Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Thoughts on Homeland's first season

Spoilers for the first season of Homeland.

I finally caught up with Homeland, having watched the season one finale. Since there was much fuzz about it, I thought I couldn't be left out of the loop. And while it was a fun ride and gave me some hours of guilty pleasure, I'm not entirely sure why. Yes, the show had suspense and tension, and the characters were unusually strong for this kind of series (compare it with Prison Break and you know what I mean). But would it pass my unfailing test of "Is this series any good?"? Hardly. The test, by the way, is answering the simple question: would I watch it again? I have watched all good series at least two times or intend to do so. I have no desire to do so with Homeland whatsoever. 

Good premise, to be sure.

There has to be a reason for this. Especially in the beginning, nothing hinted at Homeland failing my personal test. The first episode did a really clever thing in solving the question whether Brody was an Al-Qaida agent on the spot and with a definitive yes, not falling for the trap so many of its predecessors had in building up expectations it can't possibly fulfill. I was hooked by that beginning, and four or five episodes in, I started to wonder. Yes, I wanted to know what happened, but I already had this bad feeling in my guts. I can pin down the exact question that led to this ache: who else is in on the conspiracy? At one point, I thought Saul's actions were fishy. 

Mr. Grand-Daddy of the CIA
My greatest disappointment, however, was when they found out what the plot was: to kill the President (you could argue that it was the Vice President, but since he's all but elected, it doesn't make much difference, certainly not for the trope). Now, big Oh-No! If you want to show that some particular terrorist plot is really badass, let them target the President. It always works. You know what the stakes are. The Leader of the Free World(tm) against the Terrorist Evil. With that premise, you can do real stupid shit.
Looking at you, Air Force One.
I thought "No, not really." But they did it. The rest of the season was trying to prevent this worst of all possible disasters. Why? Doesn't really matter anymore. The whole "assassination of the President" plots guarantee you plotholes large enough to drive an Abrams tank through. Homeland, unfortunately, is no exception. People do stuff because it's required of them, not because it would be that logical in any given situation. 

Hey, let's do some political move that does not stink like political exploitation of a poor man's fate!
I don't want to dwell into the details here. There's so much stupid stuff going on, especially in the later episodes, that only the well done craft of it rescues the series, creating the afore mentioned suspense and tension. You want to know what it was about, after all. So, when the credits finally flimmer the screen, we - spoiler - have Brody in the surroundings of the highest ranking politicians of the country. I doubt the second season will make anything more of it except the "oh my god he's going to blow them all off!" thing again, just somehow convincing us this time it will be even worse. 

Brody has a twin, or why do Camera 1 and Camera 2 show him in entirely different outfits?
The question is why. Why do they need this overly complicated and more or less useless plot about Tom Walker? Why the whole thing with the Vice President? Seriously, consider the Joker in The Dark Knight. He tells Batman that when you do something that is expected - like, killing the President - people won't go nuts, because they expect it. You need to threaten to do something unexpected. Surely, a terrorist mastermind like Abu Nazir would understand this. When you have a person like Brody, you have so much possibilities to conduct terrorist attacks in the United States that you would be really stupid to waste him on the Vice President and the cabinet. What's the purpose? Don't you believe they are all puppets of evil anyway? And don't get to me about the whole revenge-for-Issa-thing, which was just unbelievable. 

What would Abu Nazir have done to win Brody over if the drone strike hadn't happened?
Instead, why don't do a "normal" terrorist attack? You could get near almost any major event without causing any suspicion. Surprisingly enough, the "real" terrorist attack in the series - the bombing at the café to kill the Saudi ambassador - didn't have any effect at all. It didn't hurt the Vice President's prospects in his campaign. It didn't induce fear and terror. It didn't change security protocols. Nothing happened. Attacks like this cause fear, attacks like this are what Brody and the makers of the series should go for. It would have had the beauty of setting high stakes without the need for overly complicated plots. "The Vice President" is a title, a function. It generates suspense because we're told it does. A mass of people celebrating Indepence Day, on the other hand, picknicking at the Potomac - we could instantly relate. It would appeal to our own reality, to our fears, and without so much heavy-handed plotting and decrypting and talking over stuff. But it would been harder to write and harder to act. They should have gone for the challenge.


  1. I actually just watched Homeland Season 1 too. i agree with a lot of what you are saying - The creators of american version of homeland are the same people behind "24". I definitely saw their style all over this, and left the series feeling like it was not much more than a smarter, somewhat more realistic version of that show.

    I was able to brush aside a lot of the issues with the plot because of Mandy Patinkin, Damian lewis and Claire Danes. Their acting is what really elevates the show from pedestrian television to compelling drama. I think with lesser actors you would see the flaws much mroe apparently.