Tag Archives: Showtime

“Tower of David:” Homeland catches up to Brody

Screen Shot 2013-10-15 at 10.26.15 PM

Jay: Episode 3 was a strange beast. You’d think that, after two Brody-less episodes, I’d be thrilled to finally get one in which he’s onscreen for most of the hour. (Even more so considering the utter absence of his family, which I think everyone can agree was a pleasant development.)

And yet at times his scenes seemed to drag on (a notable achievement given the clear –and successful — attempt at eye candy with the inclusion of Martina García as Esme), without any clear sense of direction. I suppose it was inevitable that a substantial amount of time would be required to reestablish Brody in the viewing audience’s consciousness. But something about his interactions with the doctor, as well as with Esme’s father, left me feeling slightly disengaged by about 30 minutes in.

Fortunately, the duller moments were broken up by some truly spectacular vistas of downtown Caracas, including a breathtaking view of the Tower of David itself from the outside. But phenomenal cinematography aside, I was still left with a lot of questions. For example, how did Brody end up in Colombia in the first place, before getting shot and making his lucky way into Venezuela? And who, exactly, was the guy that visited Carrie in the mental hospital? (And why did he call her — at least, it sounded like he did — Franklin when he first saw her?) And who, or what, is really keeping Carrie in the institution? Is it really Saul, or is it simply the doctor out of concern for her condition? Continue reading “Tower of David:” Homeland catches up to Brody

“Uh…Oh…Ah…:” Sam Lim and I discuss an inexplicably-titled Episode 2 of Homeland, Season 3

Screen Shot 2013-10-08 at 7.19.10 PM

Sam: You know what I thought this week? Did Homeland start taking a page from The Americans?

Is it just me or has this season been super charged with emotional relationships so far? As you pointed out, the storyline with Carrie being off her meds and having to be committed again is not new. Nor is Dana’s bickering with her mom.

Having said all that, it does make sense that deep rooted issues like the ones they are dealing with aren’t “fixed” overnight. It’s just the heavy emphasis on relationships that’s taking away from the thrill of Homeland as a covert operations show that’s starting to get to me.

I’m going to try something new and share my winners and losers this week:

Winner — Quinn. I sort of panned him last week for not being a cold blooded assassin. But it’s exactly his heart that’s got him in the winner’s seat. Loved his confrontation with the bank big wig and his subtle defense of Farah (sp?).

Loser — There were a few candidates here, but I’m giving it to Saul this week. In the sense of character development for Saul, you could argue he actually belongs in the winners column. I put him in the losers column this week because of the racist and condescending bit he threw at Farah (hey, I get to make up the rules for my winners and losers picks, right?).

What were your thoughts on this episode? Continue reading “Uh…Oh…Ah…:” Sam Lim and I discuss an inexplicably-titled Episode 2 of Homeland, Season 3

“Tin Man Is Down:” Sam Lim and I recap Homeland‘s return, sans Brody

homeland

 

Sam: In our prognostications after the season two finale about what we might expect in season three, I have to say: I was pretty wrong about Brody’s family disappearing from the story a bit. Not only are they back in the picture, but they also got way more screen time than Brody himself (you surprised at his no-show?).

I have to believe that the writers just wanted to find some way of getting moody (and as we have clearly come to see, depressed) Dana back into the picture. Poor Chris still gets one or two dopey lines.

As for the Saul-Carrie relationship, what you said at the end of season two about Saul’s dark horse potential for being something more than what we have seen, I couldn’t help eyeing him with suspicion throughout this episode, particularly with all the CIA leaks to the press.

What were your impressions? Continue reading “Tin Man Is Down:” Sam Lim and I recap Homeland‘s return, sans Brody

“The Choice” to stay: Sam Lim and I discuss the season finale of Homeland

carriesaulSam Lim: Where do we even start with the finale? Boy. Let me first say that it met — and exceeded — my expectations (not by a lot but enough). The beginning dragged out the way I expected a Carrie-Brody escapade into the woods would, even with Quinn right behind them (since they didn’t know). The fact that Quinn did not take out Brody and his subsequent reasoning (as explained to Estes…more on that in a minute) did not surprise me in the least; I expected that as much.

