A Homeland Community
Sunday 9:00 PM on Showtime

A quarter of the way through Homeland Season 3, the drama’s fan base has been split into warring factions as a result of questionable storyline decisions. Now, unless you’re MTV Road Rules, this is never a good thing for a TV show. Viewers should be in a perpetual state of wondering what just happened and what might happen next, as opposed to where the hell the show is as a whole.

Unfortunately, it’s unclear at this point whether the show’s creators even know the answer to the latter question. Two years ago, Homeland broke onto the scene with a daring, compelling drama that gave TV watchers a fresh protagonist and (what seemed like) a show determined to explore the tricky, yet ever-prevalent themes of privacy and paranoia in a post-9/11 America. Carrie Mathison was a complex, unreliable character—because of her mental illness, viewers couldn’t fully get behind everything she stood for, but also knew how smart and good at her job she was. The perfect Golden Age “hero.”

Beyond Carrie, there was tight writing behind Nicholas Brody, a POW returned home with ambiguous loyalties to both America and the Al Qaeda terrorists that held him captive for eight years. Back in Season 1, grappling with whether he was “good” or “bad” was a powerful driving force for viewers. The show had all the makings of an award-winning drama, and the 2012 Emmys validated that notion.

However, looking back on that incredible first season, the cracks are in plain sight. Carrie and Brody’s star-crossed-lovers plot was initially strange, but viewers went with it because it was sexy and added another layer of thought-provoking obscurity onto an already murky situation. That’s all it was ever supposed to be though: another layer. Not the foundation of the entire series. Which is what showrunner Alex Gansa essentially framed it as in interviews like this one. That revelation threw fans into a loop. Instead of a much better 24, apparently this was a higher-stakes Romeo and Juliet. It goes without saying that the Al Qaeda and CIA make horrible Montagues and Capulets.

Now, all of this romance nonsense could have been overlooked if Homeland Season 1 had ended with the bang it was supposed to. Brody’s vest-jacket bomb in the bunker would have eliminated one of the show’s leads, but it also would have given viewers the impression that anything was possible, as HBO’s Game of Thrones strongly asserted with its Season 3 Red Wedding (spoilers). Instead, whether by the writers’ shaky pens, Showtime’s dominating hand, or both, Brody was saved by his teenage daughter—who has always been aptly portrayed by Morgan Saylor.

Save for some stellar interrogation sequences in the early part of Season 2, the show has been all downhill from there. The writers should have listened to their creative gut and axed Brody when it felt right. It’s felt very much like those in charge of Homeland aren’t sure what to do with Brody now, given that he was never supposed to survive this long. Granted, Brody’s delayed Season 3 appearance in ‘Tower of David” was intriguing, because it offers up the possibility of a completely new storyline in a new setting. But really, hasn’t the damage with this character already been done? What purpose does he serve anymore?

Beyond the Brody troubles, back on the mainland there’s a crazier-than-ever Carrie and an uncharacteristically gruff Saul. Claire Danes is being asked to take off with her superb volatile acting skills and see what happens, while Mandy Patinkin has been given an uncomfortable turn for his character. Previously, while Carrie and Brody launched blow after blow into the show’s foundation, Saul always stood as the calm, bearded rock everyone needed. After his outburst at newcomer Fara, a Persian American CIA employee in Episode 2, viewers were left confused as to why he’s suddenly exactly what they thought he wasn’t.

That leaves us with the long-suffering Brody family. This season, the writers have sexed up Dana Brody and given her an equally troubled, brooding counterpart to get naked with. It’s hard to say which is more disturbing—that serious time on a show allegedly about Homeland Security is being devoted to an even younger, mentally unstable relationship than Carrie/Brody, or that the show’s creators had blatantly circled the date on their calendars when Morgan Saylor turned 18.

It’s discouraging to see a drama that once captivated its viewers repeatedly trip over its own shoelaces. When the smallest bit of doubt in the writers’ ability starts to creep in, it’s hard to stop the bleeding. Just look what happened to Showtime’s former crown-wearer, Dexter.

This isn’t to say that Homeland is forever doomed, but the show’s got its work cut out for itself. There are still nine episodes to go in Season 3—plenty of time to pick up the pieces, place them back on the chessboard, and get a solid game going. Let’s just pray the hands moving the pieces have a brilliant strategy we aren’t seeing yet.

Victor Beigelman is a writer for Thelma, an online pop culture manifesto. Follow him on Twitter @vbeigelman.
Follow this Show