(Showtime/Kent Smith)

"Homeland" conspiracy theories

A TV critic's hunch about Sunday's episode may explain where this crazy train is headed. Is that a good thing?

Willa Paskin
December 4, 2012 9:29PM (UTC)

The morning after the morning after Sunday’s ludicrous “Homeland,” New Yorker TV critic Emily Nussbaum revealed a theory that explains many of the more jarring elements of the episode: Brody and Abu Nazir are duping Carrie in the service of some as-yet-unnamed larger scheme. If this doesn’t make sense of everything that happened (see episodes 2, 4 through 10, and 12 it would explain how terrible Damian Lewis and his tiny mouth were, why Nazir would let Carrie go, what Brody and Nazir talked about that was hidden from us two episodes earlier, and where the show is going in the season’s remaining two episodes. Of course, this could all be hocus-pocus, but I am in the groping-around-in-the-dark, willing-to-grab-onto-anything-that-provides-support, even-ephemeral-grand-conspiracy-theories stage of coping with that last episode.

“Broken Hearts” was risible — and I’ll still think so even if Emily’s theory turns out to be true. There are plenty of plot shocks and fakeouts that work without making the audience feel that the show is really dumb while they're being set up — but I love “Homeland,” and I want the episode to have been a blip. (Or, since insane plot turns are actually a staple of the show, I just want it to be a blip, not a bloooooooop.) So I am clinging to this theory with all the passion I condemned last night’s episode.


“Homeland” is not as consistent as “Mad Men,” but that’s a major element of what’s fun about the series. “Homeland” has a real streak of showmanship, an entertainer's touch, a “did you see that” instinct to it. Sometimes, this has left me saying, like, “Are you sure you wanted me to see that [neck-snapping incident in the woods]?” but it has also made “Homeland” the current show I most want to see new episodes of.  (“Breaking Bad” is about too bleak a circumstance and has too major a shithead for me to look forward to it in quite the same way: There's too much soul crush.) Needless to say, the catastrophe that was "Homeland" this past Sunday night does not make me less eager to see what’s next.

But while I'm waiting, one thing I'm not going to try to do is get levelheaded. Sunday's episode reasserted for me a TV (and, probably, life) truism: Staying calm is overrated. Staying calm is for lesser shows than “Homeland,” anyway. A couple of seasons ago, every single episode of "Glee" sent me into paroxysms of outrage — it was awful, but I was hooked. Unfortunately, there is no unifying theory to make sense of "Glee" (even if it is all taking place in Brittany’s head) and now "Glee" can do whatever horrible, or even not so horrible, thing it wants, and my heart rate stays steady. The spell is broken. That's better for my sanity, but worse for my entertainment.

"Homeland's" spell still works — though maybe not for much longer. Why wait for it to wear out by taking a deep breath and the long view, when I can scream and shout and ascribe to outlandish theories? As Carrie Mathison well knows, losing your mind can be the good part.

Willa Paskin

Willa Paskin is Salon's staff TV writer.

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