Week 4: Season Two Episodes 1-4: Is Homeland an Anti-feminist Show?

The start of Season Two of Homeland was exciting, gripping, and frankly shocking at times. The first four episodes of this season continue to flush out the characters, open new storylines while also providing more detail of the ongoing storylines from Season One, and delivered an ending on the fourth episode of the second season that surely evoked some sort of reaction out of its viewers. Even though I find myself eager to view the middle four episodes of this season (not to mention the remaining episodes of the entire show’s run), I also found myself getting utterly annoyed at the portrayal of Carrie in this series. Specifically the way the show continues to remain fixated on portraying her to be vacuous, unprofessional, and overambitious. Even though Carrie, the protagonist, by all accounts should be a strong virtuous rising star of the CIA, instead the show resorts to using a trite ploy, having a man be the central reason for making poor choices. Image result for homeland season 2

By now viewers are well aware that Carrie suffers from bipolar disorder and at the end of Season One, she received ECS treatment so she would not have to, as Carrie puts it, “live this way”. The show made mention that the CIA could not know about Carrie’s affliction as it would compromise her position as a CIA agent. So even though Homeland laid the foundation of what may explain some of her actions, her bipolarity aside, still make her out to be an unprofessional mad woman.

There have been many instances where Carrie acted unprofessionally. Sleeping with the head of the CIA, sleeping with a major terror suspect, and posting confidential material on a wall in her home are just to name a few. While I do not possess a background as a CIA agent, I would think these actions are illegal, immoral, and certainly unprofessional.  The sentiments I am posting in this blog are in stark contrast to my earlier postings about Carrie.  Previously I viewed her as someone who is entirely devoted to her career and loyal to the mission of stopping terrorism on American soil and with a tough-as-nails, kick-ass persona to boot. What a great role model Carrie could be to young women!  While these are worthwhile and admirable qualities and work ethic, the writers and creators of Homeland seem intent on their audience viewing her through a lens of a deeply flawed protagonist who puts her team in danger on a regular basis while compromising her ethics because of a man..

Kathleen McInnis from The Atlantic wrote an interesting article that covers how Homeland undercuts real women in government. McInnis does not just focus on the inadequacies of Homeland, but nonetheless makes a good case especially in this day and age when there are real strong capable women in the United States government. Mcinnis ought to know. She worked in and around the US national security establishment for some time—from military bases in Community Support Centers to the halls of the Pentagon to the battlefields of Afghanistan.Image result for homeland season 2

According to McInnis, by contrast, men in similar roles as Carrie are either superhuman, or their flaws contribute to their overall likeability. Or both. On the one end, we have Harrison Ford’s Jack Ryan: Tom Clancy’s political version of Superman, who overcomes national security challenges with his beautiful family by his side. Towards the middle of the spectrum we have Bob Russell, the Vice President in The West Wing couldn’t be more different than Selena Meyer in Veep. Rather than clawing for any opportunity for notoriety, he proves himself a savvy member of the Executive Branch. On the other end of the spectrum we have Jack Bauer in 24. He tortures people. Yet he’s still a likeable character. To my knowledge, none of them hit on the boss.

In the first season, Carrie lets on to Brody that the CIA is onto him. This was during passionate weekend in a cabin in the woods. But her love and obsession for Brody temporarily clouded her judgement and led her to utter that huge faux pas. Carrie is often shown in an anguished emotional state and ended up in a psych ward at the end of Season One. In contrast leading male characters in a similar role would not make such a mistake. In fact a lot of male characters are often portrayed as stoic, strong, and able to not get swayed by matters of the heart.Image result for homeland season 2

These anti-feminist views is like a sinister undercurrent in what otherwise is a great show. Maybe Carrie will eventually become someone who resembles some of today’s strong, intelligent, and capable women in high ranking government roles. I sure hope so.

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8 thoughts on “Week 4: Season Two Episodes 1-4: Is Homeland an Anti-feminist Show?

  1. Christine
    I totally agree with you that Carrie highlights the qualities of being a hero by committing illegal and immoral acts. However, I wonder if these traits are applied to only females. Instead I might argue that due to the Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon were also co-writers of 24 in which Jack Bauer although a hero, also committed illegal and immoral acts to catch terrorist and stop terrorist attacks. I think Gansa and Gordon use an auteur approach to creating characters who although heroes, have significant drawbacks and uses illegal tactics for “good” reasons. This could highlight the various problems the United States has in developing polices that keep America “safe” without impeding on individual rights.

