Week 15: Season 5 Episodes 9-12: Popularity of a Hero in Entertainment

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Through Seasons Two through Five, Peter Quinn has been one of the main fixtures on our screen when viewing Homeland.  This character is dark, brooding, and mysterious all while fighting the bad guys quite effectively.  Season Five shifted gears where all the excitement took place in Berlin, Germany.  Quinn fresh from a stint in Syria, found himself there amidst all of the adventures of Saul and Carrie and in similar fashion found himself neck deep into all their craziness. But still we tune in and see Quinn effortlessly pick off one enemy after another while looking like he can take center stage on a cover of a magazine.  Although I am not one to swoon over fictional television characters, I find myself looking forward to seeing Quinn on my screen and root for him in his adventures.  This has me wondering if the writers of Homeland purposely want their viewers to see Quinn through the lens of a hero.

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Heroes are beloved by many readers and/or viewers of entertainment.  The concept of a hero dates back a long time ago and originated in classical literature.  The definition of a hero has changed throughout time, and the Merriam Webster dictionary defines a hero as “a person who is admired for great or brave acts or fine qualities”.

While labeling someone as a hero is somewhat objective, I feel Quinn checks the boxes of these attributes of a hero.  He was first introduced to Homeland’s audience in Season Two as a black ops agent, under the supervision of Dar Adal.  Although we recently learned why Dar Adal recruited him (sex work for the CIA, could have done without that backstory), Quinn has turned out to be quite a good addition to the CIA organization.  We have since seen Quinn scale walls seemingly effortlessly (and only using his bare hands!), profess that he only kills “bad guys” and does so efficiently, survive a gunshot to his abdomen in the tailor shop in Gettysberg, single handily kill dozens of Haqqani’s men in the ambush on the CIA in Islamabad (while managing to not get killed himself), and most recently escaped death narrowly, not once but twice in Season Five.  (Although it remains to be seen if he truly survives the second attempt at his life).  While this seems pretty outlandish and frankly preposterous, it does make for exciting TV and glorifies Quinn as a hero.

While Quinn has his short comings, his actions demonstrate his tendency to fight for the common good.  Although he is not one to wear his feelings on his sleeve, we witnessed Quinn defend his heavyset friend when insensitive bullies were mocking her weight. Although bashing someone’s face on the table is over-the-top, his actions illustrate that he does have the capability to care for another human being.  The end of Season Five really brought forth the feelings he has for Carrie, via a romantic letter he wrote her.  I believe this was the first time in the series that romance was used in the narrative and it was a nice addition to the ongoing “will they or won’t they” storyline between them.

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Another notion of a hero is one who selfless and is willing to risk his or her life to save another.  Quinn has demonstrated this in his fierce protection of Carrie. In Season Five, a severely injured Quinn, determined to protect Carrie by severing his connection to her, slipped away from their safe house and attempted to take his own life.

Part of the troupe of a hero on TV resides with the hero facing insurmountable difficulties and setbacks.  The later half of Season Five, Quinn was not lacking in such instances.  Although Quinn tried to take his own life, he was stopped in the act by Hussein, a doctor who resides with the same group of Syrian jihadists that Quinn fell into, who were allegedly planning to carry out a terrorist attack in Syria. Quinn pretended to go along with the plan while informing Dar Adal about the group’s movements, but he eventually learned that their real target wasn’t Syria, but was right there in Berlin.  Unfortunately he gets knocked out by one of the jihadists when he went to investigate what is being loaded onto their truck during a stop for supplies.

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Quinn’s luck seemed to have ran out at this point as when he woke up, he found himself tied up and near containers of chemical weapons. It was revealed the containers held sarin, a deadly gas used as a chemical weapon. The jihadists decided to test the effectiveness of the sarin gas, by exposing Quinn to it.  Seems at this point, Quinn was facing certain death, but a sympathetic member of the group injected the agent with an antidote beforehand. Although the effects of the gas were lessened, Quinn was still grievously sick — made even worse when Carrie ordered doctors to wake him up in order to extract information from him.

