Five Essay Prompts About Homeland 2×1: ‘The Smile’

Completely normal, happy person Carrie Mathison. (Showtime)

These questions regard the second season premiere  of Showtime’s Homeland. Please answer the prompts with specific examples from SUNDAY’S EPISODE, though supplementary material will be accepted as a secondary source. Please write legibly. No. 2 pencils only. You have an hour to finish this test. See below for questions and example responses.

1.  The first season repeatedly suggested that Carrie’s mental illness is part of what made her a good CIA agent. But Carrie’s gleeful smile in her last scene in the season premiere seems to flip that around: is being a good CIA agent being portrayed here as good for her mental health? Or is it just that it is giving her a sense of purpose that gardening and teaching English couldn’t?

Whoa, whoa, whoa. Having something make a bipolar person “gleeful” and having it be good for their mental health are probably diametrically opposed things, right? Like, gleeful is just this side of manic: next thing you know Carrie is going to be boning Abu Nazir and talking about how the colors of the rainbow fit into her colored coded Sherlock-y Charms theory about the real second gunman on the grassy knoll. And sure, she’ll be right. But she won’t be healthy. It’s sort of like the Van Gogh Prozac question: Would he have led a happier life if he was on anti-depressants and with both ears intact? Yes. But then we wouldn’t have all his great art. That’s the terrible simplistic and unethical judgement call that Saul and Estes made by putting a mentally ill person back in the field, when she’s not even a CIA agent anymore. Did everyone get shock treatment during the season hiatus?

2. Conspicuously absent from Carrie’s new room: her extensive collection of jazz memorabilia. Are we to connect jazz to her mental illness, to her life in the CIA, or both? Or does jazz, “the first American art form,” represent something larger here?
Well, it’s still in the opening credits, so I doubt the beleaguered jazz metaphor for Carrie’s thoughts–They’re free-form! Sometimes brilliant! Most people would rather claw their own ears off than listen to them for an hour! But old Jewish men get it!–is going anywhere soon. Ugh, but seriously. Enough with the jazz. Also, enough with the untouched chess games sitting on the VP’s desk. What do you think you are, Homeland? Lost?

Completely normal, happy person Andy Bernard. (NBC)


3. Two shows took detours to visit Gettysburg last season: Homeland and The Office. Coincidence? What could the battlefield represent for the two shows? Who had a worse reason for making the trip, Sgt. Brody or Andy Bernard?

What was Andy’s reason for going to Gettysburg again? Oh yeah, something about building team spirit. Which was kind of the opposite of Sgt. Brody’s take on Joshua Chamberlain, which was all about sacrificing yourself for the common good. Also to pick up a bomb vest, which apparently could only be manufactured in Gettysburg? I guess  if someone came knocking about all those old-timey ballistics you were making in your Muslim-owned gun store in Gettysburg, you could say they were for Civil War re-enactors.

In conclusion, the hallowed ground in Pennsylvania where the seminal battle between the North and the South was fought is either a testament to the triumph of brothers-in-arms over adversity, or to how long a recognizable war hero running for office can stand creepily still at a national military park without his behavior being flagged as odd. (Good thing Dana had her secret surveillance app on. Who needs Virgil when you have a 16-year-old girl with an iPhone?)

4. Is the portrayal of Islam in Homeland, in which it is both a spur to violence and a source of beauty and comfort, subtle and nuanced? Or is the show just 24 with a superficial gloss of balance, trying to have it both ways—keeping our sympathy for Brody while still using Muslims as the show’s scary enemy? Is the show now raising the specter of an actual “secret Muslim” in the White House to feed off conservative fears or to poke fun at them? (And if the former, does that make us sympathize more with Jessica Brody?)

To your second point, I think the better question is: “Who is the mole inside the CIA?” Right? We never found that out. I mean, that’s much more scary to me, personally, than whether we could have a Muslim in the White House. That possibility is so low on my list of fears, which starts at the secret drone strikes, the defense secretary’s son believing we should nuke all Arabs/Iranians to hell (and the fact that he doesn’t know the difference), and that the CIA is hunting Americans on U.S. soil. Sorry, I’m not even sure if I’m talking about the show anymore …

As to the first part, I think Brody’s portrayal of someone who has found faith in religion is pitch perfect. There’s no jihad moment of “Praise Allah!” on the show, and I think the scenes of him praying are some of the most humanizing moments of the show. Even it’s inconsistencies are great: When Brody came back, he was still drinking alcohol and eating pork at the BBQ, but as he’s come to terms with being a Muslim–and a man of peace, potentially–we see him turn down meat at the dinner table, bury the Koran after it touches the floor, etc., It’s very subtle and nuanced when it comes to Brody, but I wouldn’t say the show is trying to have it both ways, because I wouldn’t say Nazir’s main character trait is his devout faith. Nor was Walker a Muslim, as far as we could tell. So with only two of the characters representing that religion on the show (Brody and the  imam of the mosque where the FBI killed the two civilians), Homeland’s been really careful about not “playing it both ways.”

5. The final scene, burying the Koran, seems beautiful and tender, but it also calls to mind Brody’s burial of Walker last season. Unpack some of the resonances here between those early scenes of pain and humiliation on the one hand and Brody’s deceit, Jessica’s desecration or Dana’s near-outing of her father on the other. Does the fact that Walker was in fact still alive at the time mitigate or deepen these connections?

Oh, mitigate, for sure. Fuck Walker. That was such a poorly written character, in my opinion, because we had no idea what was driving him. At least with Brody you had his deep connection with Issa and the knowledge that the Vice President Walden and the head of the CIA and the Secretary of Defense–not all of America, mind you–needed to be held accountable. But what was Walker’s motivation? He was just this killing machine for Nazir, and we’re given no explanation about why. Stockholm Syndrome? I don’t buy it. He was just the T-1000 to Brody’s Terminator, and I’m glad he and his total non-character are dead now. I think Brody would have happily taken out Walker even if Nazir hadn’t told him to. Because in his mind, at least, Brody is not a terrorist. He doesn’t believe in collateral damage the way Walker and Nazir do, at least assuming that everyone in the season finale was somehow involved in giving the OK to the drone strike.

As for Jessica, part of me wants to be like “Stop being so intolerant, lady!” And a second part of me wants to tell her to stop changing her hair because it’s making me jealous how many looks she can pull off. And there’s a third, small sliver that thinks I’d react in the exact same way, because this is the shit she was talking about when she was trying to convince Brody not to run for office.

Bonus question: How much does Damien Lewis look like Shooter McGavin from Happy Gilmore?

Five Essay Prompts About <em>Homeland</em> 2×1: ‘The Smile’