Monday, September 30, 2013

Homeland Season 3 Premiere: Everything new is old again. Sort of.

It feels like both forever and no time at all since we last saw Carrie Mathison losing her shit after failing to prevent a terrorist attack. Forever in that we've had a lot of time and many other TV shows in the interim to distract us; hardly any time, however, in plunging us into the aftermath of the last attack.

I'll be upfront: I haven't decided whether I'm going to recap "Homeland" regularly this season. I'm not going to stop watching the show, but I'm not sure it really merits week-to-week treatment anymore. While the season premiere was perfectly serviceable as season premieres go, I found it hard to care as much I once did about whether Carrie's instincts are ever vindicated or what will become of her strange, near-pathological bond to Nicholas Brody. In addition to prolonging Brody's storyline to the breaking point of all plausibility, "Homeland" appears to be afflicted with what I call the Don Draper Problem: as with "Mad Men," the show is centered on a protagonist with deeply self-destructive tendencies, and seems way too content to show the endless downward spiral resulting from giving in to those tendencies. The repeated relapses may be accurate as a reflection of basic human inability to change, but as television drama they can be very trying.

"Mad Men," at least, will always retain a certain amount of interest by portraying a time period and culture that's still somewhat removed from our own. "Homeland," by contrast, purports to be partly a mirror of our own post-9/11 climate of unease tipping into paranoia. To do that successfully, though, it has to convince us that what it shows could actually happen, and "Homeland" has increasingly played fast and loose with its audience's willingness to suspend disbelief. Now in focusing on the negative fallout of the CIA's decision to use Brody as an asset and Carrie's even more questionable decision to get involved personally with Brody, the show's writers appear to be pulling back a little and trying to regain some footing in reality, or a passable imitation of it. I don't know, though, that a Congressional investigation is the first place I'd go with that approach, even if it does set up a potentially interesting conflict between Carrie and her beloved mentor. Perhaps I should have been more shocked by Saul's decision to throw her to the wolves, metaphorically speaking...and yet I wasn't. I'm more shocked at my own apathy. Well, not so much apathy as the kind of weariness Saul probably feels at the sight of Carrie going off the reservation again.

Far more compelling, to my mind, was the depiction of Saul's inner dilemma, as acting CIA director, on whether to proceed with the Wizard-of-Oz assassination op. Those scenes embodied the gripping tension that "Homeland," at its best, does so well. I was also glad to see the black ops characters - Peter Quinn and his boss (played by F. Murray Abraham) - back in action.

No Brody this week, but plenty of BrodyS; too much, perhaps. I give the show credit for exploring how a normal, everyday family would cope with the discovery that its head was a self-avowed terrorist. But I don't have much interest in how Dana's romantic life plays into this - and a topless selfie, really? You just know that's going to come back to haunt her; the question is, do we care?

Random observations:

-I kinda miss the jazz-scored, schizoid opening credits.

-Chris Brody: growing up cute. Still as superfluous as ever. But where's devoted Mike? (In the narrative, that is; the actor I believe has a gig on the new James Spader show.)

-That guy Carrie hooked up looked a little like Brody. Undoubtedly not a coincidence.

-So if everyone's favorite unsolved mystery from last season was "Who's the mole?" it looks like this season's candidate might be "Who's the leak?" (And: are they one and the same?) It might be F. Murray Abraham, trying to set up Carrie to take the fall; but I'm kind of hoping it isn't. Maybe the crazy conspiracy theorist viewers are right and it's Saul's wife. Just as long as it isn't Saul himself!


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