In Homeland’s second season the editors are so overloaded with plot threads and have to make such quick cuts that there are several inadvertently funny U-turns and the narrative becomes perilously head-spinning and surreal. But in Season One’s opening episodes all is well, and the series’s debt to its model, the Israeli television program Prisoners of War, is presumably expressed, though the program is otherwise unavailable in the United States.
Watching Brody through the eyes of his daughter, Dana, brilliantly played by Morgan Saylor, can also be interesting. Despite his eight-year absence, this teenaged girl is Brody’s true soulmate, much more so than his bombshell of a wife, who seems always to be stuck with lines like “I don’t understand. What is happening?” Dana is the person who stands next to him in the first Yellow Ribbon press photo. She is the one he puts his arm around. She is the one who first sees him praying—and understands it. Her intuitive knowledge of her dad becomes important in unraveling certain pieces of information, especially in the extremely jammed Season Two finale, which concludes the way a giant fireworks show concludes: with everyone dazed and caught in traffic.
In this finale two American characters played so perfectly by British actors whose accents never slip—Damian Lewis as Brody and David Harewood as David Estes, the CIA counter-terrorism director—are zapped from the narrative, one to the afterlife, and one to a mysterious freighter in international waters, as if the actors’ visas had expired. The carnage is preposterous, and getting the show back on more convincing psychological territory will be the task of Season Three—starting in late 2013. This is where the daughter will have to be relied on, as she is perhaps the only person in her father’s several worlds who has surmised who he is in all of them, and so she is a repository of viewer confidence. She will certainly remain one, at the very least as a kind of psychic and interpreter. It’s satisfying to see her brought forward in the story lines—even if her younger brother is getting ominously left behind—and one feels a serious actress’s career is in the making.
The main problem with Homeland is not even the writers taking Adderall or whatever they did in the second season that eliminated suspense and brought instead an unhinged intensity of movement that barely allowed space and time enough for the cast members to occupy their roles. The main problem with the show is a kind of elephant in the room. Written into several important plot points is the “love” Brody and Carrie have for each other. For this “love,” she will hide him from the authorities. For this “love,” he will kill the vice-president (although he is also doing this somewhat for his daughter’s spurned sense of justice and for the drone-killed son of Nazir; there is a convergence and confusion of motives in this terrific murder scene, which is done through distanced technology involving a pacemaker—an echo of the drone strike for which the vice-president is responsible).
The problem with the Brody–Carrie “love” is that it is unconvincing, and it is unconvincing for many reasons having to do with common sense. But that is not all. Awkward and unlikely love can be trumped by genuine sparks. But viewers will sense a lack of chemistry between Lewis and Danes, two otherwise gifted performers. Perhaps the editing is too abrupt—one minute there is shouting and despair, the next there is smiling in a cozy cottage. Good on-screen chemistry can win out, but these actors project only a cold canned heat.
Is this because their characters are damaged goods, too jangled inside and too full of apprehension to create the trust and stillness that romance requires, qualities that Brody’s friend Mike has in spades, especially around Brody’s wife? When Lewis goes to touch Danes’s face, we fear he may strangle her. When Danes smiles at him it looks effortful, mere flirtation or perhaps even nervousness. When Brody says to her in their final scene, “You gave it up to me,” and Carrie adds, “Completely,” few viewers will agree.
Almost every character in this show has been a double agent of some sort, but especially Carrie and Brody. Yet a double agent may also have a purity of purpose that operating solo allows: you can pick and choose who is worthy of hate and who is worthy of help. A double agent can crawl out of the ideological teamwork and love the forbidden, which both Carrie and Brody have done. A double agent can determine independently who is a “bad guy”—as does Special Ops Agent Quinn, looking very IRA and defying his orders to assassinate Brody—since every belief system has some. But shared torment is not enough for love between spies. Quinn, too, seems to believe in the Carrie–Brody love but only when viewing it through a sniper’s scope. All of Homeland’s characters are soldiers and soldierly, but they are also players in a game where the cards are thrown down ever more quickly and no one really has your back. Friendly fire can occur at any moment. This is too tense-making for what purports to be a love story.