Tuesday, December 18, 2012

FLASHBACK POST (December 21, 2011): HOMELAND Episode 1: This Is What Happens When You F With The Man

I'm going to start off with a tangent about season 2, but then I'll get to the flashback post.  So, bear with me.  Tonight, I finally watched the season 2 finale of Homeland, and...yawn.  I think the show is really good if you just look at it as an insane hyperdrama (see definition here).  However, as any kind of show that deserves to be taken seriously, in any way, shape, or form, I just can't do it.  Suspension of disbelief isn't something that's really hard to get past (Person of Interest is my favorite show, and is pretty inherently unbelievable, but isn't a problem like this show).  The good news is I stopped trusting the writers after season 1.  I feel like they're making it up as they go along, and I'm not going to reward such a flawed show by mimicking the ridiculous amount of praise I think the show has received. 

Part of what was "appealing" about season 1, to me, was that it was grounded in a somewhat believable universe, while being a completely implausible show.  With the beginning of season 2, believability was completely thrown out the window, and the show plays closer to a comedic farce than it does a serious drama.  When you look at my definition of hyperdrama, you will easily understand how much Homeland fits into that category.  As I've said elsewhere, this show has a lot more in common with HawthoRNe and Scandal (which actually might be heavily borrowing on the storytelling techniques of Homeland).  To me, the show is basically a top notch soap opera with good shooting, good sound, and mostly good to great actors, set against an "exciting" backdrop.  Its production value is what makes everyone think the show is better than it is.  A lot of the dialog is stilted, performances are occasionally very awkward (see most of the Brody/Carrie scenes in the season 2 finale), the plots are absurd, and there are numerous plot holes.  In the largest broad strokes, the show does a good job, but everywhere else, it's almost an unmitigated disaster story wise, especially when it comes to small details.  If suspension of disbelief becomes a huge problem (which it clearly is), it needs to be fixed (think of season 3 as an opportunity!).  I watch James Bond movies and enjoy them immensely, so Homeland has no excuse to not do better.  High production value, excellent acting, a "fast" plot pacing, and a good cliffhanger are not enough to overcome my issues with the show.  

With that said, I'll still be watching season 3.  After all, I watched every episode of the last season of HawthoRNe, because one thing that show did right, besides casting the very attractive Jada Pinkett Smith, was that it had cliffhangers that made it impossible to not watch the following week's episode.  All I'm trying to say is if season 2 wins any EMMYs for writing, series, or acting, it means that the Academy is definitely NOT watching the show.  I could see Michael Cuesta getting a nomination for directing the season 2 finale, and some technical awards nominations (and possibly wins), but it should definitely NOT win for any of the major categories.

****SKIP THIS PARAGRAPH IF YOU DO NOT WANT SEASON 2 FINALE SPOILERS****

I do, however, have to say I was much more satisfied with season 2's finale than I was with season 1's finale, which almost made me quit the show.  Of course, it wouldn't have taken much to make me more satisfied with season 2's finale more than season 1's.  They needed to blow everything up after what I felt was the disaster of most of season 2, and they did! (pun intended).  My biggest problem with the show is the downstream cliches.  We got the ending that was sort of what should have happened at the end of season 1, at the end of season 2.

****NO MORE SPOILERS FOR SEASON 2 BELOW HERE****

And here's the flashback piece.  I hope it's enjoyable.  Thanks for reading this, that, and the other thing.

 HOMELAND Episode 1: This Is What Happens When You F With The Man

Do you remember that great scene with the Corvette outside the house in The Big Lebowski?  Well, if you do, and even if you don't, that scene is my inspiration for what I'm going to do in this post about Homeland.  I had originally planned to do scene by scene dissections of the series, but after Sunday's season 1 finale, I was so disappointed that I just don't have the willpower to do them.  The good news for you (or not) is that this riled me up so bad that I'm going to go through and point out every suspicious activity, character motivation, and plot hole I can think of as it relates to what happened at the end of the season.

With that said, I think it's pretty obvious that I'm going to be giving away massive spoilers here.  If you have a problem with that, go somewhere else, some place where people love what they did with the finale.  You won't find love here for how the season ended.  To me, it was one giant cop out, and if these 12 posts go well, you will clearly see why.  Hopefully there will be a lot of humor, and a lot of knowledge dropped.  One thing's for sure, spoilers will be dropped.  Just like what I said about Falling Skies, you were warned.

