The Problem with Perfection – Life, Death, and ‘Homeland’

Homeland3It’s been grumbled about for ages. Viewers are growing increasingly frustrated, critics have griped here and there, but someone finally put their foot down, and Showtime’s Homeland received the rude awakening its had coming for an entire season, shunned by the HFPA with zero Golden Globe nominations for a staggeringly-uneven third season.

Homeland tonight attempts to rebuild its image as the formidable drama it once was.

Previews of the finale function as a foreboding alternate eulogy of the living, if you will. The life of Nicholas Brody–the bane of the show’s once-promising existence–flashes before us as he speaks. “There’s a man in Caracas who called me a cockroach,” Brody tells us, as we take a melancholic look at his life as it splashes across the screen. “Unkillable,” he says of himself, as we’re reminded of the despicable things he’s accused of (bombing Langley) and the actions he’s readily taken responsibility for (abandoning his family, lying to those he loved, and succumbing to the brain-washing control of an Al-Qaeda leader).

There’s massive fallout (emotional and physical) from his actions that seems unforgivable on all fronts, but Homeland continues to paint Brody as a tragic hero fallen from greatness. We’ve only  known him as an image of post-war destruction. As a soldier, he fell away from his country and aligned with the enemy; as a husband, he drifted apart from his wife and had sex with another woman. The palette of a man tainted by insecurity of mind, insecurity of heart, and security in pursuing selfish satiation is what we’ve seen.

From good to broken, Brody’s arc has reached a corner it can’t possibly make its way out of as he infiltrates the Iranian government for the CIA in a final act of mending what he’s carelessly wrecked.

Conversely, in three seasons we’ve seen the show’s primary focus, CIA agent Carrie Mathison, undergoes a shift that has less to do with character and more to do with lazy writing and, consequently, an almost complete ideological shift of the world surrounding her.

The Carrie we knew from Season 1 was a woman dedicated to her work, to her convictions to her country, and to herself. She was rogue in the sense that she didn’t take anyone else’s word as end-all guidance, and saw the world in alternates. Brody was presented as a hero, and she saw him as a threat, validated by his plans to carry out a terrorist attack against the United States. “I didn’t get it wrong, I’m the only one who got it right,” we hear her say in each week’s opening credits. Yes, Carrie was a free-thinker who happened to get caught up in a romantic entanglement with a dangerous man, but her affections for Brody seemed, at least to me, as another way for Carrie to fall in love with herself.

Homeland2We spend little time with Carrie when she’s happy. We’ve only seen her in true bliss when she’s in an isolated world of intimacy with Brody. At the cabin, when she helps him escape Langley; these moments seem almost suspended in time, when she has the ability to sit back and enjoy a man who sexually stimulates her, wants her, and validates her hard-headed convictions to what she knows is right by simply existing. She was right about him, and the conquest is hers alone, as Brody comes to represent her success and a symbol for her security of mind.

Season 3, however, has turned Carrie’s flaws into terribly pathetic crutches that validate quintessentially-backwards patriarchal fears of women in the workplace. Her anxieties have carried over from her personal life and into the work she valued throughout the first two seasons. Her affections for Brody have nearly compromised every mission she’s been apart of over the past few weeks. Hell, she was even shot in the arm for entering the field in an attempt to prove Brody’s innocence.

Carrie can no longer see the big picture, and has lost track of the importance of her work. Her interior motive is hinged upon Brody, and she’s come to embody the stereotypical, emotionally-unstable woman whose workplace antics are fueled by affection and emotional instability.

Brody’s existence on the show now serves as nothing more than to keep up an entanglement with Carrie that’s long since grown stale, and has caused her to shift from someone we’ve sided with because of her firm convictions into a woman we’re concerned for thanks to her willingness to shed all that we fell in love with in the first place.

Her relationship with Brody has consumed nearly every other aspect of the show. Carrie’s relationship with Saul has shifted from one of mutual respect to one no different than a father policing his unruly daughter. Carrie has been downgraded from the plane of power Saul once preserved for her. She’s now a dangerously loose cannon he has to monitor.

Season 3 has, to this point, boiled down to little more than bouts with frustration for the characters and for the audience. Carrie is merely a dangling thread on the life Brody seeks to win back. His concerns span a massive array of missteps, whereas Carrie is hanging on to the singular fantasy of a life with Brody that can no longer exist, and has let her impulses guide her to erratic levels of irresponsible hysterics.

As an audience, we’ve only been able to watch as the characters flounder in futile attempts to regain what they once had. Brody is far too gone to have a family–or a life, for that matter–in the US. He’s damaged beyond repair, and regaining a relationship with his wife, his children, and with Carrie all seems like a distance no one on the show is willing to run for little payoff.

“This is about redemption,” Brody says in the closing moments of the preview. The words don’t only resonate with Brody as a character, but also seem as a sort of extension from the show’s creators to its viewers. Brody’s presence loomed over the past 11 episodes like a anchor dangling from a tugboat, collecting sediment and barnacles as it sinks slowly into the murky depths. It’s entirely surprising that Carrie’s let herself become this attached to him, so much that it interferes with the only thing she’s shown us to be more dedicated to than her affections.

Her job has been compromised countless times thanks to her insistence on remaining true to the tiny semblance of a relationship she has with Brody. It’s time for Carrie to regain independence again. The Carrie Mathison we once knew is a shrieking, unhinged, babbling shadow of the other, and she can’t function with Brody acting as a tether to a side of her that’s ugly, unstable, and altogether unmanageable.

Homeland1It was once possible to draw parallels between Carrie and Maya from Zero Dark Thirty as examples of strong female characters spitting in the face of the way women are traditionally portrayed. Maya is on-point without being cold, dedicated to a separation of work and personal life, giving in to zero temptations regarding men and sex, even outright rejecting it, as she’s justified as a person instead of as a woman. Maya lives with her job, whereas Carrie now seems to exist in spite of her job. Carrie is defined by outbursts, harping on ships that have long since sailed, and it’s slowing everything down.

Perhaps we’ve run into an instance of a show jumping its own shark before anyone could have ever realized it. At the time, the pairing of Carrie and Brody seemed like a good thing. Two rogue, powerful people joining forces amidst the steamy, insatiable appetite for the other’s body, but it’s clear that the runoff from their initial pairing has pooled stagnant.

I don’t want to think that this show has been running on momentum from a single relationship for three seasons. I know the show is better than this. We’ve seen it, and we’ve reaped all we can from the relationship between Carrie and Brody. It’s run itself into a corner no one can escape from–literally, for Brody.

There is only one solution: Brody must die.

The survival of Brody means death for the show, and I can only hope that its creators have enough faith in her to sell Homeland’s  cow before Carrie can drink any more milk.

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