*SPOILERS for seasons one and two of Homeland follow (duh!), and also some 24 spoilers as well*
I loved season one of Homeland, I was hooked from that insane first episode, which eerily feels like a film, to the wondrous “The Weekend”, all the way up to “Marine One” which literally had me on the edge of my seat, and somehow sweating more than Brody. I love it so much, because it was so audacious, and nothing like I’d ever really seen attempted in a serialized manner before. This made me extremely nervous for season two, mainly because how the hell could they ever top this, and also, where the hell do they go from here? Now that season 2 is finished, myself and everybody else has their answers. It seems the majority of the internet is disappointed and crying about how “bad” this show is now and of the huge missteps it took. Now while I agree a lot on some similar points, and yes, it was a significant step-down from season one, I appreciated what Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon did, and it presented some interesting ideas that seem destined to fall on two sides of the same spectrum for different people.
Lets start out with the not so good things. The Brody/Carrie romantic relationship was interesting in season one, because it still held that mask up to whether Brody was a legitimate terrorist or not, and that suspense fed into their relationship, making Carrie forever at risk. We never truly knew either of their motives, especially Brody’s at the time, while Carrie’s shifted from using the relationship to gain more info on Brody to her actually sustaining legitimate feelings for him. In season two, Carrie went full head-over-heals, second grade puppy love on Brody, where she unequivocally believed Brody to be the man for her, while Brody seemed to reciprocate the feelings, but his true extent of his love for her, doesn’t seem to match Carrie’s for him. I don’t think this romantic relationship really needed to quite reach this extent, as their tangential, random hook-up type style served the disparity and closeness of the two to make the early season two episodes of Carrie using their relationship to get Brody to flip to really sing.
Season two felt a bit scattershot as well, where there wasn’t a single driving goal or force, like there was in season one (even if we weren’t fully aware of it at times). Sure, Abu Nazir was again the main target in season two, but he didn’t really come to prominence until the last few episodes, and his major blow (get it?) occurred in the back-half of the last episode, setting the stage for season three. I couldn’t believe all the plot they were burning through in the first five episodes or so, revealing Brody as a legitimate terrorist and getting him to flip. Obviously, in retrospect it works out, as the whole season was about getting him to flip sides and try and take down Nazir from inside congress. But, the season seemed a bit segmented, and a little “start and stop”, instead of coasting on a seamless plot or ultimate driving force.
Because the show is created by ex-24 crew and it being one of my favourite shows of all time, I’m going to draw some light comparisons between the two. Main character and fan favourite Tony Almeida was killed off in season five (amid a bunch of other prominent cast-member deaths), and it was pretty big as he was one of the main secondary characters, and perhaps the biggest behind Jack Bauer. Everything seemed legit, until over the next couple seasons, rumours would go around that Tony wasn’t actually dead, and he would come back as a villain, and of course that is what eventually happened. Now I’m not entirely sure if they intended this all along that Tony wasn’t actually dead, or that he was and they just ran out of ideas and were like “Fuck it, what if we bring Tony back from the dead!?”. Either way, it seemed like they just used his exit as a cheap chip to hold over the show, and eventually use it to their own supposed advantage. This reversal zapped all the energy and emotion out of Tony’s “first death” and made it an empty void. By having Brody seemingly leave the country and flee, and subsequently the show (it would be goddamn stupid if he just shows up next year, which would void what I’m about to say, but, I doubt it), the Homeland writers are doing the same thing. Presumably Brody will be off the show for a bit, only to have him fucking rappel in through a window in the back-half of season 4 to save Carrie from a Russian arms dealer or something. Holding this over the show is silly, because we know he’s at least coming back at some point, and his return most likely will not be justifiable enough. Killing Brody, which would have been perfect, would’ve been the most efficient way to go about things. You succinctly and relatively neatly tie up the terrific arc of Brody by putting a cap on everything, ending his story, and assuring he never pops up somewhere down the road, just for the Internet to get a big Brody stiffy again. The writers obviously know there’s really nowhere else to go with Brody now, that’s why they put him on the lam, but why not just kill him? I realize permanently letting Damien Lewis’ acting talents go is extremely scary, and I’d of course miss them as well, but I think it would’ve been a worthy sacrifice for the show’s future.
Some good things now. The acting, holy jeez, the acting. You know what, it was probably even better this season than last, actually, it was. I love Claire Danes acting, no matter how much people make fun of her crying face, she’s so brutally honest in her face and everything seems so goddamn real, you just want to reach out and give her a hug. I think by far though, Damian Lewis takes the cake in every acting category. He seems to know this character so well now and watching him sway between both sides, and how this all just destroyed him mentally was absolutely fantastic to watch. This was a man screwed on both ends, and was never really safe whichever way he looked. The way Lewis portrayed this was heartbreaking and depressing as Brody was broken down physically and mentally maybe even as much as when he was held captive. Mandy Patinkin again plays Saul with the intense, but comforting and solid demeanor that makes him uniformly sweet, but also capable of outbursts and doing what is right no matter the cost.
Now my main defence of the season (for the most part) is how Gansa, Gordon and co. shook things up and took us places completely different in formant and in content from season one. This seems like the chief complaint from critics I’ve been reading on the Internet, that this season was so different, and that they changed the formula and moved away from what made them so successful in season one. That is the thing though, erase your memory, go back and watch season one, and please tell me a logical fucking way to go from there. I don’t see an “easy path” to follow, and even though revealing Brody and making him flip seems like an end-game type thing, there’s no way they could have vamped for multiple seasons until then without it being excruciatingly terrible. They had to throw caution to the wind and do this shit now, while it was still fresh and viable. Setting up for next season it looks like there’s going to be a major shift and an even more wildly different format without Brody as a foil, and Carrie and Saul being really the only main focal points. The main premise of this show is entirely un-sustainable, that’s why season one was so good, they delivered on the log-line, even as it seemed fit to be a mini-series, but it isn’t, it’s a serialized (and now popular) television show that is going to run multiple seasons (quite literally, since it is on Showtime after all…). As much as I loved the first season, and realize no subsequent season will ever be as great as it, I respect Gansa and Gordon for doing something completely different each season (as it seems) and am vastly interested to see how they tackle the next set of challenges.
Coming out of season one, I was so goddamn excited because of what I had just watched, but so nervous to how they would even attempt to follow it. The conclusion of season two leads me to think they did the best that they could. There was some fantastic episodes, basically those first five or so episodes, there was some pretty bad episodes near the middle, and some average episodes into the season finale which I dug quite a bit (probably would have loved if they literally pulled the trigger on Brody). My emotions going into season three are pretty mixed, I still love having this show in my life and find it pretty funny the people who vehemently are shunning the show now because it wasn’t exactly what it was in season one. A show gives you an utterly phenomenal first season, they follow it up with a differently formatted and plotted, yet still good second season, and you write it off as garbage just because it’s different? Jeez. Again, I have no clue what season three will look like, maybe Brody will be back, I don’t know, but I am more apprehensive coming off a bumpy season like this. It will be vastly different, that’s for sure, I don’t care, I’m enjoying the ride so far.