Week 8: Season 3 Episodes 5-8: Violence and Homeland

The cornerstone of the middle four episodes of Season 3 of Homeland seemed to settle on a new villain, Javadi.  This makes sense given the first four episodes of this season focused on the carefully orchestrated ruse perpetuated by Carrie and Saul to draw out Javadi, who financed the bombing of the CIA headquarters.  We learn more about this psychopath in these four episodes in addition to learning that Javadi and Saul have an extensive past, dating back to at least 1978.

While Javadi represents another negative stereotype of Muslims, I will not devote any space in this blog to discuss Islamophobia since some of my classmates discussed this in recent blogs.  Rather the article by Amy Laura Hall (Torture and Television in the United States) was timely given the amount of carnage played out in these episodes.  Sure the murder of over 200 people in the CIA bombing was grotesque  and disturbing (especially the scene where all the bodies are laid out with Saul reciting the Kaddisch), these four episodes sure tipped the scales in depicting violence on this show.

The episode titled “Still Positive” begins with Carrie hooked up to a polygraph test after she was taken, blindfolded, to a small room containing interrogation equipment. We learn Javadi was behind this when her captors removed the blindfold they placed over her head, and found herself face to face with him.  When Javadi told her that she was lying, she disclosed that they’re (CIA) aware of his embezzling of government funds and can make him an enemy of the state in Iran. They agree to meet at a coffee house later so Saul can meet with him first.

What transpires next is gruesome.  Instead of arriving at the coffee house, Javadi instead drove to the house his sister-in-law is renting.  Although Carrie and Quinn race to prevent him from entering the house, he beats them there.  Javadi forces his way inside and brutally murders his sister-in-law and wife in front of his toddler son.  Quinn and Carrie arrive right after the double murders and Quinn aptly describes the crime scene as a “bloodbath”.

Another dramatic glorification of violence occurs in the episode titled “A Red Wheelbarrow” the man who physically placed the bomb that blew up Langley is killed by the shady  Paul Franklin who is an associate for Leland Bennett. We first see Carrie get shot in the shoulder by Quinn for attempting to prevent Franklin from shooting the Langley bomber.  Although this was not particularly disturbing, considering the other violent scenes already depicted in Homeland, seeing Franklin kill the bomber and pour acid over his body was.

As violent as these scenes are, I find they attempt to fill in some gaps in story lines and characterization, although death shouldn’t always need to be paraded.  The nature of the murderous acts Javadi committed upon his wife and sister-in-law reflect the evilness that lurks beneath his charming exterior. Is the motive behind these killings another example of painting a Muslim in a bad light?  Yes I believe so because we learned the reason for such a brutal slaying, especially of his wife with the wine bottle, was because in his eyes she betrayed him by seeking refuge in the United States, a la to an honor killing. In the one-and-one conversation with Saul after the murders (when Saul informed him how he will now work for the CIA as a double agent), Javadi chillingly stated that the proper way of killing his wife was to stone her, but “you didn’t give me enough time to do that”.

In the case of the murder of the Langley bomber, Homeland relied on evoking the emotions of the audience that a “bad guy” was killed, making this homicide justifiable.  According to Richard Beck of n+1, “Homeland‘s idea, is that it is actually OK to kill as many supposed terrorists as you like, so long as you use a solemn tone of voice, present your credentials up front, and keep the swagger out of your gait”.  Although I don’t know if Franklin actually presented his “credentials” other than knowing he works for the nefarious Bennett, I felt some justice was served when the Langley bomber was murdered.

Amy Laura Hall’s article examined the frequency of violence in television.  She stated how Episode 308TV critics expected such scenes of “grisly fictional violence on TV would abate after the sobering events of September 11”.  Instead such scenes “appeared on network entertainment TV at a rate nearly double that over the previous two years.”  After citing some figures to back up this claim, Hall cites another study made by a communication professor that “Violence, as odd as it sounds, can have a sort of cathartic effect on people. When they are exposed to violence there is something of a vicarious element . . . [of] participation that could have a soothing effect on them.”

