If you missed it, my analysis of the R.A. Dickey trade is up for Insiders. There will be a podcast on Thursday and I’ll chat that afternoon at 3 pm Eastern.
Season two of Homeland turned out to be very different from season one in plot, tone, and pacing, to the point where it felt for much of the middle of the year like a different show featuring the same characters. (Perhaps not quite to this extent, but you get the idea.) I tend to agree with Alan Sepinwall’s* take that Homeland redeemed itself with a strong finale that got at least most of the way back to the domestic-terrorism angle of the first season, but I think it didn’t move far enough away from the doomed-romance storyline that threatened to take over so much of the season and even occupied too much of the first half of the finale.
* I should mention that Alan’s got a new book out, The Revolution Was Televised, on twelve TV dramas that changed the genre. I haven’t read it, because I’ve only watched one complete series (The Wire) he discussed, but I love Alan’s work and will recommend the book on that basis alone.
I’ve never really bought the Carrie/Brody romance as a deep emotional connection. I get how two very broken people might find solace in each other, and I suppose we’re supposed to infer there’s physical chemistry between these two (I don’t see it – Jess and Mike look like they want to jump each others’ bones when they’re in the same room, but Carrie and Brody’s intimacy seems forced). What I don’t get is how these two broken people are really in love, unless they’re pretending they are, including deluding themselves right down to their comments at the end of the show that they were “so close.” They really should never be that close again, not if the show wants to regain the realism that characterized the first season but was all too absent from the second. And if, as Sepinwall suggests, Brody is largely absent from season three while the focus shifts to the rebuilding of the CIA with Carrie working on the side to clear Brody’s name, I don’t think that’s a bad thing for the show at all.
The loss of realism in season two was coupled with a massive uptick in its pacing. Where season one was slow and methodical, with the CIA team often a step behind the terrorists and making (by TV standards) painstaking progress in their investigations, season two absolutely flew by, with Bigger Moments and faster plot twists. We’re not in network procedural territory here, but the tension from the first season’s lack of story churning was a great part of its appeal to me, reminiscent of British series that aren’t afraid to make the viewer wait for a big payoff. I think season two was far less realistic right up to the finale’s biggest twist, where no one seems to notice that an SUV is parked in the middle of the Langley campus, something that would have likely spurred an evacuation of adjacent buildings and an immediate assumption that the vehicle was rigged. (As for who moved the car, assuming it’s a character we’ve already seen, my money remains on Galvez, whom the writers seem to have been setting up since the middle of the first season as the mole, including his presence at and survival of the Gettysburg assault.)
You can also count me among the fans who didn’t care for the Dana/Finn hit-and-run storyline, which became largely an excuse for Morgan Saylor to do that thing with her sleeves more often than before. Sepinwall’s post mortem with the show’s producers indicates that this subplot was going somewhere else but never got there, which showed in the finished product. It played out like an afterthought, with its only value a modest addition to the venality we’d already seen from Walden.
Aside from three very strong season-long performances from Claire Danes, Damian Lewis, and Mandy Patinkin – the latter probably getting better material for Emmy submission time this year – season two’s other main strength was in exploring the complicated entanglement between Brody and Abu Nazir, from the former’s inability to fully sever his ties to the terrorist mastermind to the latter’s presumed willingness to die to set up the cataclysmic attack of the season finale. I also credit the producers for turning the page on Nazir after two seasons, yet doing so in a way that doesn’t leave the viewers with much closure. He’s dead, but his organization seems to be living on, and his spectre will inhabit the grounds of the decimated CIA for years. Simply catching the bad guy can’t end the threat, because that’s not how the world works, and setting off the emotional catharsis of watching Abu Nazir die against the reality that the threat against us survives the death of one man was one of the best-plotted elements of the season.
What I’d like to see from season three is a devolution from the romantic elements, including the Carrie/Brody relationship and the Brody/Jess/Mike triangle, back towards the tense spy-story themes of season one. That first season was constantly infused with doubt about Brody’s actual intentions and how far he’d get with the plans handed to him, along side his difficulty in readjusting to civilian life. His character has been poisoned by the events of the finale for the time being, to the point where, if he appears anywhere on the show again, he’ll have to be arrested and thrown in that same prison where Eileen Morgan was held. I can’t see him becoming a central character again unless his name is cleared, and that process should take a full season or more. If the show turned away from him entirely, I’d certainly miss Lewis’ outstanding performances, but it might be better for the show in the long run, much as The Wire turned away from Avon Barksdale and Stringer Bell to introduce new antagonists for the investigators to chase. If the star-crossed lovers story takes over more of the next season, however, there’s a good chance I’ll tune out of the show entirely, because that’s so far removed from the reasons Homeland hooked me in the first place.
If you haven’t gotten into Homeland at all, I strongly recommend season one, even if my review here sort of turned you off on season two. That first twelve-episode arc ranks among the best single seasons I’ve seen of any show, in large part because it eschews the rapid-fire pacing of most American dramas and builds tension through more organic means.