Sunday, December 15, 2013

REVIEW: 'Homeland's Third Season was Wobbly but 'The Star' Offers a Better Take on Emotional Character Stakes

Showtime's Homeland - Episode 3.12 The Star

Security forces close in on Carrie and Brody; Brody struggles to find redemption; and Saul plans a last-ditch rescue mission.

Looking at season three of Homeland, it's clear that the show decided to favor plot over characters. That's just something the show decided to do. This season loved producing episode ending twists whose function was to incent the audience with excitement. They made you look closer at what happened prior to that twist to see how it plays differently given the new knowledge. In doing things this way, it did lessen the emotional arcs of the individual characters. That's not to say they weren't there. I loved how the show made Brody vital to the end arc in these final few episodes. But I didn't like Carrie for a majority of the season; I was confused by what the show was doing with Quinn; Lockhart was never developed as anything more than a one-note villain; and Saul frequently was wallowing as he was on the brink of success or defeat.

The performances continued to be stellar but overall I did find this season to be lacking. I believe that all stems from sketching out the episode-by-episode, beat-by-beat moments of this season. From about "One Last Thing" to the end, the show does create some very interesting moments. The season up-to-that point felt like a ton of buildup to these final episodes. The start of the year also had a lot of padding. The Dana stuff wasn't necessary. "Tower of David" wasn't necessary. The stuff where Carrie and company tried to find the real Langley bomber wasn't necessary. And yet, it was stuff that happened this season. Because of that, it detracted from the time the show should've spent in the creative space of the final episodes.

"One Last Thing," "Big Man in Tehran" and "The Star" all featured moments where a title card pops up saying a certain amount of time has passed. That was a device that worked so well in "One Last Thing." But in the following two instances, I wanted to see what happened to those characters during those time jumps. I was intrigued to see how Brody became a big local celebrity in Tehran. I would have loved to see more character's immediate reactions to Brody's death. But alas that did not happen.

So while I have been largely disappointed by Homeland in its third season, I did think "The Star" was a strong overall conclusion to the arc the show set out to do. Sure, there were several plot contrivances - Brody being able, not only to kill Akbari, but then escape; Brody and Carrie's phone call; and anytime Carrie's pregnancy was discussed. But it also was the first time all season I brought into the emotional reasoning behind Carrie. I attribute that entirely to co-writer Meredith Stiehm. She had the strongest grasp of Carrie as a character for the first two years and her absence this year was definitely felt with that character. Carrie still sounded crazy but her interactions with Brody actually gave Claire Danes something good to play. The finale put her through the emotions and Danes did pull me through that journey. The plot mechanics kept it from being 100 percent emotional satisfying but this was the strongest effort in that aspect all season long.

The show is returning for a fourth season but I have no idea where it will go creatively. The show finally has cut all ties to the Brody story that started everything. Brody is dead. The only way Damian Lewis stays is if Brody torments Carrie in visions next year. That sounds terrible. Earlier this week, it was announced that Morena Baccarin and Morgan Saylor won't be returning as series regulars. So, that means next year will be the year of Chris Brody, right? That sounds terrible. I love Mandy Patinkin but I don't see how the show can pull him back into this universe. The show probably should follow Carrie to her new career as station chief and populate that new world with new characters. It's definitely going to be a transitive period. One that intrigues me - while not exacting exciting me.

Some more thoughts:
  • I will continue to understand the point of Dana as a character but I still don't condone her story this season. The only time I needed to see her this season was when Brody went to her before going to Tehran.
  • Seriously though, what was the point of having Carrie pregnant this season? I'm just glad the show didn't force us to sit through her giving birth.
  • How funny would it be for Carrie to draw a star on the wall every time she visits the CIA building - only for it be erased later? Actually that sounds terrible. Please don't do that Homeland.
  • Homeland was shut out of the Golden Globes this year and only got 2 nominations at the SAG Awards. That's definitely reflective on the quality of this year and I'm very intrigued to see if gets shut out at the Emmys as well.