Homeland Season 5

So I actually managed to watch season 5. Hurrah for 2016!!

Homeland, my guilty pleasure is as Islamophobic, pro-American as ever, sigh.

And still the most thrilling series I have seen in a while.

So quick points full of spoilers:

1. It is still the intricate, beautifully written thriller which manages to hook you no matter what is the ideology ( fucked up I know). The twists, turns, the way it is edited, shot, the conflicting interests, the compulsive characters all make this into a heady cocktail which is impossible not to like. The way plot thickens is unexpected even for a homeland hardened cynic. The pace is very Homeland- shockingly fast only to be followed by mellowness. Works for me. Episode 11 when Carrie discovers the real plot, while the villain soothes CIA into thinking otherwise, Carrie doing Carrie thing by following her gut and half dozen terrorists nonetheless, the drama in the terrorist group, Villain escaping with mindblowingly clever trick.. and some 5 other massively tense things happening – chop chop edited, pace heightening, beautiful action choreography, characters whirling in intense showdown- aaaaaahhhhh… Homeland does this on the edge of the chair like nobody can.

2. Strong female characters of all shades ( arr… all white of course). From chest thumping human rights activists to shadowy vamps to smart spies. And of course Carrie Mathison, who in this season has sobered down- literally and metaphorically- without losing her mojo. Watching strong female characters moving the narrative plot is a rare pleasure in a show of this scale. When Carrie learns that she has achieved safe passage to Lebanon and looks around to see her daughter/ boyfriend sleeping peacefully- I was pleased with the re-gendering of a classic scene. 99% of the times it is the male characters wistfully looking at the peace and stability- symbolised by his family. Women hardly get to choose dark, unstable decisions over the mature, wise ones expected of them, because duh. But Carrie literally gets to make tough decisions, be imperfect even in the context of motherhood and family, be a supportive lover, save her kickass assassin friend Quinn ( Eye candy numero uno), negotiate with the Hizbullah about values of respect and what not. I am constantly amazed at how her character transcends the boundaries of gender which I haven’t seen in any other spy show. I did find Allison’s character problematic in its fame fatale hints. Although she is not someone who gets to be a villain because she is a woman exploiting her femininity as such- it is rather strange that from the director of CIA to an Iraqi mole to a Russian super spy – all these wickedly twisted spooks are somewhat in love with her. It takes away some of her evilness. There was no particular need for that and it shows a bit of lazy stereotyping. Astrid is another find- she is cooler than Carrie, empathetic, kickass bright and could shoulder more narrative on her shoulders. The token leftie bleeding heart character Laura is a great character utterly ruined by a smirking actress who makes me want to slap her every time she spouts something sarcastically.

3. Islamophobia without shame. All muslims are either angelically good – reminding you of token Muslim chachas of 1970s Bollywood, or mad about ruining west. Be it Imams, scientists, young techies, poor people, rich people, men, women, kids, Hizbullah, army generals, Isis wannabes- all are reduced to their religion. There are hardly any human complexities written for Muslim characters. If they are good- it is because they follow their religion like good people. If they are bad, it is because they are following the wrong version. Hello, don’t people have life other than religion? Like white people do in the show? White people get to have all cool psychological traumas, affairs, lusts, ambitions, grey zones..and Muslims are there only because they are Muslims. Considering the fact that the show spends so much time on conflict with Muslim world- couldn’t they come up with one memorable character with interesting shades? ( And no, Abu Nazir wasn’t that- he was just played by an excellent actor, that’s all). The death of token angelic Muslim character is given 30 secs in this season- 20 of which are spent worrying about his ( white) Human rights activist. Isn’t his death supposed to say something about the man himself? Nope. He has served his function of good Muslim and now his death can only serve as the next cliff-hanger. This is not just racist and morally wrong the way Homeland ploughs through its ideological errors. But it is absolutely lazy. And it just goes on to show that smart people who create brilliant characters and write some of the best thrilling narratives are just not bothered about the major elephant in the room because they don’t care.

4. There are no super charming Middle eastern villains in this season- the honour goes to a blonde American woman this time ( she is lured by Russians you see. So you can rest easy lest America is dishonoured). There are no massively overarching characters driving the central plot as well. Quin is lame here, although he manages to look good even after being in a Sarin gas chamber. Otto – played by the ever brilliant Koch is ineffectively positioned as ‘ could he be behind all this sinister plot?’ suspicion since he is cute and rich and eminently suitable to play the modern James Mason. Saul Berenson has slimmed down and other than that there is no change in his character.

Well there it is. My belated analysis of Homeland- a show I love with shame!

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Homeland 4

I binge watched the season 4 of Homeland. After Season 3, I had almost given up on it, and this season continues its gross misrepresentation of Muslim world. However, like many addictions go, there is no clear answer to why I love this show to the point of compulsion.

After cringing at Carrie’s increasingly bizarre characterisation, the very problematic portrayal of Islam, the near ridiculous plot twists in Season 2 and 3, in this season, we are greeted by pretty much same level of Islamophobia made worse by horrendous Hindi and Africans playing Pakistanis. Talk of racial imperialism you know, Africans.. Asians… same thing.

However, Carrie is back to her being one of the best characters in recent times. Claire Danes is mind-blowing stunning. Her hyper, so-called Bi-Polarisms in season 3 are wiped out, thank god. And she is back to playing this intriguing character with nuance. I also loved the exploration of her motherhood. I was afraid that she would be this I-am-a-reformed-mother-of-my-dead marine/terrorist/ congressman/fugitive/patriot boyfriend. But she is not. There is a very tense scene in the first episode in fact where she almost drowns her baby. She is inept as a parent and is not exactly criticised for her choice of choosing spying over motherhood.

Of course she is selfish, takes self-destructive decisions and manipulates everyone. She seduces a teenage boy and ultimately becomes responsible for his death. She is also not a great boss. Her nonchalance over bombing of civilians nudges her towards the darker characterisation.

And that has prompted me to think again about my recent obsession – ideology of cool, grey female characters in recent times. Feminist critics have criticised Carrie for being a tool of patriarchy- choosing to be just one of boys. They have also criticised implications that a powerful woman can’t be a good person, a good mother, a good boss.

And there is merit in the critique.

But beyond this, I think there is an overriding ‘cool grey’ness to her character which should not be chastised just because she is a woman and ought to be a great feminist example. Virtually all popular cultural figures revel in borderline greyness in recent times. From Joker to Walter White TO House of Cards. Even Carrie’s own male colleagues are imperfect and walk on the thin line of morality. None of them have normal, family lives. Peter Quinn lives like a malfunctioning robot. Brody and Saul exploit their wives who reluctantly put their own lives secondary to their men’s obsessions and beliefs.

So I don’t really see why Carrie should be expected to bear the white flag of normalcy. Rather, it is her grey cool ness which makes her a true anti-hero of a popular show. I am not saying this grey coolness is something I champion, but lets admit it. A BiPolar, impulsive, self-destructive, driven, brilliant CIA Agent makes for a far more compelling character, no?

I for one love the fact that more and more women are portrayed in the grey zone.

On another note, the only person who overshadows Carrie is young medical student Ayan, played by our ver own Suraj Sharma. His performance is so nuanced and so heartbreakingly real, that I won’t be surprised if he walks away with several major awards this time.