Week 13: Season 5 Episodes 1-4: Homeland and Religion

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Season 5 of Homeland started off on a surprising note, Carrie Mathison in a Catholic church, receiving Holy Communion.  Soon after we witness Carrie in church, we see she has settled into a quiet, almost normal life in Berlin Germany with her daughter Frannie and is in a steady relationship with her boyfriend Jonas.  Of course Homeland would not be Homeland if it did not shake this peaceful and serene lifestyle of Carrie’s off its foundation and thrust her into more action and death defying maneuvers.  But instead of analyzing this interesting facet of Carrie, I feel it’s worthwhile to examine how religion is reflected, represented, and posed in the Homeland narrative.

Season 5 follows a two year time jump after the bloodbath at the Embassy in Islamabad. I guess two years is plenty of time for Carrie to leave her prestigious position at the CIA, find a new and impressive gig as head of security for a German billionaire at a foundation, settle into living quarters in a foreign country while getting acclimated to being a mother, and not only find a boyfriend, but settle into a committed and loving relationship with him.  That’s a lot of changes in a span of only two years!  Yet Carrie can do all this and reconnect with her Catholic upbringing.

"It's a quieter, more internal story," says Alex Gansa. "It's a spy story this year."

According to Trishia Cerdena at Christianity Daily, deciding to show Carrie in a religious setting was deliberate. “We were always wrestling with the idea that Carrie had rediscovered her faith. Her father was Catholic and she was essentially raised Catholic, confirmed and then lapsed,” co-creator Alex Gansa explained.  Her return to her Catholic upbringing emphasizes a softer, more material side of Carrie which has her settling in a new environment in which she enjoys a certain degree of stability.  This is evident when we hear Carrie refer to her life as “a more happy one”, while bemoaning having to get dragged back into her CIA life.  “It’s like my old life came back,” Carrie says after conversing with Laura Sutton, who wanted Carrie to confirm the authenticity of emails detailing highly sensitive information as a result of a CIA data breech, “Everything I moved here to get away from.”  The use of religion as a plot device seemingly plays a key role in Carrie’s life at the moment while also offering a good mechanism to articulate her guilt of her former life.  By showcasing Carrie take Communion, it becomes a symbol that she’s having a dialogue with herself about something (possibly atoning for all of the civilian deaths under her leadership).  According to Tim Stanley of the Catholic Herald, the sudden emergence of a Catholic theme is tempting to draw a parallel between some of the representations of Islam and those of Mother Church unveiled in this new series. They both look foreign – even Eastern. They both demand commitment to something beyond the nation state. They both make people do extraordinary things for reasons that sometimes defy logic.

Claire Danes and Mandy Patinkin for 'Homeland' Season 5

We have known for quite sometime that Saul Berenson is Jewish.  The tough talking, frequently cursing, Yiddish-using character of Saul has been a milestone for Jews on television.  We learned about his strict Jewish upbringing in a small Indiana town when he was on the road with domestic terrorist Aileen, trying to get her to open up about her co-conspirators.  In the electrifying second season finale, in a highly dramatic scene, we see Saul saying the Kaddish prayer while standing in front of 200 dead bodies after a mass terror attack at the CIA headquarters.  For much of the episodes in Homeland, Saul’s faith is just part of his identity, separate from his professional life, and serves as fodder for his relationships with Israel and other Middle Eastern countries.  However in Season 5, Saul’s Jewishness brought forth Zionism front and center.  This was established at a Passover Seder Saul attended with his secret new girlfriend Allison (huh, what happened to Mira?!) at the home of Etai Luskin, who we learn is the Israeli ambassador and an old intelligence buddy of Saul’s.

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According to Sonia Saraiya at Salon, “Homeland” is based on an Israeli show by Gideon Raff called “Prisoners of War,” and though the two shows have diverged dramatically since “Homeland’s” first season, the notion of a divinely granted homeland is one that both shows have worked to examine, through the eyes of many different characters of many different faiths.  In the fifth season it’s finally coming home, in a way.

Early on in the series, Sargent Nicholas Brody was introduced as Christian (not sure if the denomination was ever stated) American who converted to Islam.  In an earlier reading assignment, scholar Daniel Tutt mentioned how the use of Islam throws even more grey matter into the religious dimension to terrorism. For example, Brody admitted to Carrie that his conversion to Islam was partially a coping mechanism for the hell he was going through. Brody’s reason was articulated when he quipped: “Well, they didn’t have many Bibles over there. Don’t you think you’d turn to religion if you had to face what I faced?”  As subsequent episodes unfolded, it became apparent that although Islam became an important part of Brody’s identity, it did not radicalize him.  In other words, Brody was more of a political radical than a religious zealot.

