Ben Watches Television : Homeland, Season Five (2015)
South Park is undoubtedly the most important show on television right now. Perhaps the most important we've ever had. No other show has mercilessly mocked everything and managed to get away with it for as long as Trey Parker and Matt Stone did *. Homeland has to be top 5, though. Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon's show is the furthest thing from Parker and Stone: dramatic, self-important, paranoid and overwhelmingly sadistic to its rather intimate cast of characters. It's also tense, visceral and gloriously well-written. Homeland, Season Five succeed by being the antithesis of South Park: humorless, sincere and terrifying. Let's take a moment to examine why Homeland is peaking so late in its production cycle and why it is more pertinent than ever.
Homeland is a series born from the ongoing climate on paranoia in post 9/11 America and it has been successfully harvesting the spoils of the war on terror for content since its initial season in 2011. Season One to Season Three have been exploring themes from a safe historical distance: terrorist kill lists, drone strikes, global racial and religious tensions caused by the conflict, the giant geopolitical clusterfuck the middle east can be, etc. Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon started bridging the gap in Season Four and started drawing inspiration from the much more recent Benghazi Attack. Season 5 is a different animal, though. It is openly inspired by news stories such as: Edward Snowden, cyberterrorism and the amorphous, intangible and very much ONGOING and GLOBAL conflict against the Islamic State. Homeland takes a leap from collective trauma to collective anxieties.
Using people's fear for entertainment purposes is a dangerous game to play. Freaking people out and taking an unexpected turn into fascist county by feeding the very real racial and religious tensions that divides Homeland's target audience is a very real possibility. Fortunately, the series did its homework once again and fifteen minutes into episode one, my homeboy Peter Quinn (played by talented and underrated British heartthrob Rupert Friend) gives a crash course on Salafism to a bunch of CIA grey heads in Langley. The portrait Quinn gives of the Islamic State is as accurate as anything you'll find from a respectable news outfit or from a Google search, so this scene is crucial in establishing the series' credibility (and intent) when you're that far into paranoid territory. If you're interested in the subject, there is a very complete article on the question available on The Atlantic's website.
Some horn-rimmed glasses critics have lamented the slower, less eventful and less cohesive nature of Homeland, Season Five and while I believe the series is about more than delivering your weekly dose of dramatic tension, there's plenty of character development to feed on: Carrie (Clare Danes) actually LEFT the CIA, Saul (Mandy Patinkin) is divorcing from Mira, Dar Adal (F. Murray Abraham) and Quinn may just become on the opening night of season 6 the baddest dude in the history of television. Yes, badder than Lorenzo Lamas in Renegade **. Homeland actually evolves from its infatuation with the war on terror in season 5 and draws a compelling and terrifying portrait of the world that emerged from it. Faithful to its editorial stance, it is not condemning either side and now explores the nature of our terrorism-related anxieties as well as I've ever seen mainstream entertainment ever do it. Jihadi martyrdom operations are now a global reality and while it's been coopted *** for entertainment by Season Five of Homeland, it has been done responsibly. It's a show that has always and will always treat its viewer with that kind of respect.
So yeah, I compared Homeland, Season Five to the contemporary iterations of South Park because their creative process in the same: they both harvest pertinent news stories for their own agenda. What they do with it couldn't be any more different, though. While South Park is very much unbound, Homeland is a series about post 9/11 society living with both real and paranoid fears and having difficulty differentiating one from the other. It has great, relatable characters (for as long as you can relate to CIA agents), but what makes this show one of the most pertinent things on television right now is the dialogue it opens about collective fears. Homeland, Season Six is supposed to open on January 15 (given that Rupert Friend can stop flailing over the set!) and I sure will be watching. If you're already as much of a Homeland fan than I am, make sure to check out the page on the second week of January. I will have something for you!
** I might be a little enthusiastic here.