Episode 12 - Marine One
6 March 2012
Considering the limitations placed on the writers I thought this was very good. This was detailed and character driven and emotive. The first half of this 90 minute episode in particular had some great moments in it.
However I was left convinced that the right end to the show came around the 55 minute mark, incidentally when a normal length episode could have wrapped up. Brody would have told Dana that he wasn't coming home, hung up the phone and blown himself to bits. The Vice President, many of his top national defence colleagues and a bunch of innocent security people would have all died. It would have been fitting retribution for the killing of eighty Iraqi children. Meanwhile Brody's family would be left devastated and Carrie's career would be in tatters despite being proven right all along. It would have been a sad but deeply memorable end to the show. It would have sent a powerful message about the futility and injustice of the War on Terror.
Instead capitalism has to triumph over art. I don't say that sentence with the deeply cynical tone that it implies. I'm sure if I were President of Showtime I would have renewed a critically and commercially successful show. Dexter has only grown in ratings as its stories have become duller so sadly there is only a weak case to be made that Homeland's audience will disappear when they see the story being strung out.
And there is no question that that is what's going on here. For me Homeland slipped out of engaging storytelling and down into predictable television show with this episode. Brody's promise to Abu Nazir to keep working for him and Carrie's sudden recall of a forgotten memory felt like cheap ways to make me anticipate Season Two. Again, if I were writing the show I may well have chosen to go that route too. But as a viewer I am disappointed. I don't want to see the writers manipulating me into further viewing and that's what this was.
Let's get into some detail, which was excellent for the first half of the episode. Brody's justification video was a great idea and gave us a clear and full view of his motives and rationale for what he was about to do. Dana then discovered him praying to Allah which was an intriguing moment as he tried to convince her that nothing was wrong and she became increasingly worried by his behaviour. Later she interrupts him putting on the explosive vest and the tension had begun to build. The writing and direction were excellent here as she sought reassurance and he had to keep pushing her away. One shot of her lingering, confused, in the corridor as he buckled up his vest behind the door was excellent. Even better was when Brody had to avoid hugging her as his private car came to pick him up.
The action at the Vice President's press conference was brilliant. Saul was our point of view on how the metal detectors would be a barrier for Brody just as Tom Walker set his sniper rifle up. I loved the shot down the barrel of the rifle where we could see just his eye magnified. He then picked off Elizabeth and a few security men allowing all the Vice President's supporters (and Brody) to be whisked through the complaining metal detectors and into a secure room. Now we were watching great television. Suddenly Abu Nazir's plan to use his two marines became clear and it was beautifully simple.
Damian Lewis was fantastic throughout the episode. I've complimented his ability to twitch and move a facial muscle or two to convey the churning within and that was on full display here. The scenes in the secure room saw the camera glued to his face so that his sweating, stressed brow could carry all the tension of the moment. As he prepared to push the switch I found myself willing him to do it and not make a mistake. The story had been told so well up to that point that it felt natural to support the Marine following his conscience over this group of anonymous people.
The switch didn't work and Brody fled to the bathroom to fix it. I didn't mind that moment as it was believable and of course necessary to give the story somewhere else to go. But now we got into the crucial moments as Carrie rushed to convince Dana to call her father and talk him down. I haven't Carrie yet but her battle with depression and anxiety was well handled up to this point. So too was what followed as Dana tried to get rid of the crazy woman harassing her but also realised that something she said rang true given her Dad's recent behaviour. Again the writing had built well to this moment with all that's gone on between Dana and Brody in the last two episodes. I could buy him deciding to be there for his family rather than avenge Abu Nazir's. If the episode had stopped here then I would have come back for season two pretty intrigued.
Instead we had another half an hour to go and this is where the problems began. Saul began throwing his weight around with the Vice President and David so he could learn the truth about the drone strike. David justifies himself strongly and Saul is left with nowhere to go. I assumed he might ask for Carrie to be reinstated but instead he was left simply stuck. The fact that a high level meeting was filmed where the decision to bomb the school was taken felt odd. Why would you allow those meetings to be filmed? We certainly didn't need to see it, we understood what had happened.
Then Brody went to see Walker and talk to Nazir. Brody claimed that he was still in the fight but had realised that killing a bunch of politicians and national security people would have accomplished little. They would have been replaced by others who would have continued to search for Nazir at any cost. True.
Brody argues that now he is close to the Vice President he can help change policy. Nazir says "Why kill a man when you can kill an idea?" He agrees to continue working with Brody and asks him to kill Walker. This I had a massive problem with. If we assume Nazir is a smart man then I'm sure he would see all this as crap. The argument of terrorists is that only by causing the USA pain will they change their mind about where they interfere in the world. By blowing up twenty important figures on US soil a very powerful dangerous message would have been sent. Now we are supposed to believe that Nazir is happy to exchange that for Brody making speeches? It seems silly.
Of course you could argue that Nazir is just biding his time and will convince Brody to kill again in the future. But it still all feels like a cop out to continue the series and not the authentic story it was twenty minutes before.
So to Carrie who is having Electroconvulsive therapy to try and find a solution to her bi-polarity. Part of what convinces her to do this is the way she made a fool of herself to Brody, a man she had come to love. As they give her anaesthetic she remembers that in his sleep he cried out for Issa. Suddenly she realises that she was right all along but is now about to potentially lose some of her recent memories. Again this felt like soap opera territory to make next season seem dramatic as she gets back on his trail.
And that was that. I sat through so much 24 that I really hated the contrived and predictable ways that Jack Bauer would be delayed from saving the day until the end of the day. This was so much better written than any of those delaying tactics but the result was the same. I didn't hate what happened here and I'm sympathetic to everyone making Homeland for what they had to do. But I remain convinced that the story should have ended with a normal length episode either with Brody blowing up or choosing not to. I'm sure next season will be full of good acting and writing but I suspect my emotional connection to the show will be severely weakened and that connection is what can make a show great.
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