Homeland had some serious problems going into its fourth season; problems that usually wind up tanking a show, if the entire history of television is to be believed. It’s the one-two punch of losing one of the main characters (and arguably the more fascinating, dynamic one) and having to rehabilitate another main character because a series of poor storytelling decisions left her not just unlikeable, but totally unworkable as a person other people want to interact with. It remains to be seen whether the absence of Brody from the story is going to kill the show, but personally, we didn’t really miss him. Like Carrie, he’d been so overwritten and gone through so many insane story loops that we’d grown sick of him by the end. There was really nowhere else to go for the character. Nothing illustrates this better to us than our reaction to the scene that took place outside the Brody house. All we could think was “Please don’t show us anyone in the Brody family.” As much as we liked those actors, we wanted to see as clean a break from the past as we could get.
And that may even have been an idea written into the script: that you can’t get as clean a break from the past as you’d like. Sure, Brody’s gone, but Carrie’s stuck holding a mini-Brody who she clearly feels no emotional attachment to, which leads us to our next question: Is Carrie someone we as viewers want to spend time with anymore? Can she be rehabbed to the point where we’re all rooting for her and find her as fascinating as we did back in season one, when she was cycling through a manic phase and appeared to be more brilliant than everyone around her knew? The jury’s still out on that one, but at least they’re addressing something that became all too clear last season (and probably the season before, if we’re being truthful): Carrie’s not necessarily all that brilliant. Being driven is not the same thing as being brilliant. It seems to us that we’ve been fooled into thinking Carrie is the latter, when in reality, her mania and obsession with jazz (which has apparently evaporated) allowed her to land on the truth a few times before anyone else did. For every smart thing she ever did, there were a dozen really stupid, reckless and self-destructive things to more than counteract it.
This isn’t to suggest that we’re here to be Carrie’s moral scolds. It neither shocked us nor made us think less of her when she spent a few seconds attempting to murder her baby and then thought better of it. That’s simply who Carrie is. Not a baby-killer, but someone fighting so hard to keep her emotions and darker impulses under control that she’d coldly assess the idea of killing her unwanted baby for a few seconds before snapping out of it. That scene, as disturbing as it was, felt very true to the character we once knew. It’s not likable or pleasant, but it’s her. And it was of a piece with the rest of her scenes in these first two episodes. Carrie is and always has been an avatar of the United States’ war on terror; manic, self-destructive, reckless, over-emotional and paranoid. The coldness she feels toward her daughter is representative of her coldness overall and how it’s necessary (or she fools herself into thinking it is) to conduct the kind of war she wages. Coffee and birthday cake while looking down on bodies and raining down bombs. These scenes are meant to cast her in the worst possible light. After all, what’s a little baby drowning after you’ve killed dozens of civilians accidentally and then spend the next several days doing everything you can to shrug it off?
Unfortunately, we suspect that, once again, Carrie will have been shown to be right in some way. By the end of the second episode, there was a conspiracy firmly in place and people other than Carrie were starting to look responsible for her enormous screwup. If that’s the direction they’re going with this season, we’re afraid we’re going to have to bow out. If instead they decide to keep the blame placed squarely on Carrie instead of some shadowy cabal or player behind the scenes, that’s a season of Homeland we’re ready to see. Unfortunately, the creators of this show love their lead actress a little too much and we suspect Carrie will come out on top by the end of it all, rather than paying for her mistakes and recklessness, like she should. It all remains to be seen. But if nothing else, we still get to watch Claire Danes inhabit Carrie’s skin while we wait to see where the story goes. That’s always been the series’ biggest draw anyway.
[Photo Credit: Joe Alblas/Showtime]