Personally I do not experience a cathartic effect when a violent scene splashes across my screen.  In fact, its quite the opposite.  My heart rate accelerates and I cannot view the violence, only the aftermath of the violence.  However I can appreciate people who are able to tolerate graphic violence on screen and can reap the benefits of viewing such material.

This brings me to my last point.  How can someone feel soothed by a show such as Homeland, given its fast paced plot lines, intensity, and excessive foul language?  I don’t think the creators of Homeland had this in mind when they created the series.  What Homeland does do is to offer a glimpse (albeit an exaggerated one) into the world of espionage, terror, and Middle Eastern politics, which makes for an exciting show.

It will be interesting to see what will transpire concerning the villains of this show, Javadi aside. What will become of Franklin and Bennett?  Senator Lockhart?  Now that he will take the reigns of the CIA shortly, how will the reputation of the CIA differ?  I am looking forward to it, but I’ll be diverting my eyes during any acts of violence.





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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Week 5: Season Two Episodes 5-8: Dana Brody: Anguished Teen or Moral Compass?

untitledI admit the topic I chose to write for week five is not my first choice. I had these grandiose thoughts of comparing torture tactics used in the United States from those used in the Middle East. I got inspired to delve into this topic after viewing episodes 17-20 in Season 2 where Brody is being interrogated by the CIA and Aileen Morgan, a low-level al-Qaeda operative from Season One, is in solitary confinement. Although Brody was injured during the interrogation (when Quinn plunged a knife into his hand), and Aileen was enduring psychological torture, a prevailing thought I had was that conditions surely would be much worse if these two were imprisoned in Afghanistan or any of the other Middle Eastern country. Continue reading

Week 3: Season One Episodes 9-12: Loyalty

After I concluded viewing Season One of Homeland, I came away feeling conflicted toward the show and its characters.  The show is captivating although at times the story lines are far fetched, but overall after having completed Season One, I am eager to start Season Two. I am looking to find out how will Carrie will fare after receiving ECS treatment in an effort to lessen the effects of her bi-polar disorder. Continue reading

Week 2: Season One Episodes 5-8: Relationships and Character Development

After viewing episodes 5-8 of the first season of Homeland, I am intrigued by the show’s portrayal and continued development of several key relationships in the series. Even though at this point I have only skimmed the surface of the basic premise of this show, it is clear that Homeland is a complex and engaging series with storylines that keep the viewer on the edge of their seat.  As any good writer and story teller knows, even the best storyline could not come to life without the inclusion of several richly detailed and complex characters.  Homeland certainly does not disappoint in this aspect of the show. It is through these relationships that Homeland attempts to showcase the values and dominance of these characters within these respective relationships. Not only do these relationships provide additional detail into the some of the primary characters of the show, but they also contribute to the fast paced and suspenseful narrative that is felt throughout the show. Continue reading

Week 1 Season One: Episodes 1-4 Carrie and Maggie

Saturday January 21, I started watching the hit Showtime series Homeland. Right at the start, I was riveted by this program. The storylines are complex and engaging and some of the characters offer a glimpse into an exciting and dangerous world of being a CIA agent. Typically I watch network TV, a mix of comedies and dramas, so the contrast of following a show on cable is startling. In particular the overt sexual content and graphic language, although I feel these elements add to the content and tone of the show. Since this my first time watching Homeland, I looked into what was the inspiration for this program. “Homeland in the Holy Land” by Debra Kamin recounts how Homeland is basically an American version of the original TV series, Hatufim (Prisoners of War). In Hatufim, the opening episode shows two Israeli prisoners of war coming home after 17 years in captivity in Lebanon to be reunited with their families in a sterile airport waiting room. Episode one of Homeland is strikingly familiar, although the series focused on one prisoner of war returning home instead of two. (There is mention of a second prisoner but we learned he died while in captivity). Continue reading