By Shannon Watts, Staff Writer
Spoilers for the first two episodes below!
Showtime’s CIA drama “Homeland” is no stranger to controversy; the show isn’t afraid to touch current, highly salient political issues. But in the past, it had been plagued by jingoist undertones as the show failed to portray the complexities of the Middle East, terrorism and US military strategy. The plot got caught up in the typical American sense of moral superiority, and the constant war hawk rhetoric had been abrasive from the start.
I was afraid I was in for more of the same this week, but the fourth season, which premiered on Sunday, seems to be diverging from the show’s past. It may be too soon to make lasting predictions, especially for a season that is only six episodes long, but “Homeland” appears to finally be investing itself in exploring the moral grey area in which the CIA dwells.
In the first episode of the two-part opener, Carrie greenlights a bomb strike on a compound in Pakistan believed to contain a terrorist high on the US hit list. The show is fictional, but this particular issue certainly isn’t.
Soon after the strike, the CIA finds out the compound was the site of a wedding, and that many of the targeted terrorist’s innocent family members were killed. The episode switches between Carrie’s activities and those of Aayan, a Pakistani college student whose family was killed in the strike.
Carrie is aloof, selfish, and holding back any semblance of emotion as usual (don’t get me wrong, that is how she’s best), but even she is determined to figure out how their intel went wrong. While she is struggling with motherhood and manipulating (read: blackmailing) the director of the CIA into giving her job back, Aayan is becoming a sympathetic, fleshed out character. He tries to avoid the media, alienates his friends, and seems afloat without his family. The rapid switching between Carrie and Aayan makes the moral quandary even more evident. The show forces the viewer to acknowledge the possibility that Carrie and the CIA were wrong just by creating Aayan’s character.
“Homeland” has shown us victims of tragedy before; but never those on the other side of the self-righteous War on Terror, and never in such a blunt, realistic way. One scene is particularly striking; the drone camera focuses on the field of dead outside the compound, and Aayan, kneeling among the covered bodies of his family, stares defiantly back.
“Homeland” is a show about the complexity of intelligence work that seemed to shy away from its self-created difficult implications. If the consequences of the CIA’s hasty actions were ever mentioned, they were deemed trivial and immediately brushed off. A truly critical thinker can see past the show’s one-dimensional veneer, but critical consumption of media is never a given. Now, for the benefit of all viewers, the show is openly questioning its own world’s politics, and indirectly, questioning ours.