THERE BE SPOILERS!
There’s something about Homeland that just doesn’t sit right. Throughout the whole of the first series, it never wanted to settle into a groove, or tow the party line, which is fine for what the show is, a tense psychological ‘war on terror’ thriller in which nothing can be trusted, even the main protagonist’s own senses. But at the same time, its fidgetiness soon became exhausting, and exhaustion bred dullness, encapsulated in its headache of a title sequence. It felt like 5 different dramas all competing against each other at once, the various characters and plot strands all pulling and pushing in different directions, never quite gelling as well as it should. So much plot and so many revelations were crammed into just the pilot episode it’s a wonder it didn’t all buckle under the strain sooner.
Which is a shame, as it was still a strong opening for Homeland and a juicy set-up once Carrie began obsessively watching the Brody household with her illegal surveillance operation, and having lots of fun monitoring Brody doing seemingly dastardly things, which turn out to be perfectly innocuous, like Ben Stiller trying to outwit Robert De Niro in Meet the Parents. I could even forgive her “jazz fingers” penny-drop, which thank goodness didn’t become her gimmick – she can only solve the case listening to Miles Davis records – and in any case, the finger twitching turned out to be a load of hooey…or did it? Alas, once her sting was rumbled and she took a more direct course of action (i.e. fucking her target in the back of a car), it started to lose its way.
More and more, the C.I.A. seemed to rely on dumb luck for their leads, and if the writers weren’t exactly making it up as they went along, they certainly could have fooled me. By being so desperate to avoid the well-worn path of television serial drama, Homeland started to collapse under the weight of its constant twist-turns and flip-flops.
For example, how convenient the Saudi Ambassador loves cock, yummy yummy yummy! Okay, it was a dead end, but it was a pretty dirty payload. And what a coincidence that Brody’s principal piss-warden is caught, extradited and brought in for interrogation all of a sudden. And that Brody himself doesn’t live in LA or Dallas or Alaska, but in easy reach of the three branches of government. Similarly, Abu Nazir seemed to be relying a lot on Brody being invited to become a senator and enter the vice-president’s inner circle, when his war hero status would’ve been yesterday’s news (whatever else some regular joes in a Gettysburg diner would have you believe – and that was a hammily symbolic trip and all). Them’s some pretty specific machinations to instigate without the level of influence Brody now has access to and with which he bargained with Nazir for his life. Allah ex machina perhaps?
And why is Brody doing all this? Revenge for the death of some sweet angelic doe-eyed little boy from Adam Sandler’s Jack & Jill he knew for a few scenes in one episode getting blown up by a US airstrike. There’s got to be more to it than that? What about his own kids? Junior’s karate demos and generic mopey yankee teenage girl not enough for you? Okay, perhaps there are extra secret agendas and double bluffs yet to be revealed, but at close of play on series one, there’s still a lot that doesn’t add up. Not in a teasingly ambiguous way, but more in an annoying “carry on regardless” way.
It’s in this regard that Homeland trips up but where 24, its antecedent, positively thrived, its preposterous masked by a pace Homeland does not have the pleasure to enjoy. Two Muslims are killed in a mosque, there’s a terrorist attack on US soil, but the show picks itself up, dusts itself down, and goes about its business, creating situations that would ordinarily derail the narrative in any other show to instead propel it, opening another little door in Carrie’s journey through terrorist wonderland. Of course, 24 gets away with it, given these kinds of cliffhangers all take place in the span of a day, so we ride on the crest of Jack Bauer’s wave and leave the fallout behind us in a not-screened-for-television wake. Homeland’s all dressed up in high-end wannabe-serious finery, desperate to play with the big boys by addressing the big issues, when really it’s a pot-boiler, a page-turner holiday read as recommended by Richard and Judy’s Book Club. And there’s nothing wrong with that, just stop trying to be something you’re not.
Perhaps I am being overly harsh. But the reason why it’s all the more frustrating is that at its heart, there are two interesting characters brought to life by two wonderful central performances. Danesy and Lew-lew (let’s leave Mandy Patinkin to one side, as fabulous as his beard may be) fleshed out their public personas and alter egos with equal aplomb, and it’s a credit to them both that, for all the silliness taking place in the story, the main reason Homeland was in any way compelling was down to them.
But it looks as if after all the brouhaha we’re back to square one: Walker’s dead, Brody’s turned but we’re not sure what his game plan is (though flipping that bomb vest switch twice was at least a demonstration of the courage of his convictions), and the mental breakthrough Carrie’s made connecting Brody to Issa is now no doubt lost to shock therapy (though I bet she’ll remember again right around episode eight of series two).
So, where to from here? Part of me had hoped Brody wasn’t really a baddie, and he’d team up with Carrie to form a terrorist-thwarting sassy sexy duo. Alas, that’s not to be (for the moment – not ruling it out though). No, we’ll probably be treated to more bluffs, double bluffs, and triple bluffs, culminating in Brody assuming a slightly higher level of office every series until he’s President, before blowing himself up at his inauguration or at the G20 or something.
Channel 4 have confirmed they’ve picked up the next series (due to air in the States at least in the ‘fall’, whatever that’s supposed to mean), and fair play to them that in this day age of American TV bypassing terrestrial completely. But had Homeland ended up on FX or Sky Living, I doubt anyone would have even given it a second look, and to be honest, it’s only a matter of time before it winds up on those channels anyway (I predict circa series three).