Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Coming Home

Homeland may be the best hour of TV on right now, but it still isn't what it used to be.  I just watched the latest episode, "Big Man In Tehran," the next-to-last for season three, and I'm pretty sure this is the weakest season yet.

The first was the best, of course.  Which is why it was fine with me when it was stopped Mad Men 's streak of best drama Emmys (though I preferred Breaking Bad and Game Of Thrones).  It was tight, compelling and knew where it was going.  My only complaint was I thought the ending was a cop-out.  Brody should have blown up the bomb.  If they had to start the next season with a new mission, fine.

The second season regrouped quickly, and the first half, where Brody is finally found out and arrested, worked well. But the idea that Carrie would continue to have an affair with a man she should utterly despise for both personal and patriotic reasons didn't make any sense.  I didn't mind the long-range plot to blow up Langley--in fact, taking out a bunch of characters can often free a show--but it was too late.  Carrie's relationship simply was wrong.

Season three features a plot that may be even more unbelievable.  The first third is a long con on the audience where Saul, now in charge, publicly distances the CIA from Carrie, and even has her committed, so she'll be recruited by the Iranians.  This plan works, but too much of it seemed there to fool the audience, with Carrie doing things in private she didn't need to do, and even was offended by what happened when you have to ask what did she expect? The middle third was recruiting a top asset and sending him into Iran while also retrieving Brody, who was hiding out in Caracas.  The final third was a longshot plan of sending Brody to Tehran and, with the help of the new asset, assassinating one of the top Iranian hardliners.  (The show deals with moral issues, but it has no trouble dispatching people when it wants to.)

Of course, all along, Carrie is her uncontrollable self.  She regularly goes against Saul's order, and though her instincts are solid, there's only so much Saul (or anyone) would put up with before he put her on ice.

Anyway, the most recent episode finally has us in Iran.  After an aborted assassination attempt, Brody gets to the target too easily.  He is now a celebrity for publicly denouncing the U.S., but would it be that easy to be escorted right into the man's office, someone who's already shown himself to be extra cautious?  But not only does he invite Brody--who claims he has important information--right in, but he then excuses his guards.  I realize Brody is making a desperation move, but really?

Even worse, Carrie has been sent to Tehran to help Brody.  This is my biggest problem with the episode, and probably with the entire season.  Have the producers forgotten all the trouble they went to make her look crazy to the public?  She was front page news--the psychotic CIA operative who had sex with Brody and compromised a mission.  I'd say that ruled out any undercover work from then on.  Forget the Iranian military, people on the street might recognize her.

The show has gone from a complex cat and mouse game to a more straight thriller. Still a superior thriller, but something's been lost.  This happens with some shows.  The basic idea and the first season are all planned out, and if it works, how do you top it?  Sometimes you deepen the characters, or go in interesting new directions, but often you've shown your best stuff and can only repeat old tricks to less effect. Another good example is Downton Abbey--it started as a fascinating look at what a great home in England was like a century ago, and had an intriguing plot about who'd take it over.  But by the second season, and since, it's become a soap opera, with characters falling in love, going to prison, suddenly dying, etc.

I'm still looking forward to next week's episode, but whether or not Brody gets out alive, Homeland will never be the same.


Anonymous Lawrence King said...

I skimmed this post to avoid too many spoilers.

I watched Season One, and mostly liked it. I didn't buy the "it's so much more realistic than 24" -- yes, that's true in the sense that Spiderman is more scientifically plausible than Superman, but not in any real sense. Stockholm Syndrome might make Patty Hearst a bank-robber, but it wouldn't have made her kill her younger brother, and Brody's relationship with his captor's son might have made him oppose the U.S. war effort and drone bombings but I never believed it could make him manipulate his family as he did in season one.

Still, my big problem was with the ending. You expressed exactly my sentiments: Brody implausibly backs down from what everything was driving toward, while Carrie ends up in a straitjacket not because she was outsmarted by a villain but because the annoying personal subplot about her personality quirks became even more stupid.

So the question is: is season two worth watching? (As a yardstick, consider that I am glad I watched Lost Season Six despite its great failures, but I wasted hours of valuable time watching Heroes seasons two three and four.)

9:02 PM, December 10, 2013  
Blogger LAGuy said...

Most fans feel season 2 was a major letdown after season one, but by the Lost standard, it's definitely worth watching. My personal opinion is the first half, at least, is quite good, but then it goes in questionable directions, but you can watch and decide for yourself. Many feel the third season has been a comeback, but, as my post explains, I prefer season 2. In any case, the show is still fun.

11:19 PM, December 10, 2013  

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