Here's how this is going to work.  For each episode I'm going to compile a list of what I feel are the most significant parts of the series, so far.  I haven't decided what all that will be, but it will probably be a lot.  This will be numbered, and relatively short (in Chris Colley terms).  Each episode will have a post written in similar fashion.  It will probably take a couple of weeks to do, but I should have the first two episodes up fairly quickly, since I can just go through my two episode dissections for the information.  I hope you will enjoy them, even though I am writing these more out of rage than love.  Spoilers?  Don't like them?  Leave now...

Episode 1-The Goods

1.  CHARACTER:  CIA Case Officer Carrie Mathison disobeys a direct order from David Estes, her boss, while in Iraq.  Carrie, throughout the season, will do whatever it takes to get what she wants.  She's a loose cannon, and has no respect for authority.

2.  PLOT:  An imprisoned terrorist whispers something in Carrie's ear after she promises to protect his family if he gives up information.  What he whispered was that an American POW had been turned.  The cat and mouse game "begins" when we first find out that Sgt. Nicholas Brody, a missing POW, gets rescued.  We later find out that Tom Walker, who had appeared to be killed by Brody, is also out there and is a turned terrorist.  The informant didn't lie, an American POW was turned, it was just two of them.

3.  CHARACTER:  In Carrie's home office, we see a large timeline of events, on her wall.  These documents are classified.  She is reckless with classified and sensitive information over and over in this season.  We also see that she has been out all night, as she does rudimentary hygiene techniques.  She is probably a low grade substance abuser, and is definitely into one night stands, as she will almost have one at the end of this episode, and has one with the terrorist Brody in the back of a car.

4.  PLOT:  Sgt. Nicholas Brody was found and rescued by a Delta Force mission.  He had been MIA and presumed dead since 2003.  He is treated as a hero, but that darn Brody is a terrorist, even though he doesn't really think he is.

5.  CHARACTER:  Carrie is always late, and ain't worth the wait.  However, she knows everything she's supposed to, because that's how she rolls.

6.  CHARACTER/PLOT:  Carrie meets with Saul Berenson, who is her babysitter in the CIA, because of her causing an international incident in Iraq, when she bribed a guard to talk to a terrorist that was not being held by the USA.  Saul is also her mentor, and she will routinely confide in him.  Throughout the season, lots of clues were sent out to the audience that Saul might be some kind of double agent.  None of this was paid off.  Saul will also alternate between thinking Carrie is crazy, being angry with her, being disgusted by her, wanting to put her in prison, and he ultimately mostly believes what she says.  He hates her methods, but she does get the job done, in his opinion.  He does sell her out pretty bad in the season finale, when she calls to tell him that Brody is going to blow up the bunker.  Saul thinks she is crazy, tells her he'll take care of it, and then asks that she is contained.  Saul is a troubled man, who spends way too much time on the job.  It is his flaw.  Carrie is also his flaw.  As for the plot aspect, Carrie tells Saul that an American POW has been turned.  He finds this pretty unbelievable, but she is right.  In fact, two POWs have been turned, Brody and Corporal Tom Walker.  Carrie has no interest in telling her boss, Estes, about this, (Saul certainly doesn't have any interest in this either) and this is my first major problem with the series.  She wouldn't have to tell Estes that she suspects Brody, but she should have told him what she was told about an American POW being turned.  He could then draw his own conclusions (and ignore them, as he ignores nearly every important piece of information he is given).  Still, he's a smart man.

7.  PLOT:  Carrie asks Saul to authorize surveillance on the terrorist Brody.  We know this is a good idea, because Brody is a terrorist, but Saul says that will never happen, that Estes would never approve it.  So, Carrie gets angry and decides to fund an illegal surveillance operation, that breaks approximately 12 Federal Laws, herself.  Again, she does not take no for answer.  She does what she does.

