[SPOILERS BELOW THROUGH HOMELAND SEASON FIVE]
This is a first. Seriously, it has to be.
This season of Homeland was set in Germany. It was a season that focused on Carrie Mathison trying to change her life. Carrie leaves the CIA, joins a left-leaning foundation owned by a billionaire do-gooder and burns a few bridges along the way- most notably with her former boss, mentor and friend, Saul. She gets romantically involved with Jonas, the decent, law-abiding chief counsel at the During Foundation and she and her daughter Frannie play house with him. Emancipated from the dire lifestyle that comes with saving the world, for a very short while she seems to have kind of bliss. It’s something she’s never experienced before. She’s out. She’s finally out.
But of course, it wouldn’t be Homeland if something didn’t pull her back in.
The specific something, ostensibly, is a desire of her boss, billionaire Otto During, to visit a Syrian refugee camp on a mission of aid. Talking him out of it isn’t an option. As the chief of his security, she has to figure it out. So, she employs some of her hard won tradecraft, and meets with a Hezbollah commander. The refugee camp may be technically in the UN’s hands, but she knows who really runs it. Despite the fact that she personally killed the child of the local Hezbollah commander (through drone strikes she ordered during her time as “Drone Queen”) she is granted, for a fee, an hour of protection. Strangely, they are attacked anyway.
The Hezbollah council is pissed that the local captain defied their orders and they send a team in to mess him up. After five hours of torture, the Hezbollah captain at the camp gives up the intel that the target wasn’t Otto During. It was Carrie. Who put him up to it? Who? Who? He wouldn’t say. So terrified was he of the person or persons who ordered the attack, he took that information to the grave.
Okay fine. So that’s the A plot, right? That some incredibly powerful person is gunning for Carrie?
No. That’s just the inciting event to get Carrie back into the shadows.
Carrie sends her daughter back to the states (this show regrets making her a mother every season) and starts to try to figure out who is behind the attack. She knows that she’ll never be safe until she does. Is that the A plot? I suppose you could make a case for it to be, but it really isn’t. Because if it was, then when Carrie figured out who was behind it (The Russian FSB in general and an American traitor and friend of Carrie’s specifically) with three episodes to go, the show would have been over. Carrie figured it out and reported in. Season over, right?
No, because the big final set piece was really the A plot - which was that someone was planning to set off a sarin attack in Berlin. That’s the A plot. That’s the big thing that must be averted and that’s the thing, (on most shows), where all roads lead.
But on this season of Homeland, it all falls to pieces when you start to actually look at the subplots that are supposed to inform the A-plot.
The Sarin Attack
Carrie was so busy trying to find out who hates her all season that she only turned her attention to the imminent terrorist attack about halfway through the second to last episode. Then she interviewed one dude. ONE DUDE. A doctor who gave her access to the apartment of one of the terrorists. She shut the whole thing down in the first seven minutes of the season finale. That was seriously the whole A-plot. Forget that the CIA and BND had a fucking team of monkeys working on it all season and didn’t find jack squat.
Also known as the only reason 86% of us even watch this show. He opens after spending two years in the field and is burnt on the whole thing, suggesting we just hit the “reset button” on the area. He then signs up to just dial it back a bit and kill whatever person Saul tells him to. Just straight up assassin for hire. Saul puts the names in a box, Quinn kills them. When Carrie’s name shows up, the plot seemed to thicken, but then he was incapped by an assassination attempt from which he never truly recovered. We spent all season watching him do almost nothing. He was healed by a doctor and then re-injured when a local tough guy took exception to it. Then he purportedly agreed to sneak some would be Isis recruits into Syria, but — joke’s on him — they actually were never going there and instead filmed him being administered sarin. Luckily he had been given a dose of atropine which mitigated the effects of it, so he barely survived. When Saul and Carrie selfishly tried to pull him out of a coma, his brain hemorrhaged and he finished the season in a near vegetative state. Then, the very final beat of the season, Carrie readies herself to put him out of his misery as we hear the voice over of the last letter he wrote her as he said goodbye. WHAAAAAA?
I’m not sure I’ve ever been more disappointed in a character arc. The fact is he truly had nothing to do with the A plot. It was preposterous that the person who found him was a doctor with ties to insurgents and then that the insurgents would — not knowing his history at all — decide to make him their sarin target? Ridiculous. And after Peter risked his life to help Carrie visit Saul’s mailbox (where he was shot) Carrie basically forgot about him. He crawled out of their safe house gushing blood and she was like “Quinn? Quinn? Oh well, I’m sure he’s fine.” You could make the case that the video provided by the terrorists gave the BND a clue, but they would have gotten that clue no matter who the person was. And yes, Quinn did put a tiny bit of doubt in the mind of Qasim, which may have helped the final scene with Bibi in the train tunnel, but come on. All anyone is going to remember is that Peter Quinn died for no good reason.