Before I make fun of Estes (again), I do think the conversations Carrie and Brody had in the cabin were really rather poignant. Here you have two very battered (physically and emotionally) individuals, and it’s like they can only be themselves and (almost) completely honest with each other. I say “almost” because Carrie — for all her ridiculousness — still has a shred of doubt about Brody (you see that look on her face after Brody found the gun? It was like a “Hehe. Let’s not play with guns now, dear” type of look), though he seemed to win her over fairly easily as always.

Now, as for Estes, gosh, what a tool. Everything always has to be about him. The sad part is there are real people just like him in real life. I suppose it’s part of what makes Quinn’s line to him somewhat schadenfreude-inducing: “I’m a guy who kills bad guys.”

The episode doesn’t really take off (action-wise), though, until Walden’s funeral, I thought. I particularly enjoyed the great ironies of Brody’s encounters at the funeral. First, he is greeted by Walden’s grieving widow, who is completely oblivious to the fact that the guy who basically murdered her husband is escorting her to her seat. Then there’s his handshake with Estes, completely unaware that the man had a hit out on him until less than a day before. I have to say…I chuckled.

Let’s talk plot flaws real fast, since they’re my favorite. Isn’t it sort of conspicuous when both Carrie and Brody leave the funeral early? And am I being too cynical to think it strange that the CIA building is absolutely deserted except for where the funeral is taking place (sure, Walden has deep ties to the CIA and the funeral might be on a weekend, but still, it’s the CIA!)? Carrie and Brody (both, again, with bright yellow visitor badges) just waltzed right into Saul’s empty office and probably would’ve engaged in a bit of inappropriate behavior in another man’s office had Brody not spotted his car. Speaking of which… Continue reading “The Choice” to stay: Sam Lim and I discuss the season finale of Homeland

“In Memoriam” to a once-stellar series? Sam Lim and I discuss Episode 11 of Homeland

carrie Jay Pinho: OK, so here goes…

I have to be honest: this was probably my least favorite episode of Homeland this season. There are way too many flaws to remember off the top of my head, but here are a few of my initial complaints:

1) If there’s one scene that embodies all the problems raised by this episode, it’s the one where Carrie finds the secret passageway in the tunnels and her companion improbably moves in alone without even bothering to inform his colleagues right away, never mind wait for backup. That moment was so single-handedly ridiculous I couldn’t believe it was actually happening while I was watching it — it played off every horror movie cliche, and the fact that he was killed was just about the most predictable TV death in recent history. Not a good look for Homeland. On the bright side, it did lead to my favorite online comment of the year (which can be seen below Alan Sepinwall’s typically spot-on review):

I was totally with it until Carrie did the job of like a hundred SWAT teams and then out-muscled Abu Nazir immediately after he’d slit the throat of a large man. Might I add that Carrie weighs like 90 pounds, hadn’t slept in two days and has a diet that consists of Chinese takeout, her father’s sandwiches and vegetarian lasagna. Oh, and she’d been in a car wreck less than two days ago. That was really the best they could think of? I hope the writers do some serious soul-searching before season 3 starts.

2) Again, Saul’s naiveté is quickly morphing into “unbelievably stupid” territory. If he really does believe that Estes and Quinn are plotting Brody’s assassination — as we know is the case — then would he really bring all this up publicly, again and again, revealing how much he knows and thereby endangering himself? That scene with the polygraph test — while showing off, once again, Mandy Patinkin’s incredible acting — was just not credible: what does Saul get out of openly accusing Estes of running an off-the-books black ops plan to kill Brody? Saul’s a veteran spy; in no universe does his insistence on getting himself into deeper trouble make any sense.