8.  PLOT:  Brody, the terrorist, is going to be the government's poster boy for the War On Terror.  Ha ha ha, get it?  They thought he would help get out the word that the terrorists are still out there.  He would have, if he hadn't been such a chicken loving his daughter and stuff.  After all, his plan was to do his thang, with something he wore on his chest, with the VP and a whole bunch of important Defense Department people.  Yeah, it didn't happen.  So, for now, Brody will be the "positive" face for the War On Terror, as opposed to the terror they are warring on, which is what he really is.

9.  PLOT:  Captain Mike Faber (the terrorist Brody's best friend) is sleeping (this is a euphemism for boinking) with Brody's wife, Jessica, when Brody calls to tell her he is alive.  Awkward.  Love triangle ensues, and things do not go well.

10.  CHARACTER:  Jessica goes home to tell the Brody kids (daughter and son) the news.  One is a bit younger than the other.  The older one, Dana, is a problem child, and is smoking a bong when Jessica arrives home.  The son, Chris, tells his mom that he tried to get Dana to stop, but we all know he is really more interested in video games and ka-ra-te than anything else.  Oh yeah, Jessica hasn't told the kids about "Uncle Mike" being in a relationship with her.  Dana's smarter than that, and knows what's up.  Chris, well he seems kind of dumb and into video games a little too much.  Jessica has about as good a poker face as Madeleine Stowe on Revenge.

11.  PLOT:  On the flight home from Germany, Brody learns his life is about to be turned into a media circus.

12.  PLOT:  While everyone is out to meet Brody, Carrie's team ($1000 a day is bare bones), sets up the illegal surveillance package inside Brody's house.  We also learn that Carrie isn't good at dealing with the people she has taking enormous risks to help her out.  Carrie hates the people above her, and hates the people below her.  The good news is she loves her some her.

13.  SUSPICIOUS:  Major General Trujillo is on the phone with Estes, and calls him by his first name, denoting familiarity.  Estes uses the words "like a hero", not "hero".  You could make the case that he knows Brody is a terrorist, but doesn't really care, since the VP is all about some Brody.  The VP is very lucky he didn't end up all over Brody, if you get what I'm sayin'...ha ha ha.

14.  CHARACTER:  As Jessica prepares to re-introduce herself to Brody, we find her "acting" in a mirror.  She has no idea how to talk to her own husband, so she has to practice.  Acting is a pretty big theme with her early on in Brody's return.  Dana is really the mama in the household, as she has to get everyone in line.  She's a mama with a drug problem, but she's still the "mama", because Jessica's always busy getting busy with "Uncle Mike".

15.  SUSPICIOUS:  The family gets to see Brody for a minute, in an awkward interaction.  Then the terrorist hating, Brody loving VP (wait, what?) shows up to tell the terrorist Brody what an honor it is to meet him (since I guess he had always wanted to meet a hero terrorist).  Brody has a hard time making eye contact with him, because he thinks the VP is the devil for killing a young boy (among many other kids with a drone strike) that Brody had bonded with in Abu Nazir's (the big terrorist) compound.  The VP, among others, is Brody's ultimate target in the season finale.  He came strapped, but he couldn't pull the trigger, he couldn't pull the trigger.

16.  ISSUES:  Brody has some PTSD stuff going on.  Bright lights bug him, and they comfort him.  What is the deal, man?  Make up your mind.  I guess they tortured him with bright lights, but then he was converted by the bright sunlight to Islam.  We see this PTSD motif as Brody is walking to a podium at his welcome ceremony.

17.  CHARACTER:  Brody seems pretty comfortable in these type of situations, and appears to know how to work a crowd.  We also get to see that both "Uncle Mike" and Jessica are unhappy with Brody's return, and show a lot of shame.  By the end of the season, the love triangle is a real let down.  We were forced to watch it stew over and over for around 6 episodes, and then it just disappears into thin air, because Brody gave a beat down to "Uncle Mike", and Jessica wants to have a real life with the terrorist Brody, who doesn't have much planned in life, but dying, and soon.  If only he had pulled the trigger...if...

18.  ISSUES:  We find out that Carrie is taking some kind of mysterious blue pill that is hidden in her aspirin bottle.  There's no mystery anymore, it's Clozapine, an anti-psychotic drug used as a last resort for schizophrenic and bipolar patients, due to its tremendously bad side effects.  Claire Danes has said she is playing it bipolar, because she probably didn't want to play it schizophrenic.  At any rate, we now know that Carrie has mental illness, and she's lying about it to the CIA.  This will play an important part, as everyone thinks she is crazy, when she tries to tell them Brody is a terrorist.  She's what I will call the insane truth teller.

