Grace Dent on Television... Homeland, Channel 4
Homeland is gripping viewing – but on no account let yourself think about the plot
Due to my sheer adoration of the first series of Homeland, it pains me to question to the second's existence.
But, a bit like Prison Break, 24 or Californication, perhaps Homeland needed to be created in isolation, then shoved on a shelf marked “disbelief willingly suspended, pudding underegged, leave be”. And gosh, I loved the first series of this show. I shoved series one into my face like a woman on the rough end of a Beyoncé Knowles-style Mastercleanse discovering a Cadbury's tree decoration behind the sofa. Yomp, glomp, burp. I watched the whole series in one weekend. Of course, there's an argument with shows like Homeland; these crash, bang, wallop, chase-me-through-a-carpark-blasting and-bleeding affairs, that viewers really shouldn't be allowed seven whole days to ponder the daftness of their plots before getting the next portion.
We're not with movies. I saw The Sweeney with Ray Winstone recently, which only works as entertainment if the manager of Vue has time to chivvy punters out on to the street, then curl in a small ball behind the Ben and Jerry's refrigerator before we suss the full majesty of the film's plotholes and return, frothy-mouthed, to slash the seats. It took me two hours, due to my headrush of pick'*'mix and hotdogs, to realise that one of The Sweeney's biggest action scenes occurred in an Essex holiday campsite, which the police drove around, bashing into eight-berth caravans, shooting at children's rocking horses and peppering the shower block with bullets. Obviously, this madness didn't register at the time. I was too het-up by the awesome clanging froth and Winstone in his underpants shouting “You shllaaaaaag!”
However, having had a week to ponder the opening of Homeland series two, my biggest difficulty is accepting Carrie's (Claire Danes) continuing involvement in homeland security. The last time we saw her, Carrie was strapped to a hospital trolley, having elected to have electro-convulsive therapy for bipolar disorder. There's no wriggle room on this plot point. We saw the suction things go on to her head and we heard the HRRRRRRRRNNNK (medical terms). We practically smelled the sizzle as her usefulness as a CIA agent went up in smoke. I use “usefulness” cautiously. Carrie was so annoying by the end of series one, that a lot of viewers found her hospitalisation a gorgeous relief.
Importantly, until then Carrie had spent most of series one being largely ignored, belittled, stitched-up and viewed as a loose cannon by her colleagues. She didn't help her case much by having sex with the people she was spying on and offering sex to Saul, the only man on the team who championed her. She also caused the divorce of her main boss (or so he says; it takes two to tango etc). When Carrie was eventually thrown out of the CIA, she carried on investigating anyway. Real agents don't do gardening leave. Carrie is a real live wire, that's plain to see, but nothing in her HR file suggests she should be put in charge of so much as a Millie's Cookies kiosk in Didcot Parkway.
That said, series two opened with a new CIA kerfuffle around Abu Nazir which they simply can't fix without Carrie. “I hate to do this to you Carrie”, said Saul, requesting that a woman who hates him and his department, who has recently had her brain electrocuted, set off to meet a vital contact. These scenes – Carrie teaching her language class and planning a vegetable lasagna for dinner and then the CIA turning up with one last job – felt to me like a cheese-dream sequence. A big racoon could have run on during the “Carrie is pulled out of class by the CIA for one last mission” scene and announced that it was time to eat Sugar Puffs with the Pope and it would have felt quite fitting. Carrie left that night for the Middle East. I'm hoping that the entire second series isn't more of her running around shouting “I'm not mad. I just need to make sure we don't get hit! I missed something once before; I can't let that happen again!” while swirly jazz plays in the background and her father and sister chase her with the world's biggest butterfly net.
Meanwhile Marine Sergeant Nicholas Brody is being primed by shadowy political forces to run for Vice President. Obviously, as he's a secret sympathiser with Nazir this could lead to mass bloodshed, but I'm rather supportive of his new task as it gets him out of the house away from his bloody awful family. When Nazir is captured, his punishment should be indefinite house arrest with Brody's annoying teenage daughter Dana, whining about how she didn't ask to be born. Occasionally Brody's jelly-elbowed child-bride Jessica can appear looking fragrant with an elfin haircut clutching a pot roast, and get all upset about some sort of betrayal which she'll have forgotten within moments. Jessica and Dana would make Nazir recant his views on “women in the home”.
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