Homeland, Season 2
This show treats plot the way Kobayashi treats hot dogs.
Photograph by Kent Smith/Showtime.
As we close in on the final episode of Season 2, the critics are split between Team Action and Team Emotion. On one side are folks like Vulture’s Ben Williams, who tweeted, “Homeland could have been a great show about post-9/11 surveillance state. Instead it's about star-crossed lovers.” Esquire’s Alex Berenson also complained about the way Season 2 did to storylines what Kobayashi does to hot dogs:
Viewers of premium cable have grown to expect long, drawn-out plots, episodes that milk maximum drama with a minimum of forward movement. Homeland went a different route this year, blowing up viable storylines for seemingly no reason. In theory, the show's writers might deserve kudos for choosing to run at a higher metabolism. In fact, though, Homeland flailed wildly this season, showing why cable is paced the way it is. Tossing a story that's working only makes sense if you can replace it with something better, and Homeland couldn't.
The pro-character position is best summarized by Time’s James Poniewozik who said:
Right now, Homeland is a show that I feel deeply and have a hard time taking seriously. It’s a show that has a fantastic sense of who its characters are, but all that gets undermined by the outlandish things it needs its characters to do. Its impulses to tell a great human story are feeling more and more at war with the need to keep those humans on TV for many seasons, if possible.
Several writers praised the scenes Fred Kaplan and I focused on last night: Carrie’s interrogation of Roya and Brody and Jess’ front-seat heart-to-heart. HitFix’s Alan Sepinwall highlighted a few of the great moments:
It gave us Brody's complicated reaction to the news of Nazir's death, and his family's uncertain reaction to him. And it gave us that perfect moment in Carrie's interrogation with Roya where Roya forced Carrie to recognize that anyone who can ascend to this level of importance in Nazir's organization isn't going to be reduced to tears by a few minutes of empathetic conversation. Again and again, when Homeland takes a break from moving from one thing to the next to the next and simply stops to think about how these people would actually feel about what's happening around them, it's a great show. But when it's creating the events for them to react to, it's ... Nazir as Michael Myers.
The episode’s other great sequence was Saul’s interrogation, which—like Carrie’s scuffle in the dark with Nazir—played like a horror movie, but this one directed by Kafka. Here is Saul—who we know from season one has a history of failing polygraphs—hooked up to a machine, trapped into telling truths that will empower David Estes to make him look like a liar. Saul’s abject, righteous fury … was impeccable and bracing. The injustice and claustrophobia of his circumstance is so much more terrible and oppressive and so much more genuinely frightening than Carrie’s stabby exchange with Nazir.
Finally, a word about the title of last night’s episode. It was originally listed as “The Mother… With the Turban*,” but it was changed to “In Memoriam.” (So that’s why there was no Chris Rock cameo.) I’m with James Poniewozik on this: “[T]hat’s the most insane decision Homeland has made all year.”
*Correction Dec. 10, 2012: The original title of this episode was "The Mother... With the Turban," as I wrote last night, not "The Mother... With the Hat," as I mistakenly wrote earlier this morning.
June Thomas is a Slate culture critic. Follow her on Twitter.