One last note re Saul: I really did like the way he completely disappeared from the storyline for the remainder of the episode after his scene with Estes. It was a good matching of form to content, as in: what would the show look like without Saul? Obviously, he’s not actually going to disappear — at least, not like that — but it was interesting to see that the CIA accomplished the single greatest goal Saul and Carrie had been working toward (getting Abu Nazir), and yet Saul was portrayed as a complete sideshow to it by the end of the episode. It was as if Estes’ plan to isolate him were already being enacted. If Estes and Saul somehow both survive the season finale next week, I really hope the show never finagles some twisted way to get them back in each other’s good graces again. In my opinion, the Saul-Estes relationship has passed a point of no return: there’s just too much mutual suspicion for them to ever go back to the way they were, so I hope the show never tries that. Continue reading “In Memoriam” to a once-stellar series? Sam Lim and I discuss Episode 11 of Homeland

Going crazy over Homeland

brody

New Yorker TV critic Emily Nussbaum, who’s come up with an elaborate theory about the latest episode of the Showtime series Homeland (warning: spoilers below), worries that she’s turning into Carrie Mathison:

Yet I couldn’t help getting drawn in, because after some consideration, I found that I’d stumbled upon a solution—which is to say I developed a completely insane theory that explains everything. I am also prepared to defend my crazy theory at all costs, because this show is turning me into Carrie Mathison. Enough preamble. The theory is this: Nicholas Brody is faking it. He plotted with Abu Nazir to have Carrie kidnapped, so that Brody could “save” her, thus ensuring her loyalty and manipulating her into concealing their crimes (which she did, after all: she didn’t tell her bosses about the scheme to kill the Vice-President.) All that face-acting Damian Lewis was doing, with the yelling and the screaming into Skype—a notable departure from the subtlety of Lewis’s earlier performance? He knew Carrie was listening. It was an act.

Carrie Mathison is clearly in love with Brody. Brody has feelings for her, too, but he’s still capable of manipulating her (which is the same thing she’s doing to him, after all, in the name of the C.I.A.—calming him down with sex, holding his hand to reassure him.) When Nazir kidnapped Brody, during that mysterious prayer confab a few weeks back, the two came up with a plan. I’m not sure what that plan is, beyond killing the Vice-President, but it seems to involve messing with Carrie’s head—even more than she’s already been messed with.

When you think about it, my theory explains much that felt strange about “Broken Hearts.” It explains why Brody was going so over-the-top bonkers. It explains why Nazir didn’t walk away with his cell phone, to explain the pacemaker plan out of earshot of the C.I.A. operative he’d kidnapped. My theory also explains why Nazir was so willing to let Carrie go, even before Brody had given him the code: they’d scripted that element, to make it clear that Brody was motivated by love. The twist would match up perfectly with the show’s thematic fascination with behavior as performance, which goes back to Season One, when Carrie watched Brody strip and suffer on her monitors as if he were some especially juicy episode of Real World: The Patriot Act.

“Broken Hearts” on Homeland: Sam Lim and I discuss Episode 10

Episode 210Last night’s episode of Homeland was crazier than ever, in both good ways and bad. As fellow obsessives of the Showtime series, First Casualty contributor Sam Lim and I usually follow up each weekly episode with a series of frantic emails back and forth to digest what just happened in the preceding hour. This time, I decided (with Sam’s permission) to put (a slightly edited version of) them up on the blog, which we’ll be doing for the last two episodes of Season 2 as well. Without further comment…

Sam Lim: Where to start with this week’s episode…did NOT see Carrie getting abducted by Abu Nazir. Smashing a car in public and then dragging away a woman seems like it’d garner a lot more attention than it did, no? And where the heck did Abu Nazir have time to find an abandoned mill on his own?

Jay Pinho: Damn! Wow…another veryyy twisty episode. Here are a couple random thoughts:

1) Homeland keeps surprising me. Every time I think I’ve figured out where it’s going to go next, it seems to anticipate what that is and goes in another direction instead. Case in point: Carrie getting captured. Like you said, that was completely out of the blue. I expected the rest of the season to have a storyline involving Carrie finding out about the plan to assassinate Brody, and trying to warn him. Actually, that might still happen, but if so, the show is taking a really interesting/circuitous route to get there. Continue reading “Broken Hearts” on Homeland: Sam Lim and I discuss Episode 10

Brief thoughts on last night’s Homeland

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fZjPzWPdoqw]

Warning: Homeland spoilers below.

I seem to be in some weird alternate universe in which I disagree progressively more strongly with the critical consensus on Homeland episodes. Yesterday’s episode, “The Clearing,” is a case in point: many reviews I read took a decidedly “meh” tone about the story, while I thought it may have been Homeland‘s strongest week of the entire series (or at the very least, in the top three or so).