The use of religion as a plot device is interesting because not only does it add depth to the characterization of the show’s front runners, but it aids in representing certain emotions (such as guilt in Carrie’s case) or foreshadows the future direction of the narrative. Of course much analysis has been done with regards to depictions of Islam (the unessential maneuver of Brody burying the Quran), it will be interesting to see if Catholicism and Judaism will be brought more into prominence as Season 5 continues to unfold.



7 thoughts on “Week 13: Season 5 Episodes 1-4: Homeland and Religion

  1. Really interesting post! I didn’t make the connection of Carrie wanting to go to a church when she was off of her medication. In addition, she is talking about “avenging angels” which is an interesting allusion to Christianity. You also mention it as dealing with the guilt from her past life, great point. Personally, that is one thing I disliked about my mild Catholic upbringing was that overarching sense of feeling guilty for “sinning”. Carrie obviously has more skeletons in her closet than I, but I empathize that she is trying to find a way to cope spiritually.


  2. Interesting that it is a Catholic church she attends. This definitely plays into the idea of penance so heavily tied in to Catholic theology, and Carrie seems to view the church as a means to “make up” for her sins, so to speak. There is obviously little in the episodes that ties her to the Catholic faith in any means beyond it functioning as a guilt mechanism, and there really isn’t much beyond the opening service in episode one to make Carrie out to be particularly devout all of a sudden. Interesting, as well, that the last time we saw her in a church setting, I believe, was when she was undercover in season three and meeting with Franklin. It was an Orthodox Church then, and she lit a candle, telling Franklin she once dated a guy who was Orthodox. So, we have some tangential religion going on in the show, but nothing that seems to drive a character or function as a major part of the character’s life (I would argue Saul’s Judaism is much more cultural/heritage than religious in nature).


  3. I’ve never been big on any particular religion so the use of any other religion here besides Islam is interesting. I have always found it funny, and this shows up in Carrie’s life, that people turn to faith only after they have done something absolutely appalling. Even Saul uses his religion more as a means to end than something he actually practices. As opposed to Islam who’s purpose is for their religion and their people. Even when you bring up Brody, as a Christian he went to war, yet you hear his purpose for war being that he was fighting for his country. As an Islam he fights for his faith and the loss of a child. The play on religion in this show is both interesting and irritating.


  4. Interesting post. I think that religion is definitely a relevant topic. Although religion, other than Islam, was not really addressed much in earlier seasons, I think the fact that this season takes place in Europe, makes this topic extremely relevant. After all, this is a corner of the world where we see a larger number of religious representations. Of course, religion has been at the root of many great conflicts throughout the ages so this coming together of different religious ideologies in a show like Homeland also has that additional narrative tension that suggests possible conflict to come.


  5. Great post! You bring up a lot here that I’d love to hear more in depth about (maybe in class? lol)
    But I think the point you make about Carrie’s “rediscovering” her faith as a way of dealing with some feelings of guilt is a valid one. As someone who was raised Catholic (and still go to mass from time to time,) I would definitely say that “Catholic guilt” is definitely a thing! The idea of confession and contrition is one that is prominent in the Catholic faith. Which is why it’s interesting that (like Ace brought up,) when she goes off her meds, she’s talking about avenging angels, and saying “you can’t atone for that much blood- for that many souls.” I don’t recall Carrie every using spiritual language like angels and soul in the past. Additionally, it goes back to the religious idea that it is possible to “atone” for sins through confession, prayer, and (possibly,) “acts of contrition.”
    It is interesting to think about how religion is also very much tied to culture. There are people who identify as “Jewish” in more of a cultural sense than a religious one. I think there are other people who perhaps feel this way about other religions (in terms of sense of culture, community, place, etc.)
    It’s all very interesting.
    I also just want to point out that after the assassination attempt on her and her new boss, we see Carrie crying in the bathroom and saying “god, please help me.” While this doesn’t necessarily point to religion, it does seem to be an earnest plea to some sort of higher power.


  6. This was an interesting read, Christine! I noticed that religion was more present this season, especially with Carrie, who I had not known was religious until we saw at mass this season. I hadn’t made the connection to rediscovering faith and Carrie’s guilt, but I definitely think that is a good interpretation. She hallucinates about Ayan, over the guilt she feels at what she did during her time in the CIA, so it is obviously something weighing on her mind as she attempts to maintain a calmer, stabler life ass a mother.


  7. Nice post, Christine, I particularly liked you seeking out those official organs of Catholic thinking for their reviews. I will be somewhat contrary here–my kids were raised Catholic by the way–and say that those pubs seem a little desperate to find any references that are halfway positive to Catholicism in today’s media. (particularly with sex scandals constantly in the news) Still, I will disagree slightly with Brian, I think the bathroom scene where she asks for guidance is a fairly authentic representation of someone looking to their faith for answers. I’m just not sure I see the request leading to any perceivable change in how Carrie goes about her life. Yes, the worry about how much blood she has been involved with looks like a deep guilt, but it also resonates with Shakespeare’s MacBeth too. Guilt about violence is an age old theme in Western literature.


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