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  2. I think part of what you are running up against is the tendency in modern film/tv to provide “complex” heroes, or what many call the “anti-hero.” While strong, courageous, and able to accomplish their goals, the anti-hero is also deeply flawed. Many point to the post-Watergate/post-Vietnam era in American life as the turning point in hero portrayal, noting that it is hard to really view human beings in the same “good vs. bad” way films and tv shows did prior to these consciousness-altering events. The argument goes that we now always question authority…question morality…and question whether anyone can really fully embody “goodness” or “evil.” Carrie struggles with depression, bi-polar disorder, and submissiveness, and this leads to dangerous, illegal, and unhealthy behavior. She is not Sheriff Taylor of the Andy Griffith Show, or Roy Rogers riding around in a white cowboy hat. What I think is interesting about Carrie is that she really embodies this anti-hero behavior, which is not really typical from female characters – mainly because females just don’t get roles like this in spy thrillers very often.

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  3. The article you linked was very interesting! I was frustrated that the narrative sucked her back in like it did because I would’ve liked to get a look at more of her interactions of the “reformed Carrie” outside her home, the classroom for Langley. I think the show implying she was the only one who could solve the crisis in Lebanon was a vote of confidence from the creators that she IS important and valued (especially after everyone finds out about Brody).

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  4. Interesting link to Atlantic piece. I really don’t watch shows looking for role models of perfect, heroic behavior where the hero does everything according to protocol. Maybe that’s male privilege speaking, worth thinking about. But I do find inspiring stories about people who have disabilities that they either overcome or use to their advantage–Carrie fits into that category for me. About her sexuality, hmm. She’s really not interested in conventional, monogamous sex. Is that so far outside the norm? Should television only show women who wait until marriage for their one sexual partner? I’ll have to warn you that things are not going to get more conventional as the series goes along, but no more spoilers, sorry.

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  5. I always go back and forth with Carrie and her sexual exploits. I think that in a lot of ways the use of female sexuality as a tool in the spy game is something kind of standard in the genre. However, I mentioned on someone else’s post that this is something that Brody gets drawn into as well (Roya tells him to rekindle that flame). The big difference seems to be that it is not used as a “plot twist” revealed after the couple is into a deep relationship. We the audience know from the beginning that these characters are likely playing one another. I have to agree with Dr. Chown, I don’t necessarily watch this show (or others like it) looking for role models. In a lot of ways, Carrie’s depiction as somewhere between good and bad is something of an improvement upon other women in film who tend to fit narrowly into very strict (and annoyingly common) female tropes.

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  6. I am also disappointed in Homeland’s use of Carrie’s sexuality in her work for the CIA. When I started watching Homeland, I was hoping that she would be a strong, tough spy character like the male character’s you’ve named, but she is as emotional and her sexuality is as much of a go-to attention getting device on the show as you would expect from others. On the other hand, I keep asking myself if that is a bad thing? As a feminist I think that everyone should be more open about our emotions and sexuality and stop trying to hide or them so much. Maybe Carrie is just setting a new precedent for powerful and strong characters.

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  7. I tend to find myself confused about Carrie’s behavior. I do agree that they would never portray a man the way the do Carrie. Of course me that do act like she does tend to still be likable and a hero, but I don’t necessarily think it makes Carrie a bad person either. She is definitely different but I think her being unconventional makes her interesting, it kind of forces you to believe that she can still handle her job as well as any man and still deal with the tough aspects of emotions no matter where they lead. They still show that she is human. At least as long as the person judging it isn’t sexist.

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  8. This is a really small point (and I’m about to show what a big West Wing nerd I am,) but Bob Russell actually seems very unhappy in his role as VP; he wanted to be President, and VP was a consolation prize. So he spends a lot of the show trying to set himself up for a Presidential run after Bartlett is out of office. Later in the series, his political career ends when it is revealed that he has had an extramarital affair. But.. that all is neither here nor there.
    As far as your comments about Carrie- I personally find myself struggling with the character as well. At times, I really like her– but I find the Brody love/obsession to really trivialize her character. In regards to her mental illness and unprofessional behavior- I’m not sure whether this makes her an “anti-feminist,” character or not. While it would be nice to see more female “role-models,” portrayed in television and film, the fact is- women are not all the same, and they have flaws just like every human being. So in a way- I think it’s good to have a wide array of complex female characters. In terms of your question about whether the show is “anti-feminist,”- I have no clue where I come down on this… I guess we’ll see as the show continues!

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