Usually the hero finds a way to not succumb to adversity so it remains to be seen if Quinn’s storyline will follow this format.  As it is, at the end of Season Five, Quinn was still in a coma with no signs of recovery.  The very end of the season featured Carrie in his hospital room, ready to do a mercy killing but a bright light pierced the room.  Is this symbolism that Quinn’s soul is ascending to heaven or is it a sign from God that Quinn will miraculously survive?  I look forward to watching Season Six to find out the answer.

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Over the last fifteen weeks, I eagerly viewed Homeland for my graduate school COMS 650 course at Northern Illinois University.  Although I wasn’t sure what to expect from a class where you watch a TV show and then blog about it, I learned a lot more than what I thought I would.  The articles assigned for the class to read, provided another layer of depth to this show.  Clearly, Homeland is smartly written show, containing some real representations of real life and a whole lot of embellishment.  As I mentioned above, I look forward to watching Season Six and any additional seasons during the course of Homeland’s lifetime.  I hope to interact with my followers from time to time and look forward to more musings on Homeland in the future.

 

 

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.

 

Week 12: Season 4 Episodes 9-12: How Effective of a Female Protagonist is Carrie Mathison?

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Watching Homeland is not for the faint of heart.  Trust me, I know.  So much action and violence and little in the way of romance.  Week after week as I watch my four episodes, I am riveted to what is playing out in front of me.  Thankfully the final four episodes of Season 4 do not disappoint. There are many plot twists and turns,  relationship nuances that are brought to the forefront, and arguably the most intense action-packed scene of Homeland so far, despite how unrealistic it is.  While these episodes contain a multitude of story arcs and themes to pursue for this weeks blog, I am interested in discerning how effective Carrie Mathison is as a female protagonist.

Carrie, the ever complex protagonist of this show, started out this season callous and self involved.  Some of my peers agreed with my assessment and others viewed her apathy toward her daughter Frannie differently, to which I accede to.  As Season Four continued on, we saw Carrie draw on her emotions more.  Nearly getting blown up to smithereens twice,  losing most of your crew in the embassy massacre, learning that there were people in her professional sphere who betrayed her and the United States, losing your father then coming face-to-face with your mother whom you haven’t seen in 15 years (and learning you have a half brother) will do that to you.

Although it’s not all of the crazy and death defying situations Carrie finds herself in that provide moments of unclarity of her character for the viewer, rather its how her emotions change capriciously.  According to Sophie Gilbert of The Atlantic, Carrie embodies the ugliest stereotypes about women in the workplace: that they’re hysterical, brittle, rude, entitled, inefficient, and governed by emotions rather than logic. Instead of earning her promotions, Carrie either fails her way up the CIA ladder (after practically everyone else is killed by the Langley car bomb) or threatens people into giving her what she wants.

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While I am pleased to see Carrie embrace motherhood in episode 12, I am perplexed as to why the change of heart?  She was bonding with Frannie before her mother returned so any revelations from Carrie about not being like her absentee mom were not there. Could it be that the writers of Homeland decided to portray Carrie as a more effective feminine hero rather then have her display unmaternal coldness that’s intended to make her more like one of the boys?  Personally I bristle at the notion of being an “effective feminine hero” as someone who has to show her maternal instinct.  True I got angry at Carrie for seemingly not to care about Frannie (she’s just so cute with that red hair and adorable smile, how could she not care), but would Carrie make such a bad female hero had she either never gotten pregnant in the first place, decided to either terminate the pregnancy, or gave Frannie up for adoption?

We have seen Carrie’s sensibilities all over the map this season. She was willing to kill both Aayan and Saul in her obsessive pursuit of Haggani, but then was doggedly talking Saul down from committing suicide and displayed anger for Aayan’s murder (when she was willing to take Haggani down despite Saul being in the vicinity).  I am not sure if this is the stuff of a strong female protagonist.  And this does not take into account her sexual exploits, aiding a domestic terrorist, and bullying people into doing what she wants!

