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 9: Season 3 Episodes 9-12: How Real is the CIA depicted in Homeland?

21-homeland-ep4-6.w529.h352The final four episodes of Season 3 of Homeland contained action, suspense, violence, and the elimination of one of the show’s protagonists.  In other words, all the stuff that makes Homeland such an engaging and entertaining show. The gripping depiction of the CIA in its fight against terrorism serves as the linchpin to all the other elements that make up the show. Many of the main characters have pivotal positions in this agency and at the end of Season 2, a bomb ripped apart its headquarters in what was deemed as the worst terrorist attack since September 11th and positioned itself as a key narrative detail.

Many analysis have been written featuring the characters and plot lines of Homeland so I wanted to find something unique to focus my analysis on this week. There have been many changes to the CIA in Homeland’s world in the aftermath of the bombing, so I felt the time was right to delve deeper into this mysterious and prestigious agency in the federal government.  A fraction of Season 3 was devoted to hiring a new director of the CIA and trying to restore its tattered reputation.  For a while, Saul took the reigns as the director since he occupied the highest ranking position of the staff who survived the bombing.  However it is in the middle of Season 3 that we learned Saul’s days are numbered at the CIA. Although he was able to buy himself some time in his directorship of the CIA in order to finalize a crucial mission, it was in the final episode of this season that Lockhart was ultimately confirmed as the new CIA director.

All three seasons show an almost glamorous look at the CIA: from the offices at Langley, to traveling to exotic locations, to its employees being one of the elite few having access to classified national and international information.  Although I know Hollywood tends to exaggerate plot lines and characterization for sake of creating pulse pounding entertainment for its audience, I was curious about what a career in the CIA is really like.  Are the days really fraught with excitement and danger?  How often do employees of the CIA get to hobnob with the President, Vice President, Congress, and other high ranking government officials?  Is Carrie, a mid level case worker (prior to her promotion at the end of Season 3), really allowed to flagrantly violate her orders in a mission and still be able to maintain her position within the agency? It turns out that however glamorous the CIA appears on screen, in reality a career at the CIA is not quite as fantastical.

Original Headquarters Building (OHB)

The CIA’s original headquarters building

According to Jon Swaine of The Telegraph, many details and story lines are unrealistic. Starting with the portrayal of the agency’s headquarters in northern Virginia, the work spaces are far uglier than the elegant steel-and-glass shown on the show.  Also the real job as an analyst is around 15-20 percent awe-inspiring and dramatic moments while other times analysts are writing reports. Since watching a scene depicting an analyst at a computer writing a report is about as exciting as watching paint dry, it’s understandable that the writers concoct all sorts of crazy and outlandish situations for our protagonists and pluck the all of the action in exotic locals.

Carrie’s character is a prime example of fallacious characterization.  One CIA counter terror homeland-season-5-episode-2-claire-danes.Rveteran stated that someone with such a “drug-addled and neurotic persona certainly would have raised numerous red flags in real life, and she likely would have had wound up in a job in the mail room to keep her out of trouble”.   According to another former CIA official, “bureaucratic concerns would ensure mid-ranking case officers such as Carrie did not glide in and out of the offices of agency bosses such as David Estes”.  In the past I have been critical of Carrie being so unwavering in her dedication to her job, despite any cost to those around her.  That sort of recklessness was prominently featured in this season: Carrie was willing to sabotage Saul’s plan when she was trying to stop Franklin from shooting the Langley bomber.  It took Quinn to shoot her in the shoulder to stop her in her tracks.  In what was probably a more flagrant example insubordination, Carrie warned Brody of the two men Saul and Der Adal dispatched to kill him in Tehran.  I find it hard to believe that just these two instances were not enough for the CIA to terminate Carrie’s employment.  Instead, Carrie was offered a cushy job in Istanbul.

The C.I.A. sisterhood is fed up with the flock of fictional C.I.A. women in movies and on TV who guzzle alcohol as they bed hop and drone drop, acting crazed and emotional, sleeping with terrorists and seducing assets.

Perhaps the biggest blunder in accuracy depicted in the show is centered on the central plot line.  The CIA would not even be allowed to investigate Brody as a turned Marine since it unfolds inside the United States.  They would not even attempt to do so, as they are concerned with terrorism overseas.  The FBI and Homeland Security handle domestic terror incidents.  Instead Homeland portrays the FBI almost as bumbling buffoons,  assisting the CIA when domestic terrorism events strike.

These inaccuracies aside, the show accurately portrayed Lockhart’s acquisition as the new CIA Director. The Director is a civilian or a general/flag officer of the armed forces nominated by the President.  It was during the hunting expedition that Saul learned of the President nominating Lockhart for the Director position.  Although some details were glossed over as in order to become Director.  For example, the candidate would also need the concurring or nonconcurring recommendation from the DNI, and must be confirmed by a majority vote of the Senate.

The end of Season 3 shows a touching scene – akin to a tribute to the now deceased Brody.  CIA Memorial WallAfter getting rebuffed from Lockhart for getting Brody a star to display on the CIA memorial wall, Carrie used a marker to draw in a star.   It will be interesting to see how the CIA will hold up without Saul, especially given his successful mission in evading war with Iran.  Will Carrie be bringing baby Brody with her to Istanbul?  Will she embrace motherhood when her daughter is born?  Homeland will undoubtedly explore these questions along with their unique mix of political intrigue, excitement, and action in Season 4.

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

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