Gregory F. (Greg) Zerovnik, EMBA, PhD
California Institute of Management
Rotten Tomatoes gave Homeland’s final season a grade of 85%. My grade is 70%.
Game of Thrones (G.O. T.) benefitted from George R. R. Martin’s novels for several seasons and then had to find its own way once the show ran out of novels to adapt. Game of Thrones. was a great series when it stuck to George R. R. Martin’s narrative. Once it ran out of Martin’s books, it had to find its own way and never really did. It crashed and burned in the final flawed season.
Homeland was on firm ground when it put an American spin to an Israeli show, Prisoners of War (POW), which was about two returning POWs. Homeland featured one returnee, Nicholas Brody, played by Damian Lewis. Unlike the Israeli program, Homeland was less about ex-POW Brody and more about CIA agent Carrie Mathison, portrayed by Claire Danes. I would go so far as to say that Lewis’s character had to be killed off in the finale to season three because he was drawing too much attention away from Danes’ Mathison.
After season 3, the show, while still good and still nicely anchored with fine acting from Mandy Patinkin (as National Security Advisor Saul Berenson) and Danes, tried too hard to find its way.
In the final season, I got tired of constantly seeing so much of Carrie Mathison’s turmoil and anguish in her face. The writers almost never gave her a break. Psychologically speaking, for a character with a history of schizophrenia who had just returned from a horrifying prison experience in Russia that left her with clear symptoms of PTSD, how could anyone seriously think that a real-world Saul would tap her for the mission he asks her to undertake?
As for J. M. Barrie, his play Peter Pan takes place in Neverland. So does Homeland’s final season. In lieu of the Darlings’ London bedroom, we have Afghanistan, and people aren’t getting ready to go to bed but they are trying very hard to put to bed the Afghan war.
Over the course of 12 episodes, we are asked to suspend disbelief in preposterous ways.
We have Home/Neverland hero, Peter Pan/Carrie Mathison, aided by a faithful pixie, Tinkerbell/Max Piotrowski (Maury Sterling), and brought back to reality from time to time by Wendy Darling/Saul Berenson.
In Home/Neverland, the American president and his Afghan counterpart are both killed when a mechanical failure causes the helicopter they are taking to do a joint public announcement with the Taliban leader that a peace deal has been brokered, crashes, killing everyone on board. We’re supposed to believe that a helicopter flying our president will have been so poorly prepped that a bad rotor can cause the crash.
Also, the son of the Taliban leader, Jalal Haqqani, who feels his father has gone soft in the head by agreeing to a peace plan, falsely claims to have shot down the presidential chopper to stake his claim to take over the Taliban and continue the war. He takes refuge in Pakistan.
Tinkerbell is sent to retrieve the helicopter’s black box and find out what really happened.
Meanwhile, a new and remarkably inept and weak American president, cowed by an ultra-hawk advisor, issues an ultimatum to Pakistan: Give us Jalal or we will come in and get him. So very believable. Not.
Pakistan responds that if American forces cross their border, they will use tactical nukes to repel them. Are we expected to buy into this fantasy?
Max finds the black box but is taken captive by a freelance Afghan crook who sells the flight recorder to a black-market dealer. Carrie, with the help of a very devious Russian agent, Yevgeny Gromov (Captain Hook) recovers the black box. Carrie is able to listen to the recording and tell Saul what’s on it, but then Gromov drugs her and steals the recorder. After she awakens, Carrie writes down verbatim what she heard but knows no one will believe her (after all, she had taken up with a Russian spy) without the actual black box in evidence.
So, America is facing off with Pakistan over Jalal’s false claim. Russia knows the truth but is keeping the black box to trade for something in return—the identity of a mole Saul recruited back in 1986, privy to top-secret Moscow schemes that she reports to Saul. And Saul won’t trade that information to avert a nuclear holocaust, right? Of course not.
And Russia is perfectly willing to let America and Pakistan start a nuclear war that might well draw Russia in? Naturally.
In the end, Gromov persuades Carrie to figure it all out and she does, betraying her relationship with Saul. The mole kills herself rather than be captured by Russian agents. Russia announces what’s on the black box at the U.N. and gives it to the American ambassador. War is averted.
As the final episode winds down, a screen-over tells us two years have passed. Carrie now lives with Gromov in Moscow. They seem happy, watching an American jazz combo in concert. But in a final unbelievable twist, we find out that Carrie has become a new mole, using the same tradecraft as the agent she exposed, to contact Saul and restart the flow of intel.
I just can’t buy it.