Monday, October 21, 2013

In defense of last night's Homeland twist

Eureka! Moment: Claire Danes in Homeland Season Three, Episode Four "Game On."
SPOILER ALERT: If you haven't watched last night's Homeland episode titled "Game On," just stop reading.

Saul and Carrie have been working together this entire time. And plenty of people aren't buying it. Why would she react when she was alone or with people that didn't need her to put on a show for them? I like to call that the Dan Humphrey Effect.

Let's face it: Homeland season three has been anything but superb. Season one of Homeland was just absolutely fantastic. In fact, I told several people that it was "perfect." It came in a year when someone on Twitter finally made me catch up on Breaking Bad. And while I was so-very glad that they made me watch Breaking Bad, I also had to tell them that there was just no way that Homeland wasn't taking home the gold statuette on Emmy night. It was just that good.

Season three of Homeland has been something of an excruciating anomaly. While plenty of people were upset with season two, it never bothered me like season three has. It's just been, in a word, boring. A show about a bipolar CIA agent fighting terrorism should never be boring. And yet. Keep in mind, I've never ascribed to the camp that thinks Brody should have been killed off ages ago, but seeing the Brody family meander in the fringes of every episode has been irksome. For one: we know where Dana's story is headed — page six scandal. And for another: we should probably care more about the Brody family aftermath ever since Nicholas Brody was labeled a terrorist, but we don't. I think that says more about the structure of the show than it does an overwhelming majority of the audience.

But that's beside the point. On last night's Homeland, it was revealed that Saul and Carrie have been in cahoots this entire time. Alan Sepinwall called it "a hail mary pass." Linda Holmes of NPR said that it basically undoes everything we've seen for the past four episodes. I'm inclined to disagree.

(Maybe I shouldn't; they're pretty sharp, smart people.)

See, what we've been seeing for all of season three is Carrie unravel because Saul supposedly betrayed her. And, sure, that's scandalous. But it's not exactly the reason I watch Homeland in the first place. Frothy twists like that have their place, usually in the soap opera/Revenge variety (which, by the way, is not a knock. Revenge has been great this season.). So yes, it works as a moment in the premiere when we realize that Saul has betrayed one of the most important people in his life. And seeing Carrie's reaction to his live statement is heartbreaking because we can see this relationship unravelling, or absolutely crumbling as it were. Once series outrun their initial premises — here, it was whether or not Brody was a traitor — the element they can fall back on is always testing character relationships and dynamics. In its third season, any series should be able to accomplish that. But there's something almost shallow about having Saul and Carrie's relationship tested by these sort of extremes. We expect more from cable shows; we expect more from Homeland.

The fact that Saul and Carrie are working together gives it that much more depth. No longer can Carrie's reaction to Saul's statement be just about him betraying her. In fact, it's not about that at all. And before we go full Dan Humphrey effect here, keep in mind that there are many more complexities on Homeland and with Carrie Mathison as a character. (More than Gossip Girl, anyway.) Shortly put, Carrie has been freaking out because her entire world was going to turn upside-down, and then it proceeded to do just that. She has felt out of control, and perhaps not everything went according to her and Saul's plan. Certainly, she had to be on whenever she was with someone else, or even if she was alone, so that anyone who was watching her would actually think she was spiraling out of control and weak enough to give information to the enemy. But the truth is that, at points, she was actually spiraling. To say that this twist is a flaw, that it invalidates what we've watched is a disservice to how the writers have handled their craft thus far. Carrie could never be so one-note to turn her emotions off and not have these events affect her in some way.

Having the rug pulled from under you may have seemed like a cheap turn of events. Maybe it was. I certainly feel like I may have been gipped a bit — but just a bit. If Homeland decided to tell you from the beginning of the season that Saul and Carrie were working together, audiences would have read every scene that Carrie was in very differently. They would have decided that this was all for show, that her emotions weren't real at all. But they were. This wasn't some cheap ploy that undoes everything before it. Keeping this under wraps let's us appreciate most of Carrie's emotional journey during these four episodes without always just guessing that they're fake.

Now, the only way this works is if going forward, Carrie doesn't change all too much. Sure, she might act a bit more in control now that she's out of her personal hell, the institution, but she can't go all steely spy on us. The fact that she cried and told Saul he shouldn't have left her in their makes me hopeful that's not the way things will turn out. This means that everything Carrie's gone through has actually affected her. She hasn't just been the world's best and most in-character actress.

Either way, this twist certainly saved the show in my eyes. I was waiting for something to reinvigorate it. And this might have done the trick.

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