19.  SUSPICIOUS:  Captain Mike Faber is in Military Intelligence.  Brody seems surprised that Faber stayed in the military.  When telling Brody he is in Military Intelligence, he says "me of all people".  That intimates that he wasn't down with Military Intelligence, when Brody knew him, but has somehow become a part of it.  This was never mentioned again, although Faber is considered Brody's commanding officer.  Faber tells Brody the meeting is for business, as the CIA wants to do a follow up de-brief with him.

20.  PLOT:  While Carrie watches Brody's return home on TV, while waiting for the surveillance to be put online, she calls Saul and tells him to get her into Brody's de-brief.  They argue about it, and Saul asks if she will behave herself.  While this is going on, there is audible feedback on Carrie's end from the surveillance system going online.  Saul makes Carrie promise to behave herself in the de-brief.  We all know this won't happen, and I'm pretty sure Saul knows it won't happen either.  It's probably his half-hearted way of telling her to shake things up.  Saul apparently does notice the feedback, and knows that Carrie is up to something.  He will shortly discover her surveillance.

21.  WEIRD:  Carrie becomes engrossed in mundane surveillance.  Eventually the Brodys want to have sex, and Carrie decides to watch.  This is highly inappropriate, and you will learn, by the end of the season, that Carrie somehow has managed to fall in love with the terrorist Brody (in the immortal words of Mos Def, "Wowwwww").  I guess she likes the way he basically rapes his wife or something.  Brody is not adjusted, and cannot show intimacy with his wife.  Prior to this scene, while Brody was in the shower, we saw Jessica practicing what she would do.  That's the second time we've seen that.

22.  SUSPICIOUS:  Jessica wants Brody to have some wine.  Brody is having a hard time accepting it.  Devout Muslims don't drink alcohol, so we can get the idea that Brody is now a Muslim.  He is, he is!

23.  BORING:  Love triangle is obviously part of the problem here.

24.  SUSPICIOUS:  During Carrie's surveillance the phone rings twice.  Both times Jessica answers.  Both times the caller hangs up.  They milk this, but I'm fresh out of cows.  It was Brody's sniper partner, Tom Walker's (other terrorist), wife.  She claimed to be uncomfortable talking to Jessica, because Jessica made her feel bad about moving on from Walker, and marrying someone else.  Vot ah heepocreet she ees, ay?

25.  PLOT:  Carrie oversleeps and is late for the de-brief.  She re-iterates how important it is to make sure they're there for first contact.  Virgil (surveillance guy) assures her that they will be there.  We see Carrie take another blue pill, and head off to work.

26.  SUSPICIOUS:  Carrie does not play nice with Brody in the de-brief.  When Brody mentions a particular name (Zayyadi sp?), both Carrie and Estes seem surprised.  Carrie proceeds to show him a picture of Abu Nazir, asking if that is the man, and Brody says it is not.  She asks if Brody has met Nazir.  He tells her no, because he is a liar.  He has met Nazir, and is involved in an active terror plot with him.  We also find out that a prisoner of war loses value after 72 hours, and Carrie wants to know why Brody retained value.  We will soon find out that Brody retained value because he turned, and "killed" the unkillable Tom Walker (who he killed again at the end of season 1).  All this appears to have happened pretty early in Brody's captivity.

27.  PLOT HOLE:  Why did Brody and Walker turn so quickly?  They could have spent the whole season letting us know what built them into the terrorists they became, to give us the payoff we received in the finale.  Brody thinks he killed Walker very early in his captivity, but it hasn't even been hinted at why he was willing to do this, and especially so early in his captivity.  Instead, we are led to believe that Brody's whole reason for becoming a terrorist is because of the bonding he had with Nazir's son, and the subsequent U.S. cover up of the attack that killed him.  There would be a whole lot more to it than this, kids.  It also wouldn't even begin to scratch the surface of why Tom Walker did what he did.

