How did season two of Homeland get a score of 96/100 on metacritic.com, a site that collects and averages out reviews from other sources and is usually a reliable indicator of quality? Judging by the individual reviews it appears to have achieved its acclaim on the basis of the acting, the deservedly fond memories critics had of Season One, and the fact that metacritic.com collected its reviews early in the Season Two run.
By the time that season’s finale had aired in December, many reviewers were far less kind to the show. Even the positive reviews (e.g. USA Today) felt some of the story lines lacked credibility. At the other extreme, both the major Irish broadsheets thought the show “had jumped the shark” (a reference to the scene in the sitcom Happy Days where The Fonz jumps over a shark tank on his motorbike, thus marking the point where the show deteriorated, and now shorthand for the point where any series turns from great to bad). In-between were reviews like the Guardian’s “less clever” than the first season.
Season One of Homeland was brilliantly plotted, in part because it was based on a successful Israeli series Hatufim (English title: ‘Prisoners of War’). Season Two is an original plot, and the multiple flaws show, whether it is: plot illogicalities (Abu Nazir [Navid Negahban], an Al-Quaida leader working with Hezbollah? – In real life the two organisations hate each other); plot inconsistencies (given that the Pentagon is shown to ask guests to give up their mobile phones, how did first term Congressman, and secret terrorist Nick Brody [Damian Lewis] get in with his mobile to warn Nazir– indeed, how did he manage to get in there at all); or plot absurdities (the whole business of Brody’s killing of the vice-president using a serial number to his pacemaker). And these are just examples.
On the positive side, the acting is universally of a high standard, particulary from the shows two stars, Lewis and Claire Danes (playing sometime CIA agent Carrie Mathison) , and I had little trouble with the love story aspect of the show in terms of believability, even if I doubt the wisdom of focussing the show on that element of the story. Some individual episodes work well , particularly the mid-season episode ‘The Clearing’ (directed by John Dahl, a highly underrated director of some superb early 90s film noirs – Red Rock West and The Last Seduction – and a veteran of TV shows True Blood, Battlestar Galactica and Breaking Bad).
What is tragic is that there was a fundamentally clever spy and terrorist plot waiting to reveal itself, but it was brutally underwritten in favour of the emerging love story between Brody and Carrie. Given that Homeland is still highly regarded by many critics and has just won a clutch of Emmys (albeit for the first season of the show) it is unlikely to be cancelled just yet. However, it has its work cut out to survive beyond Season Three. It is unusual for a series to ‘jump the shark’ quite so quickly.