Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Manchurian Soldier-Spy: A Review of Homeland, Season 1

N.B. Spoilers follow

Homeland (2011) PosterIowa Guru and I have now completed Season 1 of Homeland, a gift brought to us from the homeland (would it sell in India?) by the Panda (Inscrutable or Hungry, depending on circumstances). I can sum up my response by suggesting that I feel about Homeland the way that the viewers of Frankenstein's monster must have felt upon seeing it for the first time: an ugly, patchwork, but kind of fascinating. 

Literary critic Harold Bloom has written about the "Anxiety of Influence", how poets and other writers worry about the influence and implicit lack of creativity thereby imputed to them by the work of their predecessors. We now have a test, and this theory appears not to affect the writers of Homeland (based, according to the credits, on an Israeli book).  They seem to want to borrow from two sources, at times rather openly. One source is the great film, The Manchurian Candidate (please! I'm referring to the Frank Sinatra, Angela Landsbury, Lawrence Harvey classic; not the Meryl Steep--Denzel Washington mistake). The other source is John le Carre's Smiley books and the brilliant BBC productions of them. (Again, please, don't go for the Gary Oldman--Colin Firth film, which was close, but no cigar. The New Yorker's David Denby explains quite well the brilliance of the BBC production and the implicit limits of the film.) Great precedents both--but you have to choose! 

In fact, I doubt either precedent really works in the current climate. Jihadism and World Communism both have strong religious elements to them. But the Cold War is quite different from Jihadism, whether fought through the science fiction of total brainwashing (coming as it did out of the Korean War) or through the true-to-life betrayals by British elites buying into the Communist utopia. OBL's efforts to reestablish the caliphate had no mass appeal. Who, among any developed country (Muslim or non-Muslim), has a desire to see Jihadism succeed? Exceedingly few, I wager. While a large segment of the well-educated and the intelligensia supported Communism (openly or covertly--including some in high-ranking and prestigious government and academic institutions), Jihadism holds no such allure. So we have a problem with the basic premise: Brody's motivation. 

Over the course of time, Brody is defined as a convert to Islam (it's happened millions of times before, but to U.S. Marines captured and tortured by Jihadists?), and he's defined as an avenger for the killing of the boy Issa. Alas, I don't doubt that drone strikes and the killing of innocents are generating huge resentments against the U.S. and are a recruiting tool for Jihadists, but to a Marine serving in combat, does this seem so awful when his life and that of his buddies are at stake? Against this premise, we must consider Brody's love of country, family, friends, and self: all seem overridden, but not by someone brainwashed or turned into some kind of automoton. Of course, Brody suffers from PTSD, but then the writers, while demonstrating this, choose to ignore it. (Would we really ignore and fail to treat the extreme injury that Brody or any POW in this war must suffer? If so, shame on our government for its callousness and stupidity, but I hope that this is a scriptwriter's ignoring reality.) This guy, despite the torture, despite the yawning chasm of loyalties and motives, chooses to stick with his Jihadist goal of revenge killing. So Brody's a robot who acts crazy yet remains ready to fulfill his mission to the death--until he heeds the call from his daughter. (Under these circumstances, it's so easy to forgive the just-in-time call in the plot.) One of the two main characters doesn't work. How about Carrie? 

I hope that she has no real life model. Claire Danes does crazy really well, but I pray that we have no loose canons in the CIA or State like her. (Well, perhaps we do. See this NYT Mag article, but I hope no certifiables.) Her character is wrong in some many ways (I know, I know, except the big one, off and on), but she gets hard to take. No wonder Saul turns her in. 

And the vice-president. What a dick! How realistic is he? Such a dick . . . dick . . . Dick . . . Dick Chene . . . . Okay, his character works. 

Mandy Patinkin as Saul is very good. Indeed, the acting is excellent pretty much throughout the cast. 

Okay, will I watch Season 2? Would I look away from Frankenstein's monster? And also, we have reason to believe that there really is a mole in the C.I.A. Somebody is spilling beans that isn't Brody and never was Walker. The scriptwriters have withheld information, and  I expect that I'll have to tune in to see where it goes, this monster. 


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