Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Politics of Homeland: Season 2

Keeping America--Wait, I See What You Did There!
Homeland Season two had its explosive finale recent and The Omnivore is going to talk about it. There will be all kinds of spoilers.

Season 2
Season two quickly resolved the tension between Carrie and Brody--she nailed him, he flipped, and we got to watch them "fight crime" (terrorism) together--as we (some of us--and certainly the show's producers) knew we wanted to from the beginning. Season 2 was smart, high-grade plotting. It took more than one gutsy path:
  1. It killed Abu Nazir--and not even in the last episode, final reel. This is gutsy and smart. Good villains become a crutch for a show and while at the extreme you get The Smurfs (where it's always the same villain all the time) even more sophisticated shows can keep charismatic or semi-sympathetic bad-guys around past their expiration date (see Heroes).
  2. It resolved Season 1 pretty quickly. Formula (Carrie suspects Brody, everyone else suspects Carrie is crazy, Brody-Maybe-loves-Carrie in the relationship that Can Never Be) is also a crutch. When it's over extended you get stasis and floundering (Chuck flirted with keeping the dynamic going a bit too long and decided not to). When you break the formula you risk losing viewers--so it's gutsy. NOTE: It didn't totally break the formula--in fact, it's kept pieces and then subtly reversed them (everyone BUT Carrie suspects Brody) rather than being a cop-out that might be even better.
  3. It killed Estes and the VP: Seasons--especially on premium channels demand big stories with significant stakes and seasons that provide meaning to the story lines. Homeland Season 2 delivered a pretty good bang-for-the-buck with its kill-offs of significant characters.
I liked Brody giving Mike the green-light to return to his wife and family: watching Brody being forced to repeatedly hurt his wife was one of the more painful parts of the show. This felt like a maybe-too-positive but still well earned wrap-up to that story line. I think that having Este's assassin decide not only not to kill Brody (as ordered) but threaten to come back and kill Estes if he had someone else do it was strong--except now the guy is wishing he'd done it (he's wrong to--but he's wishing he had). That mixed-message felt a little off to me: it weakened the gravity of that decision.

The spycraft of Homeland continues to be either pretty good or maybe top-notch. I liked the team entering Quinn's room and carefully photographing everything. I like how they follow people. It looks and feels pretty real.

I'm not sure I buy the end-game. The idea that they could count on Brody to come through (kill the VP) and then show up with his rigged car at the funeral is too chess-master-ish for me. We got to see him finding solace with Carrie--Nadir didn't. On the other hand, sacrificing a high value team (and the master-mind) to make the play is smart: it's a power-move and I liked that.

Oh, and Issa didn't turn out to be martyred to break Brody (at least so far as we know) so kudos there. It would've been a cheap-shot and they didn't take it.

The Politics Of Homeland
Let's do the politics:

  1. Unless the funeral service for the VP was (and I missed it) just the "CIA Ceremony" there is no way the President would not be present for his funeral. The bomb would've decapitated America's chain of command if they'd allowed a vehicle to get that close (and so: they do not--the failure of security was not the sort of thing the Secret Service would allow).
  2. I do not buy Carrie having a "go-bag" with money, false ID, and so on in a locker somewhere. It was necessary for the show--but until then she has been more analyst than operative and the CIA of Homeland is not one well known for selling out its own people. Could she have had it? Yes. Did she seem the type who would expect, someday, to be on the run from the US Government? No. Also: the idea that the false Id maker wouldn't sell out Brody after they played his Martyrdom tape--and then also sell Carrie out in the process ("Both of them came here!") seems far fetched: the guy is presumably known to intelligence services other than Carrie so he might well presume that the largest manhunt in human history would come knocking.
  3. The VP was a bastard. We find out that he's about to sell some kind of bunker buster rockets to Israel and that makes him a bad guy.
That's interesting. Firstly, the tactical problems with Israel attacking and knocking out nuclear facilities in Iran are correct: they are deep and Israel lacks the deep-penetrating munitions to take them out. In fact, it has been suggested we might need tactical nuclear penetrators to get everything. 

However, the idea that Homeland's creators see the strike as something a bad-guy does (we don't really hear about any of his other policies other than drones) makes me think the show's creators are pretty decidedly left-wing. That's fine: the show is smart, well acted, and pretty compelling--but I think I've found a tell there.

I periodically get a search string of 'Homeland right wing' and I wonder if people are trying to determine if Homeland is right or left in its general politics. You don't have to look too far: Islam is portrayed as no problem what-so-ever (after Brody is completely exonerated we see him kneeling to pray). While a right-wing show might agree that Islam is not the whole of the problem (it's Islamists) I doubt an ideological director would have put that in there.

I think that as a final note, the end of Brody-as-VP and the VP-running for president was an act of mercy. There's no way Homeland could have sustained that arc (you'd need other contenders, issues on the table, and so on). It wasn't looking good for that--and it, like the VP himself, needed to die.

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