“You’re the smartest and the dumbest fuckin’ person I’ve ever known” said Saul to Carrie during Homeland’s second season finale. By chance, Saul’s words not only summed up Carrie’s ever more erratic behavior, but also highlighted the vast differences between the first and second season of Homeland; they may have both aired in the UK in the same year but these were two very different shows.
The first season of Homeland was an unendingly tense cat-and-mouse thriller that followed Sgt. Nicholas Brody, a captured soldier turned traitor by his terrorist captors & Carrie Mathison, a determined CIA agent who, against the will of her unbelieving superiors, was unwavering in her attempts to expose Brody as the potential terrorist she perceived him to be. TV thrillers are rarely in short supply but what set Homeland apart was its intelligence. Gone was the simple good American/bad Muslim construct that 24 persistently adhered to, this was a show that dared to make an antagonist of its chief protagonist. The CIA was not the shining beacon of hope many other shows portray it as, behind the thick walls of Langley were a team of people determined to stop at nothing to protect and serve the US; even if that meant the murder & cover up of innocent civilians. Homeland’s first season expertly played with our perceptions of good vs. evil and still lingers in the memory because of it.
In contrast, the second season of Homeland was a brash gung-ho thriller that seemed more concerned with pace than with story. That isn’t to say Homeland’s second round wasn’t a thick slice of fun, but it was daft and never had the intelligence that gripped you during that first season. This was almost solely down to the writing that, at times, felt plain lazy; Carrie (chin endlessly wobbling) went all Jack Bauer, refusing to take the advice of anyone she admired or listen to their points of view, while Brody, vigilant but determined in Season 1, at one point decided that when trying to kill someone in the woods was the best time to take a call from his incessantly droning wife… and don’t get us started on his daughter Dana.
With the start of the third season little more than a month away and patience worn thin by the show’s second outing, here’s my 5-point plan of how Homeland can adapt in order to reach its pinnacle once again.
Rethink the Brody/Carrie relationship dynamic
“This was love,” said Brody as he said goodbye to Carrie at the end of season two. The slow-burning relationship between Carrie & Brody has always been the show’s most delicate aspect. It’s at its best when testing Brody and Carrie’s morals, each using the other for their own gain. At its worst their story becomes too melodramatic; especially when their emotions, particularly Carrie’s, become too overwhelming. A straight-up love story just doesn’t fit the show’s tempo, particularly one of doomed romance like Brody & Carrie’s; there is a clear bond between them that should continue to be explored, but the writers need to stop forgetting that one was a determined terrorist once (and may still be) & the other was an officer determined to stop him.
Stop trying to turn Dana into Kim Bauer
This was one of the biggest problems with Homeland’s second season, in much the same way Kim was in Day 2 of 24. Instead of being hunted by Cougars, Brody’s daughter Dana became a monotonously dull adolescent before turning in to the rebellious teen just in time to be involved in a hit-and-run with the Vice President’s son. Mercifully, this storyline had a massive hole (literally) blown in it during the season 2 finale but now Dana is the daughter of the World’s most wanted terrorist, which is unlikely to improve her dull mood or tediously reckless behaviour.
Stop exploiting Carrie’s Bipolar Disorder
The writers seem to have become confused about how Carrie’s illness fits in to the show. We know she’s flawed, we’ve known from the start and we don’t need to be continually reminded of it. Moreover, the writers seem to have come to the conclusion that because she does suffer from mental illness, it assiduously affects her intelligence, causing her to make potentially life-threating decisions based on mere hunches. Her illness will certainly impede both her work & personality, we know that, but it shouldn’t be exploited to the point that Carrie resolutely refuses to follow any orders and moan when she gets it wrong. Doing so has made Carrie’s character unbearably drab to watch at times and needs to change if the audience is to continue to be invested in their protagonist.
Stop treating Brody like he’s stupid
Brody was once a smooth operator, carefully putting the plans of Abu Nazir in to operation without having it obstruct his professional or personal life. In season two, Brody only seemed concerned about this when the narrative called for it. It made for, at times, both baffling & laughable viewing; would Brody really go and meet a terrorist using his own car and with only a baseball cap to disguise him? There were numerous times when Brody felt like an extra from Four Lions in season two, and this needs to change if the show is to remain as thrilling as it once was.
Ensure that a balance is found between brains and brawn
As has already been said, season one had intelligence & action whereas season 2 had action & intelligence. With less brains the show becomes a daft, albeit enjoyable thriller, but this has to change if the show wants to reach the heights of season 1. Homeland needs to be brave again, not rely on narrative devices like it did in season 2. The explosion at Langley during the season 2 finale was admirable, but even that couldn’t standup to the squirming tension of Brody in the bunker at the end of season 1.
The third season of Homeland begins at the end September in the US and in October in the UK, the trailer was released last month and while some of the issues above appear destined to remain, it also looks to be both thrilling & exciting; but will it be the improvement many Homeland fans, myself included, are hoping for?