“Homeland’s” season six finale will air on Sunday night. If you’re like me, at this point you couldn’t care less. That’s because the show has taken such a sudden turn toward political preaching and progressive tut-tutting that its story and characters barely resemble those of the previous five seasons. If you’ve been wondering what on earth happened, wonder no more.
On Thursday, the actor who plays Saul Berenson, Mandy Patinkin, explained everything on NPR. In an interview with “Here & Now’s” Jeremy Hobson, Patinkin discusses past accusations that the show is Islamophobic. He says that although the “Homeland” crew never meant to be Islamophobic, and certainly didn’t expect that kind of criticism, it is nevertheless true. According to him, the show became “part of the problem of the Islamophobia.”
He goes on to explain that the whole point of this season was to stop being the problem and start “trying to be part of the cure,” something Patinkin feels they were “tremendously successful” in doing. Patinkin, who is active in assisting with the Syrian refugee crisis in Greece, added that the “guilty ones” are “certainly not the Muslim community, certainly not the refugees or the immigrants that have come here, but the white male membership of, even members of the intelligence community and other parts of our government.”
So, there it is. “Homeland’s” monumental shift in narrative and tone this season wasn’t an accident. It was a 100 percent intentional effort to atone for the show’s previous sins. But the self-flagellation is so heavy handed, and such a departure from previous seasons, that it’s jarring for the viewer. It’s also boring.
Political Correctness Is Boring
Part of what made the first five seasons of “Homeland” so entertaining is that they were unconstrained by political correctness. They were at liberty to craft the most compelling terrorism-espionage story they could dream up. The main characters, Carrie Mathison (played by Clare Danes) and Saul, were realists about the dangers of the world, about who’s an enemy and who’s a friend—even if they weren’t always right. But season six is an exercise in pure political correctness.
Carrie has become a civil rights activist. She has renounced her previous views about terrorism, most notably that Muslims are ever terrorists. The show implies that prior to this season, she had been a racist and is now trying to right those wrongs to atone for her past sins. (By the way, this suggests that you’re a racist, too, for enjoying those seasons.)
Not only is the young Muslim-American in the show, Sekou Bah, not a terrorist, the real conspiracy is run by the white male CIA agent, Dar Adal, who is trying to make it look like Sekou blew up a truck in New York City. With the help of Mossad, Dar is also trying to convince the new president-elect that Iran is breaking the nuclear deal, which of course they’re not. Oh, and in case you weren’t getting the message, one episode features Saul visiting his sister in a West Bank settlement, which affords him a pulpit from which to preach on the evils of Israeli settlements.
Politicization Destroys Art And Entertainment
Political propaganda makes for terrible entertainment. High-quality television of the sort we’ve come to expect from Showtime is supposed to present its viewers with a compelling narrative, not scold them over their supposed beliefs and concerns. That is not why most people watch television. They watch it to be entertained.
Actors want to believe they are somehow the heroes of our culture. Patinkin said in his NPR interview that the “system of false information and truth that has seemed to take over the focus of the show is so horrifyingly important to bear witness to.” Actors tend to think they are the only ones with the knowledge and power to speak the truth about the injustices in our country and the world at large, that they are our last great hope.
But they aren’t. They are entertainers and, much more rarely, artists. An entertainer’s job is to entertain, not to preach. An artist’s job is to tell us something compelling about what it means to be human, not spew political propaganda. I’m not arguing the previous seasons of “Homeland” rose to the level of art. But for the most part they were supremely entertaining. On occasion they brought to life certain struggles of being human, mostly in depicting Carrie’s battle with mental illness and the constant strain of being in the intelligence business.
That doesn’t mean you can’t create art that also draws attention to tragic events in history or the present day. But when your first priority is politics, it will inevitably lead neither to entertainment nor art.
If ‘Homeland’ Wanted to Criticize, It Had Better Options
One could argue that the past five seasons of “Homeland” have to some extent reflected events that were happening in real life and this season is doing no different. One episode even shows crowds of protestors chanting, “Not my president!”
But the writers could just as easily have centered the show on the coalition fighting ISIS in Iraq, or the complicated intersection between combatting ISIS in Syria and navigating the Syrian civil war with all its factions. They could have concentrated on Bashar Assad and chemical weapons. They could have focused on Russian meddling.
If they really wanted the Iran deal in there, the season could have been about how Iran has been breaking the nuclear deal rather than weaving a fantastical conspiracy between Mossad and the U.S. intelligence community to make the president-elect think Iran has been breaking the deal to push the incoming president to be more hawkish. But they didn’t. They consistently and intentionally drove the narrative toward a progressive political agenda, and it made the show almost unwatchable.
To be sure, there’s plenty to criticize about the U.S. government and the intelligence community. Previous seasons of “Homeland” have been peppered with censure of both, and it flowed with the show’s story and the world it created for viewers. But to take a show like “Homeland,” which is supposed to be about terrorism and espionage, and have it conform almost entirely to progressive talking points is awkward and jarring.
Go ahead and make a series that’s entirely about criticizing the white patriarchy in government. I’m sure it will do really well. But leave it out of a show that has been, up until this dismal season six, almost entirely about Islamist terrorism.
And let’s be clear: the argument against “Homeland” season six isn’t that Muslim-Americans are all terrorists and that’s what the show should be focusing on. Not at all. But by trying to right what the show’s producers see as a grave social sin, they’re asking viewers to recant ever having thought there was a connection between global terrorism and Islam, and to regret ever having watched their show in the first place. On the second count, I think they’re succeeding.