Ian Thomas Malone

homeland Archive



April 2020



Homeland Ends with a Thud

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The world has changed quite a bit since Homeland premiered in 2011. The series has had to adapt to a landscape where a completely incompetent executive branch feels less and less outlandish. In the world of alternative facts, fiction has an uphill battle to compete with reality.

For a show that had its fair share of ups and downs over the course of its eight seasons, Homeland worked best when it focused on its characters. Claire Danes and Mandy Patankin often carried the series, aided by superb supporting players such as Rupert Fiend and F. Murray Abraham. With figures such as Nicholas Brody, Peter Quinn, and Dar Adal long absent from the fold, a final adventure with Carrie Mathison and Saul Berenson seemed like just what the show needed as it prepared for the endgame.

Most of season eight focused on a tug-of-war over a flight recorder of a downed helicopter that killed the presidents of America and Pakistan. Considering that previous seasons have featured hacked pacemakers and CIA car bombs, it does seem fairly radical for the show to feature a mundane explanation for the helicopter crash devoid of terrorism or Russian interference. Carrie’s ability to retrieve the device, irrefutable evidence for a president eager to entertain the counsel of the far-right, meant the difference between war and peace.

Homeland has repeatedly emphasized the power of the individual to change the world. Carrie, Saul, Brody, and Quinn each changed the course of history through their actions. Carrie embodied everything that James Bond has exemplified over his fifty-year tenure. Homeland worked best when Carrie was a kick-ass spy.

Season eight featured a completely unhinged Carrie, not just because of her bipolar disorder that the show often treats like a superpower. Carrie spent most of the season wandering Pakistan, in bed with the Russians, untethered from the confines of American foreign policy. It might have been fun if it wasn’t so aimless.

The pacing for the whole season was completely off, an issue that became far more of a problem as Carrie and Saul returned to America. The season never really felt like it had twelve episodes’ worth of story, but still managed to feel rushed by the end. Worst of all, Homeland pulled the tired trope of the mystery-asset, unbeknownst to Carrie for the duration of the series. Such a secret completely undercuts the relationship between Carrie and Saul that served as the bedrock for the show.

Suspension of disbelief is important for practically all spy narratives. There are little things here and there that Homeland could be forgiven for, such as Saul’s lack of security detail despite being National Security Adviser, especially after the death of a president. The series finale expects the audience to believe that Carrie, currently charged as an accessory to murder of that same president, is staying in Saul’s home without anyone batting an eye. That’s really just the tip of the iceberg for the plot holes, including a UN basement shootout, that become apparent in the absence of substance.

Homeland went out with a whimper, a final season lazily crafted as a betrayal of the show’s key relationship. Carrie didn’t need to go out as the hero or the villain, though one or the other might have been nice. Instead, there’s an aura of indifference that hangs over the head of the protagonist as she leaves America for presumably the last time. Like her daughter Frannie, Carrie’s legacy is largely left forgotten as the series limps toward its final bow.

Homeland was terrible as often as it was great. Eight seasons is a long time to be on the air. Final seasons generally work best when they remind the audience of why they fell in love with the show in the first place. For Homeland, season eight represented all the reasons why this show leaves behind such a complicated legacy.



April 2018



Homeland and The Joys of Habitual Viewing

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A couple weeks ago my partner was deciding when to head back to her place on a Sunday evening. I said she was welcome to stay as long as she liked (naturally), but that Homeland was coming on and I needed to watch it because my grandfather and I usually discuss the episode the next day. This notion was particularly important because in previous seasons my grandfather would e-mail or text his thoughts before checking if I’d seen it, which had revealed some spoilers (this has not happened this year), which is a reflection of the fact that until relatively recently, that was what people did.

Nowadays, it’s far less certain when people will get to their shows. DVRs have tons of space, and every premium channel has a streaming app for those who don’t have cable. The necessity to physically be in front of the TV when a show comes on just isn’t there anymore. The shows that carry a high risk of social media spoilers, like Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, and Westworld tend to fall into this new category of “event viewing” which has essentially replaced the concept of the water cooler show in the American lexicon. Gone are the days where a program like ER could capture the attention of an entire office for twenty-two weeks out of the year.

Homeland is not a worldwide phenomenon watched by over a hundred million people. It has respectable ratings for a show in its seventh season and remains a perennial awards show presence even though it’s been years since it won a major trophy. It is past its prime, but still entertaining to watch, beyond the joys I get from discussing it with my grandfather.

