Series Review: Homeland (Spoiler Free Before The Break)

homeland

Homeland airs on Showtime and will begin its third season this fall.

It’s finally happened! In December, I finally watched Homeland. To some people, this is like saying “In December I finally downloaded iTunes” or “In December, I learned how to read.” Homeland has all the buzz that Breaking Bad did a couple years ago, and because I am a respectable TV Blogger, I was obviously last to get on the bandwagon.

OK, maybe not the last. For those of you who haven’t seen Homeland, here’s the gist. Claire Danes plays a bipolar CIA operative who is investigating an American POW who has returned from Iraq. She has information to suggest that it’s possible he may be a terrorist, but she cannot prove it. She is also in love with him.

Yeah. At times the premise works, and at times it feels as ridiculous as it sounds. It may be because I arrived at the show late, and the series fell victim to all the hype. It may be because the show’s second season is flawed, and when you mainline everything that blurs together with the much stronger first season. It may be because I have bad taste. I don’t know what it is, but I definitely didn’t love Homeland to the extent that others do. It’s well-acted for the most part, it can be incredibly suspenseful and exciting at times, but I think it’s far from the best show on TV. A show to watch? Sure, if you’ve already seen The Wire, Mad Men and Breaking Bad. But one good season and a spotty second season does not make a show that goes down in history as one of the best. I really need to see what Homeland will do in their third season before I decide whether this show is willing to take the kinds of risks it requires to rank as high as my other favorite shows.

From here on out it’ll be spoiler city, so click through only if you’ve watched all episodes of Homeland.

To get into some of the more specific issues I have with the show, let’s begin with acting. Everyone speaks about how excellent the acting is on Homeland, and I can’t really join that chorus. The three main actors do very well – Claire Danes as Carrie, Damien Lewis as Brody, and the truly fantastic Many Patinkin as Saul. But even there, I do find that Danes goes a little too over the top with the crazy eyes and the ugly cry at times. There are other actors on the show that I find almost painful to watch. The guy who plays Mike is so wooden that I’m half convinced he’s a real military officer, not an actor. Not that I think Walter Jr. is the heart of Breaking Bad or anything, but Brody’s kids leave something to be desired. The son is as layered a character as Popeye.

And then there’s Brody’s wife. I’ll draw another comparison to Breaking Bad and ask, why do the wives always have to be the worst? Man oh man, she is unbelievably awful in the second season. Her husband tells her he’s working with the CIA, and not only does she wheedle him for more information, but she goes around telling that secret to basically anyone. This show has a strong, complex female lead, but it does weird things with its female characters. Carrie is an emotional wreck who has to be managed by the men above her. Jessica turns into a shrew. Dana, famous for literally crying over spilt milk, just sort of says “Dad! Dad!” a lot.

brody-homelandThen there are the plotlines. Season one was very good. It moved along at a brisk pace, there were surprises along the way and the writers didn’t treat us like idiots by dragging out the mystery of whether Brody was a terrorist. For most of the season, the questions were whether Carrie believed he was, and whether she could prove it. The season built towards a thrilling finale, “Marine One” in which Brody chose not to go through with a terrorist act at the 11th hour after receiving a phone call from his daughter.

A few episodes into the second season, I wondered if it would have been better to have killed Brody in the season one finale. The big problem for me is, I have never been invested in Carrie and Brody as a couple. I think their romance is stupid, I don’t care about whether they get to be together or not and I’m only interested in their relationship on a cat and mouse level. Yes, the feelings add a lot of complexity to the chase. But I would have been more interested in seeing Carrie deal with the fact that she fell in love with a terrorist following Brody’s suicide bombing, and then move on to a new villain. Keeping Brody around resulted in far-fetched plots and tired romantic beats.

The second season was a mess. Brody’s life as a politician and Jessica’s role as a political wife held no intrigue for me. Carrie out of commission was necessary after her breakdown, but it made for a boring few episodes. Things only began to heat up when Saul showed Estes the suicide bombing tape that Brody had made. The fact that Carrie blew their cover on a hunch, with no real reason to believe that Brody was onto her, was the first exciting thing to happen in the season – that was at the end of episode four.

Carrie working with Brody as an asset was good, but it felt contrived – a way to have Carrie and Brody be together without making it clear whether it was for work or for pleasure. The same goes for the hit and run storyline – it was designed to put Brody in a situation where he was so stressed that he would break down, but it was poorly written and felt like a waste of time each time it was visited.

There were things that rang false throughout the season, too. Brody using a cell phone in an important meeting so that he can text a warning to Abu Nazir? Come on. Brody, a known terrorist who was working with the CIA, used his cell phone many times in the latter half of the season when you’d wonder “Isn’t the CIA tracking this?”  When Quinn refused to kill Brody but instead threatened to kill Estes, that also felt like a stretch. And how will Carrie be able to explain her disappearance after the bombing in the finale?

Despite my issues with chunks of season two, the finale was something. Having that bomb go off and killing so many characters was the kind of bold move I was worried the show wasn’t capable of making – however, I again think that Brody should have been killed off there as well. Abu Nazir’s plan was never to live, and it made perfect sense that the big attack would be planned for after his death, when the CIA had gotten complacent. He was able to target all the people he hated. He was also able to exact revenge on Brody for betraying him, by releasing that old suicide bomb confession tape. Brilliant.

carrie and saul

The Carrie and Saul relationship is the heart of the show.

I both liked and disliked that the bomb was in Brody’s car. It added a lot of drama, yes – Carrie awoke after the blast and had to point a gun at her lover’s head. But, like, hadn’t we been through all that before? It took us back to the same place we’d been in season one, with Carrie unsure as to whether her boyfriend is a terrorist. I hated that they went on the run, even if she ended up bailing. How will she explain that to Saul? (I do love that Saul is now basically in charge of everything.) And the promise to clear Brody’s name? Please. I’m over that relationship, I want a fresh challenge for Carrie and Saul. But with Brody still in the picture, you know that won’t happen. I’d love for season three to be as good as season one, but I have trouble believing that it will be.

This review is coming across as extremely negative, but if there weren’t qualities to the show that I like, I wouldn’t have finished the two seasons. There were several episodes in a row where, at the end of each one, I thought “Gah! Now I have to watch the next!” But watching season two immediately after the first was a pretty big disappointment. Now, you guys head to the comments section and hit me with all your thoughts! I’m sure some of you will disagree, and I’m dying to hear it!

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