“Homeland” isn’t going away. Its season ends tonight, but it will be back on Showtime in 2014.
The grim fact is that I would have been fine with it if tonight’s edition of Showtime’s much-acclaimed series were the last one we’d ever see. That’s how disenchanted I’ve been with this season’s episodes of the cable series I regard as one of the finest creations of American television since “The Sopranos.”
Nor have I been alone. In fact, if the back channels of freelance snark and bile on Facebook and Twitter are an accurate indication, disenchantment with this season’s “Homeland” has been at an all-time high this year.
Several episodes went by, in fact, in which the character who’d originally been the focus of the entire series – brainwashed-Marine-turned-terrorist-Brody – was deliberately turned into a fictional junkie and hustled off-camera to a high-rise slum in Caracas.
Those episodes, frankly, were “Homeland’s” Waterloo for a lot of fans. Damian Lewis may have been slapped on the cover of TV Guide Magazine, but he’d been unceremoniously yanked off the show for several weeks on end. The main story became all about the wildly complex relationship between the intelligence geniuses played by Claire Danes (Carrie) and Mandy Patinkin (Saul).
We were no longer following the weirdest and most doomed romance on premium cable television – the one between bipolar, brilliant Carrie and the Marine hero turned into a Jihadi assassin when he was a Middle Eastern POW. What we were watching during that Brodyless period was a devious power dance performed by an ambitious top level CIA professional and his most intuitive and recklessly creative operative.
There were wild howls of audience displeasure.
Not, let the record show, from me.
I had a revelation: I liked the story better without Marine/Assassin Brody and his deeply troubled family. When he came back into the story, in fact, once again, it seemed we were going to have to take a detour into the profoundly alienating world of traumatized teens and their guilt-ridden parents. At that point, I would have been happy if Brody had accidentally been bumped off by a stray bullet at the rifle range.
Not since “24” has there been a willful teenage daughter so annoying, indeed infuriating. (You just knew on “24” that the writers, told to lower their demographics, were instead working out the private anguish of raising teen girls.)
In those episodes, I missed Damian Lewis, an actor I’ve liked since he was so witty and diametrically opposite Brody in the wildly underrated network series “Life.” But I discovered that I found the baroque deviousness of Saul and Carrie a lot more fun to follow than the freelance assassin who’d been built, “Manchurian Candidate” style, by a nefarious foreign government, and was stumbling around the world with God-knows-who as his next target.
Where we are with Brody on “Homeland”: He’s stumbled around for a couple episodes, been welcomed high up in Iranian intelligence circles and has snuffed out an Iranian terrorist mastermind with an improvised smothering pillow to the face.
He needs to get out of Iran. He begged Carrie for help on his cellphone from the dead guy’s office. That was the end of last week’s episode.
I say let the Iranians find him and get the show back to Carrie and Saul, who are infinitely more interesting.
Yes, yes, I know that Carrie is pregnant with Brody’s baby, which makes him, as a future Daddy, less dispensable in Middle American eyes. But that particular wrinkle is a bad bit of plot overkill in a “Homeland” season that has been full of plot overkill.
That’s how you know that TV writers have completely lost all sense of what their shows are about. Subplots start multiplying madly, shooting off from other subplots and turning major characters upside down and inside out with no logic whatsoever beyond instant melodrama.
That’s the major misfortune of television in the premium cable era of continuing story lines: Success, unfortunately, demands that writers keep on going and concoct more melodramatic hoo-ha, all of which has to seem fresh even though the writers may have brought all their best stories already to satisfying conclusions.
And that is why throughout the world of TV intelligentsia, so many cherish Shonda Rhimes’ TV show “Scandal,” which had its winter finale on Thursday.
In honor of the occasion, Rhimes’ writers: 1) turned the fundamentalist female vice president of the United States into a murderer in a fit of anger at her promiscuous, cheating, closeted husband. 2) uncovered the show’s heroine’s mother (long thought dead) just so she could be revealed as a dangerous lifelong terrorist and 3) had the president of the United States incarcerate in the Pentagon the heroine’s father, who’s the monstrous head of a secret Black Ops intelligence corps working off the books for the government.
What Rhimes has done – and been increasingly celebrated for – is to have given television something brand new. It is displayed weekly on “Scandal” in exemplary form.
To wit: When you never know from season to season if the network honchos will invite you back, you might as well turn every single episode of the show into crazy overkill that might function nicely as the Last Episode Ever.
What this means for “Scandal” is that the show’s version of a sitting Republican administration is composed of: A) a president who’s a multiple murderer, having once before shot down a plane down full of innocent civilians and, after taking office, snuffing a Supreme Court justice in her hospital deathbed and B) his veep is also now a murderer, being unable to control her reaction to her husband’s randy stupidity.
I was thrilled with “Scandal” on Thursday. Kate Burton – the real life daughter of the late actor Richard and the actress playing the veep – got her best chance ever on any screen to act her lips off in glorious close-up. And so later in the episode did Joe Morton, as the heroine’s ultra-evil Daddy, whose scathing indictment of the Prez as an overgrown spoiled boy during their interrogation scene had some of the richest hostile dialogue we’ve had on network prime time since the heyday of “The West Wing.”
It was Morton’s finest moment on any screen since John Sayles’ “The Brother from Another Planet.”
Let’s see tonight’s Winter Finale of “Homeland” top THAT.
The truth is they can’t. And won’t.
I’ll keep watching “Homeland” of course. But as the knee-jerk melodrama now jerks wildly all over the place, B.B. King would have known how to put it: The thrill is gone.