WARNING: If you have not yet seen Season 5 of Homeland (and intend to) this article is not for you.
Do you remember the early years of Homeland? I had to watch the entire first two seasons over the course of a week in order to avoid giving myself a panic attack. I was hanging off my chair wondering how the game between Carrie Mathison and Nicholas Brody would play out. They were believable and yet so different compared with much of what had been on television to that point. I became sufficiently invested in their relationship that I was forgiving about the less-than-stellar season three. I agreed with the creative team that the Brody character was played out and needed to come to a noble end. And on the plus side, his departure meant we didn’t have to hear anything further from his annoying self-righteous daughter, Dana.
Season four left me encouraged about Homeland’s future. The plot continued to explore complex questions of trust, allegiance and security, most of which do not have clear answers. Carrie was presented with interesting opportunities to test her abilities and her moral fiber. The brooding Brody energy was picked up and moved deeper and darker as Peter Quinn moved into a bigger role. While not quite as fresh as the original cycle, the episodes remained above average viewing.
Then came Season five, which appeared to be written by summer interns who had read about Homeland on Wikipedia. There has been public outcry about the probable loss of Quinn. I agree there was unexplored territory there and he and Carrie were the ultimate missed connection. But to me the problem with the series’ direction is much bigger: Homeland lost what made it compelling viewing. The pacing was horrible, with many stories being rushed to their unsatisfying conclusions. The gas didn’t go off. Allison wound up dead in a car trunk. Numen was released. Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh.
The setup had several strikes against it from the beginning. The location shift to beautiful Berlin was wasted. It is very difficult to make cybercrime visually interesting. Real life feelings about Muslims in general and Syrians in particular made the sarin thread even more distasteful. But there also seemed to be a large amount of extreme impatience behind the scenes. Characters weren’t shades of grey so much as hunks of black and white stuck together with masking tape. Gone was the intelligent exploration and layers of complexity, replaced by lazy shorthand and tired narrative devices. In a few scenes even common sense took a vacation. Would a clever calculating soul like Allison Carr turn in one beat? Would Carrie and Astrid enter the potential site of sarin gas production without any backup? Would the CIA really let Carrie write her own ticket after all the times she went off the rails?
There are glimmers of promise for the future of the show. Headlines about how best to keep our country safe can provide daily inspiration. Carrie Mathison remains a rich character wonderfully brought to life by Claire Danes. Saul Berenson continues to evolve in the hands of Mandy Patinkin from mentor to adversary to respectful colleague. With these building blocks in place, there is still a good chance for Season six to fulfill Homeland’s original promise. But knotty problems deserve more textured and mature examination. It took 37 episodes to experience Brody’s tale. Let’s not be in such a hurry to turn to the last page with Carrie’s next opponent.