As someone who writes about TV, I watch a fair amount of shows on a week-to-week basis, but there are very few I feel compelled to consume the same night they air. I almost never watch shows that air during the 10:00 pm hour live, though that’s reflective of the fact that I now live on the West Coast, where the premium channels air their content at the same time as the East Coast. Being able to watch Game of Thrones at six in the evening is the kind of luxury that doesn’t make you want to stay up late to watch it live, especially when you have a TV in your bedroom (though that only a Roku).

The streaming era has dulled the sense of urgency to watch a show when it’s on, just as binge-watching has normalized the concept of a backlogged DVR full of stuff to pick from. The sheer number of quality shows out there is pretty intimidating even for a pop culture fanatic, but I can certainly remember growing up having to pick between a Boy Meets World rerun, a Hey Arnold rerun, or a Johnny Bravo rerun if I wanted to watch something. Having full autonomy over one’s remote does represent an underrated achievement of the modern era. We’ve cured boredom.

There’s still a part of me that takes a simple pleasure in sitting down to watch a show at a certain time, romanticizing the notion of curation. Tony Kornheiser used to close out Pardon the Interruption by asking Michael Wilbon variations of “give the people something to watch tonight.” I almost never listened to his suggestions, but I always liked hearing what he looked forward to watching.

Goodnight Canada

It’s a stupid thing to care about, but as a devoted fan of SiriusXM (particularly 1st Wave), I like the idea of a human being showing me things that I might be interested in, something to look forward to at the end of the day. You get to feel as if you’re part of something bigger, even it’s an hour of dragons or CIA agents foiling terrorist plots. In a world full of seemingly endless options, it’s nice to have a few picked out for you.




April 2015



Justified Goes Out With a Masterful Final Season

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Final seasons are tricky. Most shows avoid ending until ratings have slipped, major cast members have left, or until the quality has sharply declined. Justified doesn’t really fit into any of these categories, though season five was clearly not as good as previous seasons. Timothy Olyphant and the producers decided that six was enough and they’re probably not wrong.

I don’t think anyone could’ve predicted just how perfect season six would turn out to be. Many shows get a boost in their final seasons as they’re afforded the opportunity to wrap things up versus prolonging the status quo. Rarely do you get a show that has the chance to pay homage to the qualities that made it a success in the first place and completely raise the bar. Justified did just that.

Much of this credit belongs to Sam Elliott, who just might be the perfect person to cast in an Elmore Leonard adaptation. Elliott’s Avery Markham dominates every scene he’s in, which is rare for a new villain in a show that’s about to call it a day. This is even more surprising when you consider Justified’s crowded pool of bad guys for Raylan Givens and Co to deal with in just thirteen episodes.

You could certainly have made the case that Justified’s final season didn’t need a new arch villain with Boyd Crowder, Katherine Hale, and fan favorite Wynn Duffy in the mix, especially when you consider that the Raylan/Boyd/Ava relationship has been a defining element of the show for its whole run. A Raylan/Boyd feud could’ve likely carried the whole season, but that would have been the predictable move. If there’s one thing Justified has never been, it’s predictable.

This season has been a perfect mix of new drama that also manages to revisit almost every member of Justified’s deep roster of recurring characters. The returns of Ellstin Limehouse, Loretta McCready, Dickie Bennett, Arlo Givens, Winona Hawkins, and Constable Bob Sweeney could’ve worked fine as victory laps. For the most part, the show managed to involve them all directly into the main plot.

While Justified has always been a critically and commercially popular show, its often overlooked both at awards shows and even on its own network. Being on TV in the same era as Mad Men, Homeland, Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad and on the same network as Sons of Anarchy and American Horror Story certainly explains this. Justified did tie The Wire for number of Emmy noms for Outstanding Drama Series with zero apiece, which goes to show how pointless awards are.

You could make the case that Justified is currently the best show on TV. I can’t name a show that had a better year this season. Homeland came close, but suffers from not having Sam Eliott as a member of the cast and for having a truly horrible finale. Going out literally on top of the TV world would be nice, but it doesn’t really change Justified’s legacy at all.

For six seasons, Justified has consistently been one of the best shows on television. Get Shorty is its only true completion for most faithful adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s work (Jackie Brown is one of my favorite films, but it deviates significantly from Rum Punch). As far as legacies go, Justified couldn’t have done much better. I’ll miss Raylan and Co, but I’m thankful that they’re going out on top. I doubt a seventh season would have been terrible, but it’s hard to believe it would have been better.