Following a colossal blunder in season 3, Homeland returns for season 4 without Nicholas Brody but can the show reboot and reformat to new glory or will his ghost haunt them forever?
By Damon Martin — Editor/Lead Writer
When Homeland debuted three seasons ago, the show was hailed as a monstrous success both in execution and in critical appeal by turning a hero to villain as a once captured soldier named Nicholas Brody came home with a secret that he was actually working for the enemy after spending years being converted from American to terrorist. It was a plot twist unloaded in the show’s pilot, but not fully revealed until several episodes later. For a big chunk of the first season, viewers weren’t sure if Brody was a terrorist in sheep’s clothing or just a severely damaged soldier sent home to live in a world he no longer belonged in.
Once the big revelation came that Brody was actually turned while being held captive for all those years, the show soared in popularity and then a decision was made internally that forever changed the course of the show. You see, Brody as played by Damian Lewis was already the darling of every reviewer and there was little doubt he’d be pulling home gold statue after gold statue when award season started firing up. So how could you possibly kill off such a vital actor despite the fact that his character was destined to be sacrificed? The answer was you couldn’t or at least Showtime told the series creators that they wouldn’t be killing him.
So season two was trotted out and Brody’s secret was eventually revealed and there were some other brilliant episodes littered throughout the sophomore effort, but still Homeland just couldn’t let go of Damian Lewis. Finally, in season three there was no more saving him. He had to go. But instead of finding a way to gracefully exit the character after he stuck around for at least a season and a half too long, Homeland turned into the Brody debacle as writers just couldn’t figure out a way to get him off the show without morphing the series into a mockery of what it had once been. Homeland was as hopelessly tied to Nicholas Brody as he was to the noose that eventually dragged the last breath out of his body after being captured in the Middle East.
Admittedly, even I was shocked and somewhat surprised that Homeland was returning for a fourth season. The third was abysmal at best and honestly it was sad because the first season would always be remembered as one of the most thrilling runs in TV history. Even the second season for all the flaws that developed as the writers decided to take a show wrought with military intrigue and political backlash and turn it into a sad sap love story between their two lead characters, Homeland was still a series too good to miss.
As season four picked up on Sunday night, I wondered how they would do it? How would this show so painfully attached to Brody’s ghost finally move forward and could they do it well enough that we’d forget the sins of the past?
Homeland picks up presumably at least a year after Brody’s death with Carrie acting as station chief in Kabul, Afghanistan, where she’s coordinating drone strikes with her other station chief played by Corey Stoll, who oversees operations in Pakistan. Together they’ve been working on a series of missions to stamp out the terrorist leaders dotted throughout the Middle East and as of now, they’ve been hitting with surgical precision and as the body count rises, their accolades only continue to mount.
Stoll plays chief Sandy Bachman and when his casting was announced I was immediately hit with questions like ‘how is he filming this while starring in ‘The Strain’? Well if you saw tonight’s double episode, that was answered pretty quickly but let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet.
Sandy has been providing intel to Carrie on strategic sites to hit so they can take out terrorists leaders holding up shop in the area. He has an anonymous source that’s been feeding him information and in turn he hands it over to Carrie, who checks it out, verifies the intel and then orders drones to blast away at the area to take out the high valued targets. So far this team has produced a perfect four for four, but the latest operation seems off in so many ways.
Sandy got information from his source that says a very high valued terrorist is currently in a house on the border of Pakistan, but the window to get him is closing because there’s no word on how long he will be there. The problem is with such limited time, Carrie can’t verify the information or make sure that the terrorist isn’t currently holding up in an orphanage where the collateral damage would far exceed the win of killing a bad guy in the process. Considering, Sandy’s source is batting a thousand right now there’s no way he’s going to be wrong this time so Carrie orders the hit.
With no drones in the area, it’s actual pilots who have to carry out the orders and with a couple of missiles planted into the home, the terrorist is killed along with a few dozen others but it was all worthwhile in the end, right? Wrong.
It turns out Sandy’s flawless source failed to mention that the terrorist in question was attending a family wedding, and the people who were slaughtered alongside him were women, children and innocent people doing nothing more than dancing and having a good time. There was no plot being hatched against America and this certainly wasn’t a meeting of the brightest minds terror could assemble in one place. It was a wedding party.
To make matters worse, the lone survivor Aayan Ibrahim (played by ‘Life of Pi’ actor Suraj Sharma) is a medical student in Pakistan with no real political aspirations. Why is that bad? Well it turns out Aayan’s roommate at university has big problems with what U.S. forces did to his friend’s family and he releases a wedding video shot on his iPhone, which immediately has hundreds of thousands of hits on YouTube. Aayan is immediately thrust into the spotlight, willingly or unwillingly, and he’s just become the new face of this American war on terror.