28.  CHARACTER:  Brody is a pathological, and convincing, liar.  I won't ruin all of his moments, as we will see them soon enough in this post.  At any rate, you almost can't believe a single word he says, and probably should look at every important thing he says as if it is a lie.  When Dana talks him down from blowing up the bunker, his preference was to not answer at all, as opposed to lying.  When he doesn't want to tell a lie, he typically will evade the question, or change the subject.

29.  CHARACTER:  Jessica and Dana have another fight about Dana's attendance at a barbecue.  Jessica tells her that they need to make it work between them, because things are different now.  Again, Jessica is acting, as opposed to living.

30.  CHARACTER:  Brody lies, and tells Jessica that he is still at Langley, when he is in a limousine.  This is his second overt lie.  He is going to a meeting with Walker's wife, even though the tension built in the scene is that he's going to meet a potential terrorism contact.

31.  CHARACTER BACKSTORY:  In a Saul and Estes walk and talk, we learn that Estes has a real problem with Carrie's temperament, and steamroller approach to doing her job.  He says that he knows she can do the job, but he hates her methods (she is on probation after nearly being kicked out of the CIA).  Saul feels the same way, but enables her.  Estes is the non-enabling version of Saul.  We also learn that Saul has a blind spot for Carrie, and we learn that Estes used to have one for her, as well, one that resulted in his divorce.  We are also told that this will end badly for both Carrie and Saul.  So far, it's ended badly for Carrie (even though she unknowingly prevented Brody's attack), but it hasn't ended badly for Saul.  I guess his dark days are still coming.

32.  PLOT:  During the conversation with Saul, Estes wants to know if Carrie's up to something.  Saul tells him that he's not aware of anything.  Yes, Carrie's up to something, doing illegal surveillance on Brody.  Estes is a wise man, who never follows through on his wisdom if we are to believe what happened in season 1.

33.  PLOT:  Brody meets with Helen Walker, Tom Walker's wife, in the meeting Carrie wanted to be at, hoping it was Brody's contact.  She asks what happened to Walker, and Brody, after trying to deflect her away from an answer, tells her that he was beaten to death.  She asks if he was there when Walker was killed.  Brody tells her no, even though we will later find out that Brody "killed" Walker.  This is again, a lie.  Brody is on a roll, three lies in three scenes is a big deal.

34.  PLOT:  Virgil confronts Carrie about the blue pill (Clozapine), and wants to know if he's risking everything for a crazy person.  She is theoretically insane, but she's also a truth teller, as she was right about Brody all along, even after second guessing herself, eventually.  Realizing that Virgil might want out, Carrie basically blackmails him saying that he can't stop now, because he's in it up to his neck.  She's telling him that if she goes down, he goes down too.  So, Virgil continues surveillance with her.

35.  PLOT:  Carrie returns home to find Saul sitting in front of her surveillance.  After some harsh words, and sarcasm, we find out that Carrie just doesn't want us to get hit again, that she can't let that happen.  Saul asks her if she has anything suggesting Brody is what she thinks he is.  She tells him she doesn't, and Saul tells her to make sure she brings her lawyer down in the morning, because she's going to need one.  Saul also tells her he understands why she did it, but that he doesn't think a Grand Jury will.  At this point, Carrie tries to seduce Saul in hopes of getting him to back off to let her continue.  Saul says, "What the f*** are you doing?", with a shocked look on his face, Carrie backs away, ashamed, and Saul leaves.  The implication is that Saul is one big softie toward Carrie.  If he really wanted her to back off, he would have taken her in right then and there.  Instead, he manages to give her one more night full of time.  Good thing for her, she will find something that convinces him to let her continue.

36.  CHARACTER:  The scene above demonstrates more of Carrie's use them up and spit them out mentality.  The only person who can be "trusted" with what she says no longer can stomach the idea of being around her.  She lied to him about what she was doing, and then she tried to bribe him to keep it quiet.  Losing Saul as a confidant would put Carrie completely on an island inside the CIA.  The good news for her is that Saul really likes her, and may be keeping her close to learn what she knows.

