Week 6: Season Two Episodes 9-12: Torture and Interrogation in the United States: Glamorized or Real?

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I was eager to view the last four episodes of Season Two of Homeland, even more so since I had prior knowledge of what will transpire, culminating into the best ending of a season in this series. (Granted I have only viewed the first two seasons so my comparison base is admittedly pretty narrow). Goodness the writers of Homeland certainly have put their creative talents to good use to create an electrifying ending: Brody killing Vice President Walden, CIA operatives finding and killing Abu Nazir (after Carrie insisted they search the tunnels again where she was certain Nazir was hiding), a massive explosion to the CIA facility in Langley, resulting in the murders of over 200 innocent people, Brody being wrongly accused for this horrific terrorist attack, a dissolution of a marriage, and promises of love in a tumultuous and ill-fated relationship. Such storylines would take most serialized television shows a couple of seasons to complete, Homeland accomplishes this in just four episodes.

The point of this post is not to discuss all that transpired in these four episodes. After all, my readers have viewed these episodes and certainly do not need me to restate what they know and likely incorporated portions of these episodes into their own writings. Rather I would like to devote this week’s post to torture and interrogation tactics used in the United States. While I shied away from this topic last week, several of my readers encouraged me to pursue this topic at a later date. Given this has been a prominent topic in the public eye with the current administration and Homeland’s portrayal of torture and interrogation tactics in the second season make this a worthy subject to write about this week.

The use of torture and interrogation tactics were pervasive in the second season of Homeland, that one has grown accustomed to their occurrences. Viewers watch these scenes for emotional narratives such as the torture Abu Nazir inflicted on Brody when he was a prisoner, Brody being forced to beat Tom Walker while both were in captivity, the questionable interrogation tactics employed by the CIA to the Saudi diplomat and in a particularly violent example, Quinn stabbing a knife into Brody’s hand in an attempt to extract information about his past with Abu Nazir. Certainly these scenes contributed to the action and excitement in the second season, however they were not a completely accurate portrayal of the methods the CIA practices during an interrogation (especially when Quinn stabbed Brody’s hand). Much of what the writers and producers embellished in these episodes were to contribute to the storytelling of Homeland’s spy genre. Image result for homeland interrogation tactics

According to Jason Mittell of “The Ends of Serial Criticism”, how Homeland uses these torture and interrogation tactics is a strategy that serial storytelling can emphasize or ignore particular meanings simply by the amount of attention afforded to them through serial reiterations and articulations. Season two occurred in 2012, eleven years after the September 11th terrorist attacks, and national security was still forefront in the minds of Americans. The idea of torture tactics employed by the CIA, FBI, and other government agencies who deal with terrorism, were prominent in mainstream media stories. This issue was then and still is currently a controversial topic as even though the horrific events that unfolded at the turn of the century occurred a decade and a half ago, the war on terror remains a prominent concern to Americans. Homeland’s use of flashbacks to illustrate Brody’s torture in Afghanistan is not merely for additional detail in a vast sea of character information, it helps to shape our view of torture tactics used by Al-Qaeda. This can also help to shape the view of either the series or the U.S. military policy.

Although Season Two aired almost five years ago, the current administration has reignited controversy on the United States’ stance on torture. According to an article in “The Atlantic”, torture was a key part of Trump’s national-security platform as a presidential candidate. He publicly defended torture on the trail, proclaiming that “torture works” and “only a stupid person would say it doesn’t work.” Even if it didn’t work, Trump concluded, “they deserve it anyway, for what they’re doing.” One has to wonder if such inflammatory rhetoric were uttered when Season Two aired, what direction the show’s writers would take these torture and interrogation scenes. Would they retract, contradict, revise, or simply ignore these political statements and just let that part of Brody’s history fade into the background? While conducting research for this article, I did not run across any viewers voicing dissent about the current season and Trump’s political utterances on this topic so my assumption is that either Homeland shifted its focus overseas off American soil where the instances of torture would not be such a common refrain or viewers do not find Homeland’s depiction of torture particularly offensive.