Meanwhile back in Pakistan, as the shit hits the appropriate fan, Sandy is off to meet his contact to find out what went wrong. What Sandy doesn’t know is while he’s walking the streets of Islamabad to meet his informant, the local news managed to get his picture and it’s being plastered on the 6 o’clock news for everyone to see — this is the man who butchered an entire wedding party to kill one terrorist. Pretty soon, Sandy realizes he’s in a bad spot and even with Carrie and Quinn trying to back him up and help him escape, he gets dragged into the street and beaten to death in front of a live audience with the entire world watching. Corey Stoll can now go back to filming ‘The Strain’.
These are the events that set off Homeland season four in spectacular fashion and through the first hour of the two episode debut, thoughts of Brody couldn’t be further from my mind. The characters were the same. Carrie was still focusing on her career to the point where she forgot about her daughter at home and really this isn’t much different from the person she’s been for the past three seasons. Carrie has always been disconnected from human contact and outside of her brief time with Brody, she’s acted like more robot than woman. Quinn is in the picture as Sandy’s right hand when this whole thing unfolds but watching his boss get ripped from a car and killed in front of him sets him back to that same place where he was asked to assassinate a target and ended up killing a kid as well. Quinn is damaged goods and he’s trying to figure out how to repair what’s probably beyond broken.
And then there’s Saul — still the best character on Homeland. He’s working in the private sector these days, drawn back into the government fold based on the prospect of signing security contracts, but really he just can’t escape his former life. His wife has plotted a course to take them to New York for a few years so she can focus on her career, but Saul just can’t pull himself away from the life he’s always known working in espionage. The real secret is that he loves his work more than he loves his wife, although he puts on a good front to the contrary.
As the first hour unfolds, Homeland seems like a completely different show, but far better than the one that aired on Showtime a year ago at this time. It was a plot ripped right out of the pages of the recent headlines with nothing on the level of ’24’ where you have to completely suspend disbelief to watch the show. These things could be happening in our world. They probably are happening in our world and now we get to see it unfold.
Where Homeland falls flat ever so slightly in the two hour season premiere is when things are brought back to the United States after the fallout of the bombing gone wrong in Pakistan coupled with a CIA chief being beaten to death on the street. Carrie has to face the reality that she’s an absentee mother, who barely knows her own daughter and when she finally tries to connect with the toddler, she’s more tempted to kill her own baby rather than actually get saddled with raising her. Carrie was already a very unlikable person that often times had me screaming at the television with the choices she made. Having her nearly drown a baby in the first episodes back in a post-Brody world probably won’t make her approval rating go up much, but maybe she’s being painted in such a bad light so she can eventually redeem herself? Not likely but anything is possible.
In those few scenes that take place back in the States, Homeland is haunted by ghosts of the past in some very obvious ways that didn’t really need to be mentioned. Carrie’s neglected baby has a head full of red hair to remind us again that she is Brody’s. Carrie finally starts playing mommy if only for a few minutes and after strapping her kid into the front seat (I don’t have kids and even I know you don’t do that!), she drives them by the house Brody once lived in with his incredibly gorgeous wife (yes, I miss Morena Baccarin) and their two kids (who I don’t miss at all). Carrie even shares the story about how she was once arrested right there on the lawn! Good thing this kid can’t understand a word she’s saying or this would be traumatic information to hear about how mom and dad came together.
While those scenes drag Homeland back into the mire that sunk the show last year, Carrie eventually snaps out of her Brody-induced haze and goes back into work mode where she blackmails the head of the CIA to get her assignment back overseas so she can figure out what went wrong with Sandy’s source and find out how this entire operation just got a wedding party killed and made the United States look really, really bad in the process. While Carrie just wants to go back, Quinn is staying put. He’s seen too much and done even more and now his head just can’t wrap itself around another tour overseas where he’s essentially a paid mercenary as leaders from his country point and then tell him to go kill. Saul, who I believe desperately wants to get away from his wife except he just can’t admit that to himself, will soon follow Carrie overseas to help with her security after Sandy’s failed so miserably when he sat in the same seat she’s about to occupy.
Assuming Homeland primarily focuses on the international war brewing between factions in Pakistan and the U.S. forces trying to hold the volatile area together with nothing more than twist ties and promises, the show could be a huge hit this year. The first hour immediately captured my attention and made me want more. The touchy, feely parts where the writers tried (and failed) to make Carrie seem more human, even if that meant nearly murdering an infant, just didn’t go over well and seemed forced. Hopefully, the brief mentions of Brody were just that — brief — and now we can get back to the actual story for the season.
I never thought Homeland could outlive Nicholas Brody, but so far they are proving me wrong. So far anyways.
If you missed the first two episodes, Showtime is giving you a chance to watch them for free via YouTube. Check the videos out below: