Though bad teen acting has been a constant on television since the dawn of the medium, the reputation of teenage actors has has really taken a hit in recent seasons. In an age when every show is discussed, rediscussed, blogged about, and discussed some more, no bad teenage actor can slide under the radar. Unfortunately, the good teenage actors struggle to stand out from a pack of mostly disasters. When teenage actors do stand out (think Maisie Williams on Game of Thrones), they are lauded with praise because we truly can’t believe our eyes. We’ve reached the point where competency passes as good when it comes to these adolescent thespians.
In truth, we shouldn’t expect nearly as much from them as their adult counterparts. The adults have more life experience from which to draw from and an enriched understanding of the human condition (some more than others). A good teenage actor shows up on screen and doesn’t take anything off the table. A great teenage actor shows up on screen and puts things on the table. They can help humanize and contextualize the adult leads and capably spin off into their own storyline. They can give the show an increased sense of depth because the scenes with their adult counterparts mean so much to us. While these actors are difficult to find, I think Homeland has found one in Morgan Saylor. Unfortunately, the writers can’t seem to get Dana Brody a strong foothold.
The fact that there doesn’t seem to be a place for Dana Brody is perplexing to understand. After all, Dana was the only thing standing between Brody and a detonated suicide vest at the end of season one. Every single interaction the two of them have had in the run of the series has told us that Brody’s relationship to his daughter might be the most honest and meaningful of any of his relationships. Only she knew of her father’s Muslim leanings, and the scene where they bury his desecrated Quran remains one of my favorite quiet moments of the season. Dana may not know everything about her father, but she understands him on a level that few people ever will.
In these scenes, Saylor acquitted herself quite well. She accurately captured the teenage angst of Dana in the earlier going of the series. Now, she’s doing an excellent job of portraying the confusion and the disappointment of someone who has had the few things in life she could count on disappoint her. Though she’s not quite as savvy with it as Finn Walden, Dana is starting to learn “how this goes,” and Saylor conveys it so well. It’s beautiful expressed across her youthful face.
While the seeds of the Dana Problem had long been planted, the problems really started to flower when the show spun her into a relationship with Finn Walden. Though last week showed us how her storyline would intertwine with her father’s continued misadventures, the damage had long been done with the viewers. No one cared about Dana’s love life. As a result, Saylor became the proxy for one of Homeland‘s perceived narrative problems. In retrospect, the show may have spent too much time on something that seems like exposition, but it was a necessary arc to tie it in to the larger plot of the season. Now, we’ve got Dana back at odds with a father who has disappointed her, maybe for the last time. Personally, I’m excited to see where Saylor can take Dana as more and more developments come to light.
We all want as much as we can get of Brody, Carrie, and Saul. They are the pillars of the show and consistently make us rethink what we know about dramatic acting on television. That being said, if you’ll give Dana a chance, I think you’ll find she adds plenty to a show that already has an embarrassment of riches.