A huge percentage of the screen time of this season was about American traitor and Russian spy Allison. This one is brutally convoluted, but try to stay with me. While Allison is head of the Berlin CIA office a brute force attack from a hacker known as Gabe H. Coud pulls 1300+ top secret files from the CIA. Okay, hogwash, but okay. Gabe H. Coud’s coworker tries to sell them to the Russians. The Russians, led by a sinister figure named Ivan, tortures and kills Gabe’s co-worker. Now the Russians have the files. The problem is that they already have the files since Allison works for the Russians. The real inciting event of the season, and why someone tries to hit Carrie in Syria is that the Russians realize that there’s one person in the world who might, if they see these files, be able to piece together the fact that Allison is a spy. That’s the whole thing. The Americans have one person who could actually figure this out. Let’s try to blow her up with third rate subcontractors while she’s at her most well defended. Let’s not actually just sneak into Jonas’ flat and poison the milk. Of course, when Carrie starts to feel targeted she gets a hold of the files, figures out that Allison is a spy and the whole thing comes crashing down.
The huge operation to secretly do a regime change in Syria? Where the FSB blows up a plane and makes it look like the Israelis? Nothing to do with the terrorist attack in Berlin. One could say that if they cast aspersions on Saul and made Dar Adal think he was in bed with Israel (which it did) then Allison would rise in the ranks to take Saul’s place and hypothetically be in a better position to make sure the Berlin attack wasn’t solved (a because the Russians wanted a huge wake up call so the West would join them in eradicating Muslim extremism).
All of Saul’s action stuff, the questioning / lie detector / stealing information / fight with Dar Adal etc? Nothing to do with the A plot. The kill mailbox? Nada.
Jonas? Nothing to do with the A-plot. Nice fellah, though.
Otto During? He raised eyebrows mid season when he gave Carrie every support imaginable and then behind her back told his chief counsel, Jonas, that it was a mistake to hire her. Whoa! WTF? Is During in bed with the Russians? Is During aligned with the terrorists? No. During HAS THE HOTS FOR CARRIE. You can’t swing a dead cat on this show without finding six dudes who think the sun rises and sets in Carrie’s drawers. In the finale, During proposes they merge as a couple. He pitches it like a business arrangement. I really enjoyed him this season but that kind of sucked. The person he wants to share his life’s work with is Carrie? She’s the woman of his dreams? Really?
Oh and Laura Sutton? The whistle-blowing During Foundation journalist? I guess the showrunners just can’t go a season without a Dana Brody. She was like a fork on a chalkboard all season. While those of us who tend to agree with the message wanted to support her, the messenger was just flat out irritating. Did all the time we wasted on her this season inform the A-plot? No. Ditto for Gabe H. Coud. There was zero in those files that had anything to do with the attack on Berlin and the BND scooped both of them up and all the files in the finale anyway. No harm, no foul.
Ivan, the Russian spymaster, ends up cutting a deal with Saul, who offers him skiing passes in Jackson Hole. I kept thinking, wouldn’t the Russians be like “hey can we please have our diplomat that you stole back and stuff? It’s not like he broke any Russian laws or told any secrets. And why wouldn’t the Russians just kill Allison when they were done with her? Would there really be value in putting her in a dacha on the Black Sea? Is the value of that trophy more than the value of tying off a loose end?
The Hezbollah Captain was afraid of…..the Russians? That’s the secret he took to the grave? I call bullshit.
Dar Adal? Big cheese of the CIA? The human personification of smoke and mirrors? He was an incompetent fool this season who had an outed, caught spy in his grasp and then let her keep her security clearance and almost destroy Berlin and kill hundreds of thousands of people. When he was sitting by Peter Quinn’s bed I wanted Carrie to just put him in a mercy sleeper hold and make America infinitely safer. What a donkey.
Saul? Ditto. Incompetent. A walking buffoon. A moron who shares a bed with the biggest spy in American history. And when he finally had Alishka in his sights he just peppers her car with bullets. Allison was probably asleep in the trunk when she died. No great comeuppance. No moment when Saul opens the trunk and smiles. No supermax prison. What a goddamn letdown. At least finish her yourself, Saul. After all the agents she killed? A Gerhardt should be the one to pull the trigger…
Homeland has been reupped for a sixth season, but they’re going to see a huge dropoff in numbers after this mess. Starting with Alyssa Milano.
I'm mad at #Homeland.— Alyssa Milano (@Alyssa_Milano) December 21, 2015
It’s a shame because this season had a feeling, upon first blush, that they were really weaving together a complex story. That they heard the complaints about preposterous plot contrivances like a former CIA director travelling alone in Pakistan. Then ESCAPING unharmed from terrorists. It felt like they were trying harder. Really, they were just distracting us from the fact that they had less than an episode of A material. Sure, we did spend time getting to see the members of the Berlin terrorist cell but with the exception of the two Carrie shoots in the tunnel in thirty seconds, the others are killed in a BND raid that takes place offscreen.
People who quit Homeland a while ago will just nod and think they dodged a bullet. Those of us who have (weirdly) enjoyed this season, and who are drawn to a show that features a capable (if damaged) female protagonist will just shake our heads at what might have been. I honestly thought we were going to get better than what we got.
And if you could ask Peter Quinn, I bet he’d feel the same way.