In stark contrast to Carrie Mathison is Fara Sherazi.  Brilliant in her own right, she was caring, kind, and did not succumb into using her sexuality and beauty to lure assets or obtain critical and classified information.  This was apparent in her failed mission in acquiring Aayan as an asset.  Although Fara was a minor character initially, its clear she isn’t sociopathically detached or obsessively emotionally involved. tumblr_ng9kb4lBCY1qaqpx9o1_1280

As an aside, Fara was also a positive portrayal of a Muslim character in a show that has been criticized as the most Islamophobic show on television.  Any good Homeland did to promote an anti-Islamophobic agenda by showcasing such a favorable Muslim portrayal is erased when they decided to have the repugnant villain Haggani murder Fara in cold blood.  Not only is Haggani of the Islamic faith but is also the Taliban’s leader. No doubt many writers capitalized on Homeland’s faux pas of killing off Fara and showcasing Haggani and other Taliban soldiers viciously gunning down embassy personnel as more examples of  how Homeland is perpetuating negative stereotypes of Muslims.  The Haggani character alone, is worthy of such criticism.  Not only did he murder over 40 people in the span of one season, but he forced Lockhart into handing over a master list of all American assets in Pakistan, foreshadowing their demise.  So I will miss Fara and I feel cheated out of seeing her sweet romance she was sharing with Max develop more in future episodes.

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Reverting back to Carrie.  It is clear has much to ponder going into Season Five.  She shared a passionate kiss with Peter Quinn after her father’s funeral.  She also learned from her mother that it was her infidelities that caused her to leave Carrie and Maggie when they were young adults not that the relationship got to be unbearable due to Frank’s bipolar disorder.  Unfortunately by the time Carrie found this out, it was too late as Quinn decided to accept a mission to Aleppo, Syria and is unreachable.  Will Carrie be able to experience love with someone who is a good match for her?  Or are we going to have to watch her emotions ebb and flow like the tide?  How will Carrie deal with Saul selling himself out to remove Haggani from the CIA’s no-kill list just so he can reclaim his previous CIA director position?  Will she be an effective female protagonist and be able separate her personal and professional spheres without resorting to cheap tactics to get what she wants?  We will soon see and I can’t wait.

Week 10: Season 4 Episodes 1-4: Transformation of Carrie and Quinn

quinn carrieWhile watching the first four episodes of Season 4 of Homeland, I was struck by an emotion of profound sadness.  Not because the Pakistan Station Chief Sandy Bachman was beaten to death by an angry mob in the streets of Islamabad.  After all Sandy was just introduced to us earlier in episode 1, so it wasn’t like I had invested any interest in this character in order to feel some sense of loss from his demise.  Instead I found myself deeply affected by how apathetic Carrie is to her infant daughter, Frannie.

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The second episode in the season devoted a decent amount of screen time to Carrie’s interaction with Frannie.  It is through these scenes we learn what kind of mother she is.  It should come as no surprise to Homeland’s viewers that she’s not a good mother. Permanently recalled from her position as Afghanistan’s station chief as a result of the botched airstrike that killed 40 people at a wedding, Carrie goes to Maggie’s house since Maggie has been taking care of Frannie.  When Carrie arrives, she hears Frannie crying. She turns around to leave but Maggie comes out of the house with Frannie in her arms. Maggie encourages Carrie to bond with Frannie, but Carrie is clearly uncomfortable and interacts with the baby as little as possible. The next day, with Maggie at work and the nanny gone, Carrie is left alone with her daughter. While Carrie seems to display some maternal tendencies toward her daughter at times, she packs baby Franny in the car (illegally in the front seat of her car no less) and drives to Brody’s old house.  It is in front of Brody’s old home where she confesses to Frannie that with Brody dead, she can’t remember why she gave birth to her. Even more disturbing was when Carrie was giving Frannie a bath and almost drowned her.  Why Carrie does not put Frannie up for adoption is beyond me.

Prior to Carrie’s return home, it was revealed in episode 1 during a Skype chat with Maggie that Carrie did not call to check on her daughter in over a week.  After Carrie blackmailed Lockhart into giving her the station chief position at Pakistan (chiefly to keep herself away from Frannie), and telling Maggie that she must leave immediately, Maggie chillingly retorts, “There’s not even a diagnosis for what’s wrong with you”.  It is as if something changed Carrie, all for the worse.  Perhaps it was seeing Brody being publicly hanged?  What ever the reason is, I am really disliking Carrie Mathison.

