The Carrie conundrum: How to save Homeland from itself

The thriller’s second series was a mess. Now, as it returns, Hugh Montgomery suggests a rescue plan

It’s autumn’s most anticipated TV show, and yet not entirely for the right reasons. Yes, Homeland returns for a third series next Sunday, and regular viewers may well be perched on the edge of their sofas, less desperate to know what happens next, and more desperate to know whether what happens next is any cop.

When it launched in early 2012, this paranoid thriller was catnip to the vast British demographic who believe television drama is great so long as it’s American. The premise was a peach: a bipolar CIA agent, Claire Danes’s Carrie Mathison, tails an Iraq War hero, Damian Lewis’s Sgt Nicholas Brody, whom she suspects may be an al-Qaida convert. And for most of the first series, it was masterfully suspenseful, politically trenchant and emotionally wired.

But then it stopped off at a town called Rubbish. First, Brody was revealed to be a terrorist after all – nixing the subversive alternative that Carrie was both deluded and emblematic of the whole, ludicrous War on Terror. Then Brody’s attempt at a suicide bombing failed thanks to a faulty vest, nixing what would have been a truly daring season finale. And finally, when it returned for a second series, it came back safer, soapier and plain more stoopid. Suddenly it was a few digital-clock shots away from being a sequel to showrunners Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa’s previous terrorism-and-torture fest 24.

So now, with critical love lost and new shows snapping at its heels (see conspiracy thriller Hostages, also due to air on Channel 4) it’s make-or-break time. And while we wait to see what machinations the writers can muster, here we offer our own suggestions as to how Homeland can hit a home run once more.

Let Claire Danes off the leash

Danes’s jagged, jittery performance is easily the show’s most scintillating aspect. And so, in the second series, it was a fault of the narrative rather than the acting that Carrie seemed to transform into a  more standard-issue maverick: you know the type, always right, never listened to by her superiors, ready to take on a terrorist overlord with a bit of scrap metal. And that’s not to mention the excruciating contrivance of her romance with Brody. It’s perversely promising to note that she’s off her meds as Season 3 begins. Now let’s just hope she’s off relationships to boot.

Get Rid of Brody...

Damian Lewis is, broadly, a good thing. He gives charming interview. He is a tireless ambassador for the pulchritude of red-headed men. And he was brilliant in that film nobody saw about a schizophrenic man in a bus terminal. But enough is enough: as tentative turncoat Brody, we have seen him exercise one tortuously constipated face too many. Brody was always more of a plot catalyst than a character and, now that his double life’s been unveiled to the world, he’s surplus even to narrative requirements. If Lewis is looking for a decent small-screen transfer, may we suggest that his macho inscrutability would work just swell in the final series of Mad Men?

... or at the very least Brody’s family

Did I call Homeland a “paranoid thriller”? What I meant to say was that Homeland is a paranoid thriller spliced with clips from Channel 5 midweek matinée movies – which is the only way to explain the narcotic levels of suburban angst that we are exposed to week on week, in between all the spy shenanigans. When the US is going to hell in a handcart, I do not care that Brody’s daughter, Dana, is hanging with the wrong boy, or that military Ken Doll Mike is confused about his surrogate father/husband role. But most of all I feel sorry for Morena Baccarin, whose character, Mrs Jessica Brody, is the most underwritten female role on television since Sooty’s Soo, seguing as she does between nagging, nakedness and the indescribably annoying habit of calling her husband by his surname. The dispatch to a safe house in the Alaskan tundra can’t come soon enough.

Make Saul the mole

There’s a reason we choose Homeland over Downton of a Sunday: we want to be tortured, OK? And the way to do that is to make a bad guy out of our favourite intonation-shy, grizzly bear of a spook. We’ve long known that someone in the CIA has been leaking info, and it seems likely that their identity will be one of this series’s big reveals. So, who better for this treachery than the newly installed CIA director Saul (Mandy Patinkin)? Remember that failed polygraph test? This would bring Homeland’s greatest relationship – between Carrie and her mentor – into terrible focus, and might even stop people talking about the end of Breaking Bad for a minute.

Just end it

We maintain the distant hope that the writers will blow any carefully constructed narrative arcs to smithereens and make this series the last. If they do, they’ll be remembered for their dazzling creative chutzpah. If they don’t, you just know we’ll be watching Brody’s daughter saving the White House from a nuclear strike six years down the line.

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