I am incredibly disappointed by the direction Homeland has gone in the past season and a half. The finale last night had to be one of the most anti-climactic season finales in the history of cable TV.
Brody had to die. That was neither a surprise nor disappointing. His character arc had to plummet into the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. There was nowhere for him to go. It would’ve been (further) unbelievable to bring him home and have him, somehow, assimilate back into society. Therefore, his death was a fait accompli. There was no way he was coming back from the failed, righted, failed again, and righted again mission. Sure, there was a bit of action and intrigue when he and Carrie were stuck in the safe house, and your heart sunk as he was taken away and Carrie fought to keep him alive (the first time I truly felt and rooted for their love in the series, mind you), but it had to be done. We knew it. Carrie knew it. And as mad as he was – you’re pussies, all of you! – Saul knew it. That’s why Brody dying shouldn’t have been the central event of the finale. It was bound to happen, expected and necessary.
Yet, it was the central event.
No cliffhanger. No intrigue. Nothing to keep us guessing until next September. Nope. Instead, showrunner Alex Gansa and his crew decided to wrap the Brody storyline, which sorely needed to be wrapped, in what felt more like a series conclusion than a season finale (the show will be back next year). The last 20 minutes or so, after Brody was hung on a crane, were about as boring as it comes: Carrie struggling over the decision to keep the baby or stay with the CIA– a melodramatic and predictable thread. Saul leaving the CIA– him and his bitchy wife reading about his all-too-simplified plan coming to fruition (eerily MIRAing real life, though). Senator Lockhart being slightly dickish and phony. Quinn looking cool (more of him next season, please). That all could’ve been accomplished in about four minutes, not however much time – 12, 15, 20 minutes? it felt like 20 – they spent on it last night.
But I’d be willing to look past the boring, if not necessary, finale if the series hadn’t continually gotten worse since the first, perfect season.
Homeland is based on the Israeli series Prisoners of War, which only ran for two seasons. That’s where the central storyline – mostly for Season 1 – came from.
Season 1 was perfect. It was one of the best TV seasons ever. You can not find anyone who watched it and didn’t think it was outstanding. From afar, the show sounded like 24, but within the first 10 minutes of watching the first episode, you realized that wasn’t the case. Homeland contained much more intrigue, character development and grippy drama. The first season was believable. It was real. There was an eery shadow over the whole thing that made the big bangs and plot twists all the more special.
The problem is, I think a lot of that came from POW, not from Homeland’s writers. I mean, give them credit for Carrie, Brody and Saul, all of whom are outstanding actors who benefitted from some tremendous, individual storylines. But the central tenet of the plot – a prisoner of war returns home and struggles with ideology – came from POW, and it’s what fueled Homeland’s first season.
After that, it seems to have mostly been up to Homeland writers to come up with a direction for the show. And this is where they’ve failed.
Season 2 began to feel like 24— a great show, but more of a comic book to Homeland’s literature. When Brody killed the vice president remotely – however plausible – you got the sense that things were starting to become unglued. Homeland redeemed itself in the finale, with the explosion at the CIA, and left a great cliffhanger, but even then, I felt the wrong choice was made. Carrie should’ve gone with Brody. Gansa and his team could’ve flipped the show on its head by having Carrie and Brody become enemies of the state, with Saul, now the acting director of the CIA, searching for his protege and her terrorist boyfriend. Carrie’s turn (not against her country or Saul, but mostly against her own ideology) would’ve been believable enough, 1) because she had already proven to be wildly unpredictable, and 2) because, this time, we would’ve understood her zaniness since it was fairly obvious that Brody was innocent.
But instead, they chose to let Brody go on his on, setting up a third consecutive season in which crazy Carrie clashes with Saul over her hunches about Brody. I mean, how many fucking times can Carrie do the exact opposite of what her boss tells her before, you know, she’s fired. For good.
Off the top of my head, Carrie’s been fired, has had her brain zapped, been reinstated, sort of fired again, committed, unofficially reinstated, shot during a mission to ward off her own craziness, and then reinstated again, all this before she (laughably and completely unbelievably) drove the most wanted man in the world off of a private compound to see his suicidal daughter (more on that in a second) and then went against direct orders to stand down when Brody was about to be offed in Iran. By that final infraction, Saul was numbed to the point of not even chewing her out.
This dynamic was created by the decision to have Carrie stay as Brody went on the lamb. It set Season 3 up for failure.
But perhaps learning from the ridiculousness of Season 2, the writers had Season 3 start off more Mad Men than 24. They tried to get back to the show’s roots as a believable, gripping drama.
It didn’t work.
Dana’s nonstop whining and excursion to the nut house to fuck that creeper? Boring. Brody’s languishing in Venezuela? Sleepy. Saul’s wife? GO AWAY, MIRA.
The writers, I think, think we care about the characters more than we do. That’s wrong. Homeland, as good as the acting is, is the type of show you watch for the story, not character development.
It wasn’t until we learned of Saul’s plan did things get good in Season 3, and even then, we were distracted by Carrie again going off the rails before it was finally revealed to her that Phase 2 contained the modest goal of CHANGING GEOPOLITICS FOREVER(!) with a turned sleeper agent that would be put in power by another turned and then turned again and then turned back and again and maybe one more time sleeper agent who had twice been imprisoned and would again infiltrate the enemy and attempt to kill a leader. But at least that was entertaining and gripping, if not completely unbelievable. That should’ve been what the whole season was about. It was easily the most entertaining thread. Instead, it wound up being almost an afterthought. We spent three episodes watching Dana whine and carry on… for what, to see her reaction when Brody inexplicably showed up at the motel she was cleaning? That part was so wildly far-fetched. Carrie taking Brody to see Dana would’ve been like driving Osama bin Laden to Wawa for a pack of smokes circa 2002. Nothing to see, folks! Just the most dangerous man in the world needing his nicotine fix. Incredibly, Dana didn’t mention to anyone that her father, who killed, like, 100 people, was alive, well, AND DRIVING AROUND LATE AT NIGHT WITH A DERANGED CIA AGENT. I’ll just bottle that up and put it my suicide file, Dana must’ve thought. Or, maybe she did mention it. But we wouldn’t know– that’s where that thread was snipped… just when it may have become interesting.
[The only use for Brody’s family in Season 3 was seeing them deal with the A) public reaction and B) the inevitable newscasts and YouTube videos when Brody was preaching on a street corner, and later hung, in Tehran. But nope, we left them once things got interesting. Makes sense.]
And then the season ended not with Brody’s death, not with a cliffhanger… but with the loose ends of character threads being tied up or cut off. Carrie’s baby. Saul’s career. Dar Adal’s fucking waffles. Things that, to most viewers, were secondary.
Homeland, the show that, in Season 1, so well mixed an intriguing plotline with personal struggles, has turned into a series sorely in-need of guidance. Season 2 was all bells and whistles with silly character development. Season 3 was the opposite– needless character stuff with an almost secondary, completely far-fetched, yet very intriguing, story arc. The fact that it so closely mirrored the real world made it that much more compelling. But it always seemed to take a backseat to individual character threads, which, again, no one cared about.
The writers were right to kill off Brody and bring that whole thing to an end. Seasons 1-3, Part 1, is over. Now it’s time to start fresh. Maybe Carrie and Quinn will go to Istanbul and have amazing (and sexy? for real, they need to bone) adventures. Maybe it will be great. Maybe Homeland was stuck on Brody and needed new life. But, seeing what the writers have done to a once-great story, it’s hard to imagine that Season 4 won’t be more disappointing than Season 3.