By Lord Castleton | TV | November 28, 2014 |
By Lord Castleton | TV | November 28, 2014 |
Warning: Homeland spoilers below
Homeland ex-pats, it’s time to return to the mother ship, because Homeland is officially good again. Mostly.
Remember way back in the winter of 2011, when Homeland was fresh and new and we didn’t know how to accept or process Carrie’s mood swings and often irresponsible choices? Remember when the show kept you on the edge of your seat wondering if she was actually right? When those “is it going to happen” moments had you hearing your own heart thumping in your chest?
Aaaaaaand then they went away.
Brody was strung out in a tower or some shit and Mike was all up in Brody’s old lady and there was a bunch of David Estes filler?
Oh get over yourself, David Estes. Everybody’s had Carrie. It’s her go-to move. She’s the Kalinda of the espionage game. Remember when Saul busted her ass and she went to rub his leg? Eeeewwww! Yeah, that happened. It seems like a long time ago, but it happened.
And remember how, if you wanted to get to the good stuff, you had to sit through a seemingly interminable amount of Dana?
I know people have rallied behind this particular character, saying she wasn’t that bad or she was “improving” but she was awful. Like show-killing awful. Like Jake Lloyd awful.
And it’s truly not her fault. There’s been a level of mind-numbing tone-deafness that has permeated every season of Homeland, where the producers want to sell us a version of the story that we’re just not interested in buying. The Dana Brody stuff was obviously the worst of it, but Saul’s marriage troubles were sometimes shoehorned in, as was the internal rise of Senator Andrew Lockhart, and the Mike Faber and Jessica Brody build-a-bear stuff. Homeland has had a glorious knack for making us pay for what we wanted to watch by forcing us to sit through everything we didn’t.
And that was just too much for many people. What we really wanted was more Dar Adal and Abu Nasir and Peter Quinn. More Syriana, less Partridge Family. We wanted legitimately dangerous “bad guys” and smart “good guys.” It was grueling to sit through a plodding emotional arc for every character. We got it, really. Brody hurt a lot of people. Carrie hurt a lot of people. Those particular dead horses were beaten to a pulp.
And then, in what felt like a form of euthanasia for an exhausted fan base, they hung Brody. Whenever a main character is removed from any show, something has to fill that void. That’s the most treacherous part of wiping out a lead. Can you generate the same magic without the element that your core audience originally attached their attention to? When Shelley Long left Cheers it was a gamble to see if Kirstie Alley could take her place. When Michael J. Fox left Spin City we all wondered if Charlie Sheen could fill those shoes. On NYPD Blue the cogs were David Caruso and Jimmy Smits. Every time someone is rubbed off the unforgiving cast chalkboard of Game of Thrones something has to rise up and recrystallize the audience’s focus. So the question was: could Homeland pull it off? What would season 4 feel like without Brody for the first time?
And the answer, at first blush, seemed like the show had reverted to bad habits. The season began with all the forward momentum of a yak sliding backwards into a puddle of pizza dough. We were treated to more of the same laborious arc-building you find in sophomore film-school shorts. Carrie is suffering because. Peter Quinn is suffering because. Saul is suffering because. Then, just as the pace picked up ever-so-slightly, Carrie made some choices that were frankly tough to watch. About three weeks ago I turned to Lady Castleton and said “honestly, I don’t know how much more of this Aayan stuff I can take.” I was ready to hang ‘em up. Saul was in the private sector. Peter Quinn was checked out. There was no Virgil anywhere. And the A-plot seemed to revolve around this Pakistani medical student with unclear or unknown ties to terrorist elements.
But if you were able to choke down your dinner and power through, there was a glimmer of hope. In every episode the writers were laying down a dollop of information that was building a hidden tension. We got to meet some characters from the Pakistani I.S.I. who were at least as skilled as their American counterparts. Most notably Tasleem Qureshi, who has spent all of season four out-Carrie-ing Carrie without disrobing even once. She’s everything we wish Fara would be and more.
And just when you thought Homeland would never truly regain its form, around seven episodes in, it finally started reminded us why we bought in in the first place. By the time last week’s episode had rolled around, Episode 9: “There’s Something Else Going On” we were treated to a drumline of amazing twists, a fascinating Mexican standoff and a good old fashioned cliffhanger. With only three episodes left, Homeland is back on top of it’s game.
Whether or not it actually stays there is anyone’s guess. It wouldn’t be shocking for the show to work so hard to regain our trust only to squander it again, but if you find yourself with a little extra time this holiday weekend, you could do a great deal worse than zipping through some on-demand episodes of season four. You’ll miss very little if you “accidentally” fast forward through any of the Aayan story line. But when you arrive at the end of episode nine, you’ll be primed for the type of high-stakes finish that few other shows have the scope or capacity to deliver.