The CIA has often used Hollywood to present a rosy portrait of its operations.  Homeland has become a platform for Alex Gansa (Homeland’s co-creator) to explore all the most compelling and controversial aspects of the war on terror from a reliably pro-CIA point of view.  According to Gansa, the show tries in a vigorous way to show both sides of the political spectrum and not be polemic.  However as the war on terror endlessly grinds on, it will be interesting to see if Hollywood takes a more critical look at national security.  Not just in Homeland, but in other popular television shows or movies that of the same genre.

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6 thoughts on “Week 6: Season Two Episodes 9-12: Torture and Interrogation in the United States: Glamorized or Real?

  1. Christine,
    In response to Trump’s views I was thinking the same thing as I watched this episode. From what I recall President Obama was against many of the tactics that worked in Homeland. However, in regards to Trump, he finds these measures work while the new CIA director says they don’t. However, in Homeland Peter’s tactic and use of torture did work to an extent. I wonder if the election will influence how shows like these will change or alter they way in which they frame villains, use torture, use drone strikes, etc.

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  2. Good work here. I guess I would ask whether it is the duty of a television show to portray things in true-to-life ways. For instance, should the show show Peter Quinn going through whatever CIA protocol is in place to handle an agent slamming a knife through an interrogation subject’s hand? Should Carrie’s hidden bi-polar disorder, when found out, disqualify her from service since she hid important medical information from her government employer? Should the show only portray recreations of actual terrorist activities rather than creating new ones in an effort to curb fear of Muslims? In other words, what is the responsibility of a television show to the real world? Is it important to always get “accurate depictions” of things, and who, ultimately, is in charge of the “accuracy” of these “depictions”? I think this is a bigger theoretical issue, but one I think is important given the trajectory many take toward film and tv.

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  3. You bring up some really great points in here. I have to agree with Brian’s questioning of responsibility for true depictions though. However, given the penchant of our current commander in chief to believe whatever hokum he finds on television (with the exception of news outlets that report negatively on him…you know…the “fake news”) perhaps now is a time to reexamine the need for diligence in what is being portrayed and in what ways. I’m not entirely convinced that things should change to accommodate the possibility of people taking a fictional show too seriously but perhaps it is an interesting question to consider.

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  4. Interesting discussion. You have inspired me to work backwards a bit in my following comments: A key point in the discussion of the depiction of torture in the show “24” was that U.S. military commanders came to the producers and asked them to stop it. They said that their recruits who were going to do interrogations had watched the show and gotten a completely skewed view of how it should be done. They said the portrayal was dangerous to U.S. interests.
    I’m just going to hypothesize here, but I would say a lot of the torture that was used in Iraq was done for the purposes of ferreting out the key operators of Saddam Hussein’s military establishment. We weren’t especially facile with Arabic, way too few interpreters, and torture became a quick way to getting information that turned out to be often bad information.
    The torture that gets depicted on 24 and Homeland is of another variety–ticking bomb torture. You have to torture because time is of the essence. But that’s fictional torture, I am skeptical that this rationale for torture was ever in the minds of those interrogators in Iraq. I worry that real torture as practiced by American soldiers in Iraq was often racist–we felt we were a superior culture to them and could do whatever we pleased. It was designed to intimidate and was pretty far removed from protecting loved ones back in fortress America. Homeland distorts this with its ticking bombs.

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  5. I read that article from The Atlantic recently and I think it is pertinent to wonder just how much pull the CIA has in their portrayal. Does this create a conflict of interest? In my research for my post about drones, an article mentioned this was one of the first moves of the Obama administration, to end “enhanced interrogations”. I think he had the foresight to see that history will not look favorably on those who look the other way in terms of human rights, Trump’s administration is taking a Machiabvellian approach which while arguably pragmatic but I feel it’s extremely paranoid and as Dr. Chown mentioned, dehumanizing and albeit racist.

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  6. I believe that most people are not over concerned with the depiction of violence and torture technique’s. Not because we are a cold blooded people, but because many of us choose to turn a blind eye to what they are being shown. they believe the government wouldn’t do such things, or if they did, what we do not know will not hurt us. We all have a idea of what kind of line we are willing to cross in the face of torture and to what extent are we trying to do for the greater good.

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