The one thing almost everyone agreed upon was the pool scene, in which a solitary Nick Brody was momentarily able to escape his increasingly complicated life by taking a brief swim in the dark. The combination of the music, the deliberately slow pacing (which contrasts heavily with the general feel of Homeland), and the solitude rendered this one of the single best moments in the entirety of the show. Just a beautifully executed scene.

In all other aspects of the episode, reviews were mixed. But I thought all the storylines were actually well-constructed and helped to contribute to a pervasive sense of betrayal and abandonment. Jess feels betrayed by Brody (for not telling her about killing Tom Walker), by Dana (for running someone over and not confessing earlier), and — to a lesser extent — by Cynthia Walden (for immediately seeking the coverup instead of acting ethically). Brody, in turn, feels betrayed by Carrie for using him in the eponymous clearing of the title, and then for her humiliation of him in front of Dana at the end of the episode. Saul feels betrayed by Aileen, with whom he’d believed to have established a rapport. And Dana feels betrayed by a compromised father whom she once idolized, and by Finn for his coldness after she forced their confession.

Also, can we please see more of Mandy Patinkin? That guy’s the best actor on the entire show. As Alan Sepinwall alluded to in his review, Patinkin’s scene with Aileen — especially after he realized what she had done — should single-handedly win the man an Emmy. What a performance.

Responding to Joseph Massad on Homeland

There is little that Joseph Massad got right in his scathing attack on the Showtime TV series Homeland. In a lengthy screed for Al Jazeera, the Columbia University associate professor of modern Arab politics and intellectual history left no stone unturned in a scorched-earth assault that ultimately revealed more about him than it did Homeland.

We’ll leave aside, for the moment, sentences like these: “This also applies to the more virulent Israeli Jewish racist representations of Arabs and Muslims, not only in the Israeli media, school curricula, and all cultural artifacts that Israeli Jewish society produces, but also by actual and ongoing Israeli Jewish policies towards Arabs inside and outside Israel.” If the man is being paid by the conjunction, all hail the world champion.

I will also disclaim right from the start that I am a devoted fan of Homeland. But this neither precludes me from accepting others’ critiques of the show nor prevents me from making my own (and it has its weaknesses, from melodramatic dialogue to improbable plots and more). But the tenor and, more importantly, substance of Massad’s critique is just wrong — and I mean that in the objective, fact-based way that Mitt Romney is wrong about Barack Obama’s apology tour. As in, what he’s saying is simply not true.

Where to begin? First, there is this discomfiting description of the main characters:

The CIA team monitoring Al-Qaida from Langley, Virginia, is represented by three top figures: the African-American David Estes, the Director of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, the American Jew Saul Berenson who is unsurprisingly the CIA’s Middle-East Division Chief, and the white Christian American Carrie Mathison, the female star of the show, who is a CIA intelligence officer assigned to the Counterterrorism Center.

The racialist structure of the show is reflective of American and Israeli fantasies of anti-Muslim American multiculturalism. The African American Estes is divorced and his former wife married an American Jew. She and their children converted to Judaism. He has also had a dalliance with his colleague Carrie that went awry. The Jewish Berenson is married to an Indian Hindu “brown” woman (perhaps cementing the Indian Hindu-Israeli Jewish rightwing alliance against Arabs and Muslims in the minds of the scriptwriters). On the first season of the show, cross racial romance seems to have also infected the character of a white rich American woman who fell in love with a “brown” mild-mannered Saudi professor at a US university and conscripted him in the service of Al-Qaida, which leads to his ultimate death and her imprisonment, though not before the Jewish Berenson tells her how much he identifies with her as two white people who fell in love with brown people.

The bizarre characterization of these three by their race/ethnicity and religion, followed by the off-tangent diatribe on miscegenation, is strange enough on its own. But Massad makes racial difference into something of a leitmotif by the end of his essay. In various passages, he writes of the Ashkenazi-inflected Arabic spoken by Nick Brody, his “suspiciously brown” Caucasian wife Jess, and even the metaphorical symbolism of the CIA director David Estes “[standing in] for Obama, at least as far as racial semiotics are concerned.” He distinguishes between “the Jewish [Saul] Berenson” and his “white colleague,” as if the two are somehow mutually exclusive. And in remarking on the death of an African-American character, Tom Walker, Massad declares it a manifestation of “the racist fantasy that a white American man gets to kill the same black man, not once but twice!”