I suppose I should be more sympathetic to someone who is fighting the “bad guys” in order to prevent terror attacks to the United States, but this icy cold, manipulative, and apathetic woman hardly fills the qualifications of a heroine.  According to Judith Warner of the New York Times“We have the advent of Corrupt Carrie — newly powerful, endlessly manipulative, vaguely sexual-harassing (“Well, you’re pretty enough, I’ll say that for you,” she tells a pretty-boy lieutenant before he calls her a monster and almost makes her cry)”.  Another sexually manipulative instance perpetuated by Carrie occurred at the end of episode 4, when she seduces the Aayan.  This is how Carrie operates – she uses sex as a way to get him to open up about his not-so-dead terrorist uncle Haissam Haqqani. You could argue that this callous and indifferent woman of Season 4 is, in fact, the woman that Carrie has always been — her boundaries were always fluid, she just lacked the power to manipulate up.

What is interesting is the writers of Homeland purposely created the characterization of Carrie to be a troubled CIA operative.  After all it makes for good story telling.  According to Kellie Herson, Carrie’s bipolar disorder or “madness” is the core of the stories Homeland tells as a driving action for the plot.  The narratives told in the previous three seasons clearly illustrated her madness and even used it as a baseline in a guise to obtain an important asset.  So far this series has shown how her professional and personal spheres often overlapped (fluid boundaries) which caused Carrie a lot of anguish and agitation.  Herson also attests to when Carrie’s colleagues in Homeland are unaware of her madness, it nonetheless contributes to her outsider status in that it informs her professional behavior. Though she is not the series’ only character who lives with mental distress, as several experience trauma, it is clear from the beginning of the series that the symptoms of her bipolar disorder not only place her outside the normative expectations of her workplace but also influence her observant and diligent approach to her job.

Peter Quinn

While Carrie has descended into an apathetic and manipulative persona, Quinn is decidedly the more human of the two.  This seems to be in contrast to the menacing and unfeeling Quinn introduced to viewers in Season 2.  This is really apparent in the first episode of Season 4 when Quinn and Carrie drive back to the embassy in silence after witnessing Sandy’s murder. Carrie is all business and ready to dive in to brief the ambassador however Quinn needs a minute to gather himself after the chaos. Carrie refuses to stop for anything and the episode ends with her nonchalantly wiping blood from her cheek and reapplying her lipstick.

Still upset over killing the young boy in Caracas and reeling from the events in Islamabad, Quinn is really ready to leave the CIA.  He is stressed, damaged, and resorts to drinking heavily to cope with his PTSD.  However per CIA protocol, they have to make sure he is okay before he leaves so that he won’t be a threat to himself or others. The exit interviewer presses Quinn on all of the terrible events he’s been a part in his tenure and repeatedly brings up Carrie. After touching a nerve about having any romantic feelings toward Carrie, Quinn snaps and abruptly leaves the room.

Quinn is also there to provide a voice of reason to squelch any missions that would place anyone on the team in danger.  When Carrie was ready to go after ISI agent Farhad Ghazi (whom they realized orchestrated the attack that killed Sandy), Quinn tried to stop her as it would place the rest of the team in danger.  It took a call from Fara informing Carrie that Haissam Haqqani is indeed alive and did not perish from the drone strike that killed his family during the wedding to stop her in her tracks.

While there seems to be this underlying romantic possibility between Quinn and Carrie from the start (although it seems more on his end than hers), Carrie does not deserve Quinn.  Sure he has a checkered past, has violent tendencies, is an absentee dad to his son, and appears to be heading down the road to alcoholism (if he’s not there already), but at least he’s looking for redemption.  I wonder what is in store for Quinn.  Will Homeland resort to using Quinn’s madness as a plot device?  Or will they, in an effort to appease the proportion of its audience who expects romance mixed in with the action, offer Quinn and Carrie as a new romantic pairing?  Guess we will have to wait and see.

Week 7: Season 3 Episodes 1-4: Confinement and Betrayal

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I will admit, these four episodes were not my favorite.  Although I was warned this season is not as exciting and fast paced as the previous two, I was determined to review them honestly and without any preconceived notions.  While I accomplished that objective, I did take issue with some of the story lines in first four episodes of the third season of Homeland.   Continue reading