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

Image result for religion

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.

Image result for saul homeland jewish seder dinner

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.

 

Advertisements

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

homeland-4x101

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.

Image result for carrie frannie

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.

BN-FZ760_HOME_3_G_20141212180839

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

Episode 302

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