Forgive me for being unaware of that particular fantasy. But Massad’s unnerving racial obsession is just the beginning, because he misunderstands most of Homeland‘s storyline as well. Here are, in order, some of his dullest moments:

1) Massad writes:

The gender representation is also remarkable for its commitment to 1970s white American feminism by featuring a leading strong white female character as the star of the show (which Hollywood began to champion since the film Alien in the late 1970s) and its equal commitment to sexist representations of white women as hysterics, or at least in Carrie’s case, for suffering from America’s most fashionable commercialised psychiatric ailment of the decade: bipolar disorder (an “ailment” that succeeded clinical depression as the most fashionable American psychiatric disorder in the preceding decade).

Here he misunderstands the show entirely. Carrie’s bipolar disorder is not a convenient demonstration of a “commitment to sexist representations of white women as hysterics.” It is, rather, intended (and sometimes succeeds) as a microcosm of the collective moral ambivalence of post-9/11 America. If the iconic series 24 — which Homeland creators Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa worked on as well — represented the full-blown glory and power of the American id in the immediate aftermath of the 2001 attacks, then Homeland is its natural sequel: an angst-ridden reaction to all that we’ve done in the name of counterterrorism over the past decade to the noisy pulse of a ticking digital clock.

The frantic real-time pace of 24 has been replaced by the more measured, and conventional, storytelling style of Homeland, and in this, too, one can make out the contours of our (achingly slow) evolution of the national conversation on security as well. We are moving from a worldview in which the next threat lurks perpetually just around the corner to one in which the magnitude of the unseen menace itself is an increasingly debatable question. (A piece last week in the New York Times, for example, signaled a growing exhaustion with the endless budget for security measures. The implications of this American tiredness have yet to be realized in actual major policy shifts, however.)

2) Massad refers to an emotional moment between Brody and Jess:

Concern about what Arab and Muslim men do to “their” women is paramount on the show’s scriptwriters’ minds. When Brody’s wife finds out he had converted to Islam, she throws the English translation of the Quran on the floor (very astutely done by the show’s producers who seem to think that only the Arabic Qur’an should not be desecrated) and asks in horror how he could have converted to a religion whose adherents would “stone” his daughter “to death in a soccer stadium” if they found out she was having sex with her boyfriend.

It’s incredible to me that Massad simply assumes Jess’ worldview is the one preferred by the creators of Homeland — or even the one perpetrated by the show itself. To anyone with even a passing affection for the show, it is quite obvious that Jess sees herself as a victim of Brody’s increasingly erratic behavior, but in no way does the show imply that this indignation is justifiably extended to include her concurrent Islamophobia as well. By contrast, Homeland goes out of its way to portray her as a woman with many faults: in fact, part of what attracts Brody to Carrie in the first place is his inability to reveal his thoughts to a wife who is simply unwilling and unable to understand him. Jess similarly repels her teenaged daughter, Dana, and is portrayed as a mostly ineffective mother to Chris as well. The totality of Jess’ persona is one of increasing isolation and incomprehension at a world she doesn’t understand. How Joseph Massad manages to miss all of this and yet stubbornly insist that her primitive characterization of Muslims as bloodthirsty prudes is representative of the show’s own perspective is truly a mystery.

3) Massad again:

On the most recent episode of season two, the Jewish Berenson declares in the context of searching for Brody’s Al-Qaida contact among hundreds of people that: “We prioritize. First the dark skinned ones” should be watched. When a white colleague objects that this is “straight up racial profiling,” Berenson responds that it is “actual profiling. Most Al-Qaida operatives are going to be Middle Eastern or African.” This is being said while the main Al-Qaida CIA target on the show is a white marine. The African-American Estes and Obama stand-in expectedly offers no protests to the Jewish Berenson. He just says “OK!”

