Changing Course: Homeland’s Dilemma

Homeland Season 2 Premiere "The Smile" (5)

Back in 2006, NBC debuted Heroes. Its fun effects and smooth pacing allowed the show to garner huge ratings and mostly positive critical acclaim. Originally, creator Tim Kring had designed the series to have a constantly evolving cast from season to season. Instead of sticking to his guns, Kring saw how much the original cast resonated with fans and decided to continue the show against his original plan. Many people know what happened next: The show spiraled completely off the rails, and NBC unceremoniously canceled the show after four seasons.

Kring’s decision to change his plan and stick with the original cast wasn’t inherently wrong. Television characters that resonate with fans is a rare gift and should be treated as such. The real problem was that Kring didn’t know what to do after he chose to change course. He tinkered and fiddled with the show, but could never find the right mix after his massive opening season. Kring even apologized to fans of the show for turning a crowd favorite into a barely watchable clusterfudge. With the quick turnaround time that TV demands, Kring ended up losing control of his own creation (insert Frankenstein joke here).

While Heroes is a prime example of course correction gone wrong, many series have been able to adjust on the fly with a huge amount of success. The most current, prominent example is Aaron Paul on Breaking Bad. By now, the TV nerds know Paul as a two-time Emmy award winner for Outstanding Supporting Actor who isn’t afraid to kiss dudes. However, Gilligan originally planned to ice the now immortal Jesse Pinkman after a scant 9 episodes. Fortunately for us all, Gilligan found a way to keep Jesse alive and utilize him effectively within the scope of the story. Not only was Jesse an intrical part of the story, but he helped take Breaking Bad to a level of TV transcendence rarely seen.

These points are all valid because we have arrived at a similar course changing fork in the road for everyone’s new television darling: Homeland. When Brody chose not to blow himself up at the end of the first season, the lack of an explosion detonated a much large explosion within the plot of the show. While many people decried the decision to keep Brody in one piece, it’s easy to understand why Alex Ganza and Howard Gordon made that choice: Damian Lewis was brilliant, and all of his scenes with Claire Danes jumped off the screen. Of course you get that band back together. Unfortunately, this decision put a lot of stress on the show’s writing staff to find a conceivable reason for Brody to put away the trigger and how to continue his story for season two. They may not have painted themselves into a corner, but they are standing on a chair in the living room, and the floor is lava. There are some places to go, but you have to be quite agile to get there.

The decision to keep Brody intact reset the series. Now, instead of zeroing in on Carrie and her CIA-related mania, Gordon and Ganza have to figure out how to progress Brody’s story. Given his close relationship to the most wanted terrorist in the world, it won’t be a problem to keep Brody relevant. However, it’s entirely another thing to maintain his relevancy without stumbling into the absurd. Within two hours, Brody had stolen from a CIA safe and sent a warning text to Abu Nazir from a military command center in front of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The contrivance meter was definitely running in the red.

Since our society’s default mode is to tear down things that garner wide acclaim, the naysayers and nitpickers came out in droves. Even some dopey guy that writes for this website expressed concern over the lack of believe-ability and contrivances involved in the season’s opening episodes. Certainly that jackwagon stands by those statements, but by getting caught up in the minutiae of the reality of Brody’s cell reception, Carrie’s missions in the field, or Saul’s intelligence carrying methods miss the larger character work at play.

That’s why no one should worry about Homeland careening off the rails. No matter how insane things get on the terrorism front, the episodes remain filled with moments where Danes destroys the ceiling for dramatic acting without saying a single word, Damian Lewis’ relentless physicality stands out, or Mandy Patinkin’s gravitas grounds the show in ways that few people can. They are amazingly drawn characters that interact with each other and their scenery in ways that make the show one of the best dramas on television.

If you’re worried about Homeland, don’t be. You may have to turn off your brain from time to time, but on Sundays at 10 PM, your television should always be on.