Making the Case for ‘Homeland’

Homeland
Note: Over the next two weeks, the Awards Daily TV Crew will be making the case for each nominee in the Outstanding Comedy Series and Outstanding Drama Series categories in random order. We’ll be dropping one each day leading into and through the Emmy voting period. Share/retweet your favorites to build the buzz!

Homeland

Metacritic Score: 74
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 82
Number of Nominations: 5
Major Nominations: Drama Series, Lead Actress, Directing (“From A to B and Back Again”)

Once the Emmys take a step away from a show, actor, or nominee, they will most likely never look back and will move on to nominating newly produced or inventive shows. But this year, Homeland returns to the Emmy arena in the Outstanding Drama Series category after sitting the bench the year prior. Homeland’s nomination proves the love affair between the Emmys and the show during the its freshman and sophomore years was not simply the older Academy being dazzled by a shiny object; Emmy voters actually watch the show, like the show, and pay attention to the show. (This puts to rest a sliver of my cynicism that Emmy voters name check every category. It appears Academy members went back to Homeland, noticed its improvement after falling off the radar, and gave them another chance.)

In the early years, Homeland was the show to be… (It won Outstanding Drama Series for the first season along with Damian Lewis claiming the Drama Lead Actor trophy. More impressively, Homeland won consecutive Emmys for Writing in a Drama Series and Claire Danes in Drama Lead Actress.) … That was until its dismally received third season tarnished the Showtime charmer’s reputation. In short, Homeland suffered the mother of all quality drops in its season three. They made too many dead-end plot turns and wrote unsuccessful storylines when trying to keep up with fan expectation of a more complex narrative each year. Season three crumbled under pressure and the showrunners spent the entire season trying to dig themselves out of a self-created cavernous black hole.

Season Three ended with the possibility for Homeland to rebrand itself. Fortunately, season four was approached with a revitalized technique, and a lost show was made great again.

I would argue Homeland never surmounted the achievements of season one and two with its fourth outing, but it didn’t need to because its agenda differed greatly from that of the earlier years. Season four took the route of simpler storytelling, weeding out all of the unnecessary heavy-loaded flaws that sunk the previous season, most noticeably intertwining the depleted, poorly envisioned Carrie/Brody love story into the national security action. Instead, Homeland took its time and went back to the basics: telling a compelling story that was suspenseful and contained strong character development. It deserted all of the messiness we saw in season three and the intricacies of seasons one and two. Season four put more emphasis on the central terrorist plot and let all of the inter-personal drama be extensions of that plot, rather than trying to lay out a show as equally driven by the characters and the plot. The word “conventional” feels like a pejorative term when describing television in this day and age where every terrific show keeps aiming to out-perform what it has already accomplished. The fourth season is Homeland at its most conventional, but that isn’t bad thing; it’s actually what the show needed to survive. It aimed low and won big.

The season began with a boom in “Drone Queen,” which repositioned the show, yet there was a tingling feeling of familiarity when watching Carrie tell a strange man to fuck off. After the premiere, the next few episodes were shakier, but once the narrative got into full stride with “From A to B and Back Again” (the episode nominated for Drama Directing), there was a new level of excitement born for both the people looking at the show critically and the loyal fans. I was eager for each of the subsequent Sunday nights after “From A to B and Back Again” so Homeland could throw me onto a revived rollercoaster ride of thrills and sentiment. As the curtain closed on season four, and the music from the opening title sequence overlaid a montage of a distressed Carrie driving after learning of Saul’s corrupt behavior, the greatness of season four hit me, knowing I wouldn’t be watching a new episode the following Sunday. It was a bittersweet, despondent moment of separation between a television show and a viewer who fell in love again.

There’s something exhilarating about the path season four took. It conducted each scene one at a time, and all the artistic contributors poured their fullest talents into the moment. The result is the utmost effective drama. Homeland’s writing noticeably guided the show in the earlier years, but what seduces the viewer in season four is the directing. The potency of the directing is, I would argue, the most pivotal ingredient in season four. If the staging hadn’t been as strong as it was and if the audience hadn’t been emotionally invested in the stakes of the plot, we wouldn’t have felt the reverberating impact of the season’s crowning episodes like “Halfway to a Donut” and “There’s Something Else Going On.” If I were to describe the “money moments” from those episodes, it’d be a simple explanation of characters mostly remaining in the same setting trying to move metaphoric chess pieces to attain a goal. That sounds monotonous, but the directing inflates the drama and makes every moment of these longer sequences stressful and tense.

Without having Brody in the mix allowed other characters to have new meaning in the show, specifically Carrie’s allies, Saul and Quinn. In the years past, these two characters have existed as supporting players that interacted around the plot, but in season four, Saul and Quinn were woven into the storyline and, at times, drove the plot. Unlike helping her defeat Abu Nazir or find/catch Brody, Carrie was fighting to extract a kidnapped Saul from the season’s big bad, Haqquani, and trying to stop Quinn from hunting down Haqquani after the attack on the embassy. Fleshing out these storylines generated series-best acting from Mandy Patinkin and Rupert Friend, the respective actors who play Saul and Quinn. (Of all the years for Patinkin to be snubbed for a Drama Supporting Actor nomination, this is the year, when he a tremendous tape to win?)

Though Homeland’s fourth season mostly revolved around the mission in Islamabad, Carrie did receive thorough character development when an opportunity arose in the Haqquani storyline. For example, in “Redux,” Carrie’s medications were replaced with more harmful drugs, and after ingesting them, Carrie wandered through Islamabad hallucinating about Brody, Quinn, and possible danger. It fits cogently into the grander storyline, was a creative way to explore Carrie’s psyche mid-season, and gave Danes the opportunity to remind us that she is giving one of the greatest television performances of the decade. Danes is so quick and forceful with her acting, you’d swear the woman is connected to an electric outlet. The finale, “Long Time Coming,” drifts from the action in Islamabad and moves Carrie to discover a part of herself and grow as an emotionally recovering human being. Using the finale as a moment to reflect on protagonist’s journey is a daring move for a series when the expectation for a finale in this series is to have the CIA detonated or its leading man hanged in Tehran.

Homeland’s fourth season deserves my endorsement in the Outstanding Drama Series Emmy race for the reinvigorated approach to its storytelling, confronting its flaws, and improving upon what it previously delivered.

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