Homeland Season 3: (Sighs Heavily)

Whenever a narrative drama latches on to the zeitgeist, a certain social contract between the series and the viewers can take hold. In exchange for investment into the lives of the characters and the machinations of the plot, the show is responsible for providing reasons for the viewers to remain invested in the plight of all the people involved. With almost everyone taking a plunge into the narrative drama side of the pool, many avid television watchers have begun to put their guard up. Some people even refuse to watch any new shows until the show’s quality has been established. As a result, many shows gain a certain cult following before the casual television viewers stop in to see what all the fuss was about. Breaking Bad is the most recent example of this phenomenon. Ratings for the final season dwarfed the average numbers for the previous four/five that came before it. People now think of Breaking Bad as some cultural phenomenon. It was… for about 3 months. For most of its run, the show struggled to pull in 2 million viewers for any given episode. Thanks to Netflix, award season exposure, and word of mouth, the show gradually build into the monolith it became. Regardless of how you felt about the finale, it’s hard to argue your emotional investment wasn’t returned with interest.

Unfortunately, not all shows end up paying off a person’s investment. Too often, an excellent conceit and wonderful early execution cause people to jump on board the speeding train. What we don’t see is the train on its way to careening violently off the tracks. If you’ve been reading me regularly on this site for the past few years (Thanks!), you probably noticed I went all-in on Homeland very early. It was tense, fearless, and featured some of the better acting performances I’ve seen in a number of years. Claire Danes proved she’s probably the best actress television has to offer, and her portrayal of Carrie Mathison had the chance to work its way into the pantheon of all-time great television performances. Damian Lewis was an incredible find, and Mandy Patinkin was the rock at the center of it all. So much has happened since season one we forget how incredible Morena Baccarin was in the opening season. I told everyone who would listen to watch the show, wrote roughly 20,000 words about it, and called the detractors of the season one finale foolish (to put it nicely). For some reason, I couldn’t squint my eyes and see the possibility for destruction. No way it could happen. There were too many great performances, and the writing seemed too tight. I waved off the 24 pedigree of the show’s creators by saying it was a network show, and they had learned their lesson. Sadly, it seems I should have learned mine.

It’s truly amazing to see how far the show has fallen since the dizzying highs of season one. Granted, the tremendous acting chops of some of the performers still allow the show to have its moments, but they’re so steeped in contempt and stupidity that these “moments” hardly move the needle. The death of Nicholas Brody, while well executed, didn’t create the heat it should have. Instead, watching Brody hang from a crane in Iran didn’t come close to registering. Damian Lewis is an adept performer, but his work this season will be overshadowed by the idea very few people even wanted to see his face. It’s a shame to see an actor lose their zeitgeist Q rating simply because of poor writing. All of these actors deserve far better than the material they’ve been given. Even with a season four reboot forthcoming, it’s difficult to escape the notion that these characters have been irrevocably damaged. Asking viewers to forget Carrie the doomed lover and Saul the bumbling CIA director sounds like a check the show simply can’t cash.

Mostly, I’m just bummed out. I suppose every show begins with some sort of optimism, but the potential for greatness with Homeland could not be ignored. It was a show of our times that played with ideas of surveillance, religion, pathology, and intimacy in incredibly fearless fashion. Danes was going in the pantheon, Lewis was having his coming out party, and Patinkin was defining the phrase cuddly curmudgeon. I still don’t know how we’ve arrived at this point. With the season 3 finale doing its highest rating ever, it’s clear the viewership’s appetite for the show hasn’t waned. I just don’t think I can stomach anymore. I would say farewell to Homeland, but the Homeland I knew left a long time ago. We’ve been left with its disappointing specter for far too long.