I’ve joined the chorus of complaints about season three of Homeland since September, which is in large part a reaction to how amazing the first season was, but also how far the show has shifted not just in direction but in theme since that point. Tonight’s season-ender had more of the usual nonsense – absurd plotting and convenient coincidences that required more suspension of disbelief than a Uri Geller show – about which you should all feel free to rant in the comments.
I have one specific thought that made me want to weigh in after watching tonight’s show. For me, Homeland didn’t go off the rails this year, neither at the beginning nor in episode four when the first Big Reveal took place. I think the fundamental shift in the show took place in the middle of season two, when the writers chose to go from a show about facing an ill-defined, largely unknown, inbound threat to U.S. security to a show about outbound activities like attempting an internal coup d’état inside one of our strongest enemies. That sea change necessitated two adjustments in the direction of the show, both of worked very strongly against its success and defied what made the first season so compelling:
• It altered the tenor of the tension of each episode, reducing it while also narrowing its scope. In season one, the threat was global: The U.S. is going to be attacked, at some point, by unknown persons, and it could be massive in scale. During season two, the threat to the U.S. was diminished – nearly all of the season was devoted to smaller matters like chasing down individual suspects, with the eventual attack coming more or less out of nowhere. Season three was entirely about individual tension – first with Carrie appearing to be a prisoner of the CIA, then later with the attempt to engineer that internal coup within Iran’s security apparatus. Characters we know were placed in physical jeopardy, or saw their careers placed on the line, but the country was never at risk.
• When the protagonists were facing an inbound threat, we the audience were kept in the dark because the protagonists were in the dark themselves. In season three, with no inbound threat and only the outbound effort to bait, catch, and recruit a critical asset from Iran, the protagonists knew more than the writers could tell the audience, resulting in the massive unreliable-narrator arc at the start of the season but continuing through the next nine episodes. It got to the point where I trusted nothing that I saw; if Brody had done a double twist off that crane and stuck the landing in the season finale it wouldn’t have surprised me. The only way to create the tension the writers wanted was to hide, mislead, and lie. I was okay with it once. I was not okay with a full season of it.
The other fundamental problem with season three, for me, dated back to a problem I had in season one, something that I doubt is universal but started to detract seriously from the viewing experience in season two: I never cared about the relationship between Brody and Carrie. It seemed improbable and forced at the start, and eventually devolved into farce. Carrie becoming pregnant with his baby – really, neither of them thought about birth control? – read like a desperate attempt to infuse life and interest into a relationship that, for me, was nothing but a distraction from the cloak and dagger stuff that made season one click.
I won’t go into all of the plot holes and inconsistencies, as Alan Sepinwall has done that already. I don’t entirely agree with Alan’s sentiment that there shouldn’t have been a second season, but I agree that the way it was handled was less than ideal, and a once-great show has lost its way, to the point where season four is going to have to entice a lot of viewers, myself included, back.
This is pretty much always true, but just in case: Anything is fair game in the comments below, including spoilers and comments on stuff I didn’t mention. I’m curious to hear what others thought about tonight’s episode and the season as a whole.