The Conscience of ‘Homeland’

There’s much to learn from the way ‘Homeland’ humanizes. 

After last night’s stellar episode, I am more convinced than ever that, more than anything, Homeland is a show about conscience. Regardless of context or character, the show is interested in what is fundamentally the right thing to do and what is fundamentally the wrong thing to do, nothing else. It’s also interested in what is fundamentally the easiest or safest thing to do, and that’s a choice each of our characters have made more than once.

Recently, the show has received some criticism for a subplot it introduced a few episodes back, regarding Brody’s daughter, Dana, and the Vice President’s son. (Spoilers ahead.) The hit-and-run that takes place—Dana in the passenger seat, Finn driving—does ring a bit familiar and surely had the potential to wander off into soapy territory. However, I think the opposite has happened. I think the hit-and-run and Dana’s subsequent agony and guilt has come to serve as a vehicle for the show’s message; a distillation of the complex emotional currents that run through each episode. What does it mean to take responsibility? When you do what you believe to be the right thing, who are you doing it for? These are questions that Dana wants answered, but they’re also questions we, the audience, are being asked on a larger scale.

If we situate Carrie, Brody, and Dana as our three protagonists—and I’d argue that this is the case—it becomes clear that the one thing uniting them is that they’re all driven by a rowdy conscience. Brody seeks to avenge the death of Issa, a boy he came to love as his own son. Carrie wants to rewrite history, wants to make amends for things that she (and everybody else, the credits remind us) missed in the days leading up to 9/11. And now Dana, whose phone call to her father at the end of last season more or less saved the world, who is growing up in a color-coded-for-terror America, wants to write her own wrong. She wants to be better.

What are we meant to take away from this? Well, I think it might be something along the lines of what I was talking about in the introductory post to this section a couple of weeks ago. There’s humanization at work in the way this show crafts its characters and their motivations. And by drawing these parameters and deleting the adjectives, the actions of each character become both easier and more difficult to put to the moral test, and I can’t think of a celluloid environment that so closely mirrors the reality it intends to portray. Because what’s happening on Homeland? It’s truer than any of us want to believe. The conflicts have been rewritten and rearranged, but they’re based in an unavoidable reality.

Perhaps there’s a lesson to be learned, then, in watching a show that ascribes such tremendous humanity to both the good guys and the bad guys. We are, all of us, I have to believe it, operating by what our conscience is telling us. And when we aren’t, we know we’re going against that moral grain. Our news media has the tendency to muddy motivation, to shrink it to concise word packages that get repeated like a song. But what is so spectacular about Homeland is that it dares to provide pathos to those we want to think of as faceless villains. It dares to suggest that they’re reacting.

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About Vincent Scarpa

Vincent Scarpa is a graduate of Emerson College, and the 2012 Norman Mailer College Fiction award winner. His stories have appeared or are forthcoming in journals like Hayden's Ferry Review, Baltimore Review, and plain china: Best Undergraduate Writing 2011. He tweets @vincentscarpa.

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