Again, it’s hard to believe Massad and I are watching the same series. What he fails to mention is that, following this exchange, Berenson proceeds to identify his top three (Middle Eastern) suspects: a car wash manager, a cabdriver, and a grad student — all three of whom are (at least so far) completely unconnected to the actual plot Brody has been assisting. In fact, Berenson even fails to identify Roya Hammad as suspicious, despite 1) her very real role as an intermediary between the terrorist Abu Nazir and Nick Brody and 2) her private conversation with Brody while Berenson and Co. looked on via surveillance camera. There is a not-so-subtle irony here: in the very same moment that Berenson advocates racial profiling as the most efficient approach, Homeland demonstrates just how completely inaccurate and ineffective the practice actually is. (A similar inversion of conventional wisdom took place in Season 1, when the suburban Caucasian wife was an actual villain while her Arab husband turned out to be a red herring.) Massad, of course, missed all of this entirely.

4) Massad objects to Homeland‘s characterization of Beirut:

Beirut’s nouveaux-riches who spent billions of dollars (of the Lebanese people’s money) making the city look like a fun and modern western city are surely outraged that their city is depicted like some poor remote Afghani village. Indeed the multi-billion dollar Rafiq Hariri Airport looks more like a bus stop in war-ravaged rural Iraq than a modern airport. More recently, Lebanese tourism minister Fadi Abboud told the Associated Press that he is so upset about the portrayal of Beirut on the show that he is considering a lawsuit.

I nearly laughed out loud when I read the part about “the multi-billion dollar Rafiq Hariri Airport.” I spent this past summer in Beirut, and I’ve flown into and out of the airport there four times: if the Rafiq Hariri Airport is truly the final product of a multi-billion dollar investment, I’d be curious to discover just where all that money went. There is absolutely nothing spectacular or even remotely luxurious about the place, and I could probably name over a dozen other airports off the top of my head (including, for example, Budapest’s Ferenc Liszt International Airport) that match or exceed Beirut’s in style, comfort, and luxury. And even if this were not the case, Homeland‘s depiction of the airport was hardly prejudicial: nothing about the portrayal did a disservice to the real-life version. If anything, it may have actually improved upon reality.

Secondly, while the show’s depiction of Hamra Street was indeed quite unrealistic — it is, in fact, a bustling and trendy part of Beirut, littered with bars and coffee shops where the urban restless come to work and play — there is again a bit of tragic irony in the fact that, mere days after Fadi Abboud’s defensive comments (including his preposterous declaration that Beirut was more secure than New York and London), a car bomb exploded in one of Beirut’s wealthier districts, Achrafieh, killing a high-ranking Lebanese intelligence official and seven others.

All of this is not to say that Massad is entirely delusional. For example, he is at his strongest in the section titled “American Fantasies of Race and Sex,” in which he ably compares racist paradigms against African-Americans in a bygone era with the contemporary treatment of homosexuality (and especially Arab homosexuality). He also rightly takes issue with Homeland‘s all-too-easy bursts of self-righteous Western superiority, as when Carrie threatens a Saudi diplomat by implying she’ll send his daughter, a Yale student, “back to Saudi Arabia [where she’ll] get fat and wear a burqa for the rest of her miserable life.”

This latter example is one I find especially disturbing. It is so obviously racist that it seems impossible the show intended for it to be digested uncritically. And yet it seems to serve no greater purpose than to reignite the flames of that old American vengeance so purposefully exploited for years via the revenge porn of shows like 24. Sometimes it seems as if Homeland tries too deftly to counterbalance its (very slightly) liberal reading of the so-called “War on Terror” by interspersing its open self-doubt with some occasional triumphal and vitriolic Muslim-hatred. This not only undermines its message — to the extent that Homeland has an ideology — but is frustratingly typical for modern American liberalism: forever timid of its own beliefs, it tempers its principles with a frequent nod to baser instincts.

Throughout Season 1 and the first five episodes of Season 2 that have aired so far, Homeland‘s greatest weakness is that it falls prey to these crude racial and religious stereotypes that Massad appropriately decries. But he weakens his own critique by mischaracterizing Homeland‘s more defensible aspects in order to fit into his broader narrative of racial hatred. It’s a simplistic and inaccurate reading of an otherwise stellar show, even one whose ideology remains uncomfortably attached to a more Manichean era in American politics.