missing something — and whether you should feel like a sucker for still thoroughly enjoying and approving of the current season.
Those of us in this position are clearly not alone in our fretting over whether or not this show is still good. It's hard to ignore what seems like the writers' desperation for approval. Indeed, during the scene at the end of "Game On" when we discovered Carrie's recent ostracization was all a clever ruse, it felt like the TV itself was breathing a sigh of relief right along with Carrie, saying "See? We've still got it." A show with as much critical acclaim as Homeland would, understandably, be on unsteady footing when it comes to living up to the hype season after season. Dealing with the main characters' increasingly divergent story lines doesn't make it any easier, from a structural perspective. Certainly, there have been moments of ridiculousness — why, in what is purportedly an entirely depressed, hopeless squatter settlement, is Brody saddled with the one ridiculously pretty girl? And, how is it that while the other characters rarely change clothes, she happens to have a fresh, new outfit straight off the Urban Outfitters rack every day?
It's important not to confuse the simple act of tuning in with actual quality. What with action-packed cliffhangers and budding romances with certain lonely snipers, it's basically impossible not to watch. But, while Rosenberg's analysis is consistently hung up on the show's political acumen, we'd argue that there is value in the character stories, as well.
I honestly wasn't that bothered by the Dana narrative, if you can believe it. It sometimes felt out of place from the rest of the show, but one of Homeland's best and most subtle attributes is its ability to juxtapose heart-pounding espionage with the normalcy of American life. Saul is constantly trying to appear like a loving husband to Mira, but it couldn't be more obvious that he considers his job to be more important. Carrie maintains a complex map of international terror operations in a house that she seemingly plucked straight out of a Crate & Barrel catalog, probably too busy to decorate (much less go grocery shopping, hence the repeated shots of her empty fridge). The characters on this show are charged with protecting the American dream of a well-balanced and wealthy (figuratively and literally) life, with spouse, children, and lovely home. And, yet, in doing so they are forced to prioritize and admit that dream is not the most important thing in their lives. Carrie is the ultimate example of that — she has sacrificed everything, including her already fragile sanity, for her work.
Photo: Courtesy of Showtime.
This is why the romance and personal histories on the show are just as important as the politics and nuanced, if not always flawless, commentary on American intelligence tactics in the Middle East. In a way, that constantly shifting balance is a commentary on American intelligence tactics, and one that is all the more relevant in the age of Julian Assange and Edward Snowden. Both are individuals whose personal lives and political persuasions have been scrutinized in the wake of what they initially positioned as moral choices, and they are figures that have fascinated American media in a sort of morbid way. For a lot of Homeland viewers, including yours truly, the draw of this show has always been Carrie, both as a character and as both a microcosm and an inevitable product of the tumultuous, unstable politics of the world around her.
If you're not one of those loyal followers of Ms. Mathison, it's understandable that you'd be dissatisfied with the show — but you shouldn't be surprised; after all, the opening credits should be enough to know that this is her story. Rosenberg has expressed disappointment in her recaps, saying that the show is going the way of Scandal when it was supposed to have "credibility" and be "a gritty, operational look at the War on Terror." She's right to question the plausibility of certain moments; the aforementioned Brody-in-Venezuela part feels particularly far-fetched, and it can't be pushed into grittiness just because they've applied a harsher filter than Scandal's borderline-unnerving soft focus. We don't agree, however, that the show has lost its relevance regarding the War on Terror. Rather, that focus has become more realistic than ever. The increasingly villainous Saul is as much invested in it for personal gain and the CIA's reputation as he is for the moral and patriotic purposes that ostensibly guided him in previous seasons. If that's not a hard truth about American politics and international intervention, we don't know what is.
With all this criticism and worrying that the show is becoming too soft, we can't help but draw an analogy between the show itself and the CIA of its canon. They are, effectively, one and the same, and both have been blown to smithereens and are now being questioned by the public. Maybe that's a coincidence; maybe it's some deft, brilliant writing. Either way, we're not ready to give up hope just yet.