MATT ZOLLER SEITZ: Should HOMELAND have quit while it was ahead?

Television
by Matt Zoller Seitz
December 19, 2011 3:50 AM
1 Comment
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It's hard to imagine the Showtime series topping its debut season -- but season two is in the works anyway.

[Editor's Note: The following article contains spoilers for the season finale of Homeland, season one. Read at your own risk.]
 

Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck might not seem to belong in a review of a searing cable drama about terrorism, but bear with me, OK? In the climax of Show Biz Bugs (1957), in which Bugs and Daffy compete for the right to claim top billing in a show, Daffy decides he’s had enough of being bested by the rabbit and hauls out his trump card, self-immolation. “I must warn those with weak constitutions to leave the theater for this performance,” the duck says, then swallows gasoline, nitro glycerine, gunpowder, uranium and a lit match, and explodes. “That’s terrific, Daffy!” Bugs exclaims from the wings, over thunderous applause. “They loved it! They want more!” “I know, I know,” says Daffy’s ghost, floating toward the rafters. “But I can only do it once!”

As knocked out as I was by the first season finale of Homeland, a part of me worries that the series might be the self-immolating Daffy Duck of cable dramas — incapable of topping itself in future seasons because the nature of its achievements this year are innately singular, and can only be diluted by a storyline that stretches out for two-plus years. (I have the same fears about American Horror Story, and I remember having them after Twin Peaks finally revealed who killed Laura Palmer, then sort of stumbled along until ABC canceled it.)

I even worry that the only major tactical mistake that Homeland made in its 90-minute season-ender was letting Marine Sgt. Nick Brody end his weird odyssey free and unharmed at the end. If producers Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa had let Brody swallow the match, so to speak — and complete his suicidal terrorist attack, or get shot or otherwise neutralized in the State Department bunker, or be talked down by his teenage daughter Dana, or his wife Jessica or Carrie, and sent to prison — the series would have still dazzled as a stand-alone while leaving us lots of plot and motivation questions to chew over. Brody’s statement on the phone to Abu Nazir — about how it might be more advantageous to have a fifth column influencing U.S. foreign policy rather than a sleeper agent plotting a bloodbath — makes dramatic sense, and it works as a setup for a second season, one set in the heart of executive branch power rather than on the military-intelligence fringes. But it’s damned hard to imagine how a scenario like the one that Brody laid out to Nazir could produce TV more exciting than the season that we just finished watching.

You can read the rest of Matt's recap here at Salon.

Matt Zoller Seitz is the publisher of Press Play and TV critic for Salon.

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1 Comment

  • Matthew | March 27, 2012 11:21 PMReply

    I've only just got to the end, hence the lateness of my reaction.

    The season finale was great, and those closing shots with Claire Danes would have been a memorable ending for any kind of cinematic venture. I'm with you in many respects here; television programmes almost always benefit from having been cut short rather than having had their lives prolonged for financial reasons. Terriers and Rubicon are two shows where I felt a little sad that the story was over, tempered by the realization that the stories had ended well. Men of a Certain Age, on the other hand, is a different case - these characters easily had at least one more season left in them, and I had to remind myself that they were only fictional constructs.

    So while I agree that while Homeland could easily have been a one season outing, given the risks that its producers took (a distinct absence of cliffhangers and an unexpected verisimilitude, given the nature of the story), they could continue from where they left off by reassigning new depths to the characters, instead of having them restricted to boxed-in cutouts as is so often the case.

    I always expected Carrie to be redeemed, or receive some kind of affirmation that her actions had been justified. That there was no pay-off in this respect was not a let down in the least; and also means there are all kinds of possibilities left open for a main character now in a second season.

    If things stay surprising and risky, my hopes remain high.

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