37.  PLOT:  Carrie does not take what's going to happen well.  We see her take another Clozapine pill, the first time we have seen her take two in one day (against recommendation?  I don't feel like doing any research).  She goes to a bowl on her dresser, and takes out a "wedding" ring and puts it on.  We saw her deposit this ring into the bowl in her character introduction.  She then tries on a bunch of different party clothes, and leaves.  If she's going to jail tomorrow, she's gonna have fun tonight.  This behavior is likely not out of the ordinary for her, like it's some kind of compulsion, I'm willing to guess.  She likes drankin' and she likes casual sex, even though her life is filled with paranoia about terrorism.  She won't even take slight risks in regards to whether someone could be a terrorist, but she takes life threatening risks with her own body.

38.  BORING:  The barbecue love triangle with Brody, Jessica, and "Uncle Mike" pops up.  That dumb Chris basically tells his father that "Uncle Mike" has been around a lot.  Brody isn't stupid, and sort of puts two and two together.  This is probably the third or fourth time he has been a little suspicious that Mike is having a relationship with his wife, and is the second time dumb Chris has said something that makes Brody suspicious (when Brody first arrives home, noticing the paint job changed, Chris happily reveals that "Uncle Mike's" brother painted it for them).  I know he's just a kid, but he really should be smarter than this.

39.  CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT:  Carrie goes to a jazz bar, and we see what she does at night.  She's flirting with some random guy, and sees Brody on a TV screen, in a news recap of the welcome ceremony.

40.  SUBTLE PLOT DROP:  The guy Carrie is talking to says that someone out there is probably looking at Brody thinking he would have political prospects.  Yes, this is true.  Elizabeth Gaines, a power broker, who was assassinated by Tom Walker in the finale does see gold in Brody.  The VP also sees this gold, and helps convince Brody to run for Representative (another Representative is disgraced in a sex scandal, and they want Brody to replace him) later in the series.  The people in Brody's district can't get a break, I'd hate to be represented by either of those guys.  Is this what they will put as his identifier, on TV programs if he is elected?:

Sgt. Nicholas Brody (D-Terrorist, Virginia)

41.  PLOT:  After being asked if she wants to get a table by her suitor, Carrie starts watching the jazz band play.  She notices the fingers of all the players.  Then, she magically looks back at the TV, and notices that Brody is rhythmically moving his fingers, in what she thinks might be a code.  Later, after Carrie and Brody's sex and alcohol fueled weekend (wait, what?), Brody tells her that he was moving his fingers counting his prayer beads.  Is this true?  It's plausible, but Brody is a pathological liar, so I wouldn't believe anything he says, or at least not take it at face value.  This finger code is the evidence she wants to present to Saul that Brody is up to something.

42.  CHARACTER:  Remember what I said about Carrie's reckless behavior.  She drinks and drives over to Saul's house.  This will not be the only time she does this in season 1.

43.  PLOT:  Carrie goes and wakes Saul up, in the middle of the night.  Saul is very unhappy to see her, and is basically just indulging her, to get her to go away.  After finally convincing Saul that there may be something here, she asks him if she's still going to jail.  He tells her "not just yet".  She still hasn't gone to jail at the end of the first season (well, not for more than a few hours).  Good ol' Carrie never really gets legally punished (even though everyone in the series beats her down, mentally, causing her to want to go for Electroconvulsive Therapy at the end of the season finale) for her many illegal and bad actions.  The tapes were sent to a Crypto team, and they couldn't find anything in the hand movements.  There is no code, it's most likely that Brody was doing prayer bead behavior.

44.  PLOT:  At the end of the episode, we find Brody out on a hard jog in the morning.  We get to see his lies revealed, and find out that he was the one beating Walker, with Abu Nazir encouraging him to hit Walker harder.  After the beating is over, Brody collapses into Nazir's arms, crying.  We then see Brody stop jogging, and he turns and faces the Capitol Building.  This is his target, in more ways than one.  Brody is a terrorist, even though, all season, they will try to make you second guess what is really obvious, even from the first episode.

SCORECARD:

Brody lies:  3
Jessica acting:  3
Carrie takes Clozapine:  3
Carrie disobeys direct orders:  3
Carrie engaging in reckless behaviors:  at least 3
Open plot holes:  1
Potentially suspicious behaviors by characters that can be taken at more than face value:  4

I'll end this piece with a screwed up version of a famous quote from the TV series, House.  Thanks for reading.

EVERY BRODY LIES

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