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What about the approximately 500 000 American-Muslims who wear the hijab each day out of their own choice, even as they might struggle to do so within a sometimes extremely precarious environment - Wasn't Fara suddenly appearing without her hijab one big 'Fuck You' to them?

TV Review: ‘Homeland’ Season Four – Sincere and Scintillating, but Stumped and Sanitized

Photo by FOX Movies Premium
Photo by FOX Movies Premium

Homeland Season Four starts with Carrie (Claire Danes) in Kabul, Afghanistan being convinced by her CIA compatriot Sandy (Corey Stoll) in Islamabad (Pakistan) to approve a drone attack on a farm believed to house the fourth most dangerous terrorist, Haissam Haqqani (Numan Acar). However, turns out the drone strikes at a wedding instead, thereby killing Haqqani’s entire family, safe for his nephew Aayan (Suraj Sharma).

At home, Carrie’s sister Maggie (Amy Hargreaves) is taking care of Carrie’s baby Frannie, but despite all the matchy-matchy names, things aren’t as copacetic at home, as Carrie and Maggie can’t see eye-to-eye. Maggie wants her sister to take a tamer job in Istanbul in Turkey, whilst Carrie is eager to leave for a war zone so she has an excuse to be far away from the daughter she can’t seem to bring herself to love.

When Sandy dies a horrific death in Islamabad, Carrie gets the help of Quinn (Rupert Friend), Saul (Mandy Patinkin), Fara (Nazanin Boniadi) and Max (Maury Sterling) to investigate further. However, when the guys find out that Haqqani is still alive, they find themselves battling with ISI agents Khan (Raza Jaffrey) and Tasneem (Nimrat Kaur), helped along by retired General Bunny (Art Malik). Adding to this mix is Saul’s ex-fiancee Martha Boyd (Laila Robins) who is the current U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan and her husband Dennis Boyd (Mark Moses), who has just lost his university teaching job due to plagiarism.

There are oft-heard rumblings from some Muslims saying they don’t watch Homeland because of the way in which Islam and/or Muslims are portrayed. But, in fact, Homeland does a brilliant job of letting us in on the flaws and warts of the Americans, CIA and of American policies as well. In a couple of scenes in the first episode, Sandy and Carrie are portrayed as cocky despite the fact they’d bombed an innocent wedding party. They feel “bullet proof” and beyond reproach for their actions. Homeland isn’t afraid to portray right off the bat the negative perception some have of America’s actions.

On the other hand, the Muslims are not necessarily always the bad guys in season four. Aayan and Khan, and even supporting characters such as Kiran (Shavani Seth), are portrayed as characters of humanity and conscience.

Even with the baddest apple – terrorist leader Haqqani – we see moments of compassion and polite gesture. When Haqqani’s child throws a shoe at Saul, Haqqani is greatly embarrassed, asks his son to apologise to Saul, and then has Saul at his side dining with him. It is interesting to note that even terrorists aren’t hysterical all day long, and right or wrong, some of them actually believe in the cause they’re fighting. They probably see innocent lives as collateral damage to getting the big picture accomplished. Isn’t that how the U.S. Military sees things too?

To make things even more interesting, Homeland added Muslim CIA analyst Fara last season. She returns in season four, sans tudung (hijab / head scarf). She’s still a Muslim. Still an American. Still the most moral, principled, ethical character of them all. Did I mention she is a Muslim?

Recently, on December 27 2014, the New York Post reported that the Pakistan Embassy spokesman Nadeem Hotiana remarked on how the show portrayed the the Pakistan intelligence agency the ISI incorrectly. This is really a grey area, with many governments not agreeing on the true nature of the ISI. Homeland simply reflects a certain view point, of certain governments. Having said that, there is a sense that some characters like Quinn have been sanitized, and there’s some lack of sensitivity as well as some confusion in portraying certain aspects of Fara and Carrie.

When Peter Quinn was introduced in the second season, he was portrayed as someone mercurial, mysterious, and enigmatic, who’s a useless father, and with no sense of proper behaviour or even a filter. In season three, he casually drops his hospital gown, baring his exposed butt, only to chide a visiting (and embarrassed) Carrie by saying, “Like you’ve never seen a dick before.”

All we know of Quinn is that he’s a Harvard dropout, likely from a rich influential family, but who was recruited by Dar Adal. At first, he was Black Ops parading around as a fake CIA analyst, to be used to murder, spy, hide, interrogate or confess to murders he didn’t actually commit. They also gave Quinn humour, and a broken heart of unrequited love for Carrie. We observed his humanity and conscience when he refused to kill Brody, and in his guilt over accidentally killing a child. Who knew assassins had feelings – be it of guilt or of love? So essentially Peter Quinn was a dirty bugger. But one with a sweet and broken heart. A Sweet Dirty Bugger really. And hence it’s no wonder Quinn quickly became (and still is) a fan favourite.

 

Rupert Friend as Peter Quinn. Photo credit - FOX Movies Premium
Rupert Friend as Peter Quinn. Photo credit – FOX Movies Premium

 

So why is Quinn suddenly sanitized this season? From the Ambassador pondering if he can be her new Station Chief, to him crossing himself in church at Sandy’s funeral, and then to him having his own desk and office, understanding Pashto and Urdu, and with everybody around addressing him as “Sir” – it all feels strange. And sanitized – in order to clean him up to be the new “Hero” of the show perhaps.

Then suddenly Quinn is the man-in-charge of Operations, even over-riding Carrie’s command in one episode, taking full charge of an operation in another episode, whilst Carrie silently defers to him and with even the Assistant Station Chief Redmond (Michael O’Keefe) relinquishing control to Quinn!

By the end of the season, Quinn is seen bouncing a baby on his knee and helping with the kitchen chores. He hasn’t even bothered with his own son for two seasons, but he’s suddenly got paternal instincts for some other kid, at the last minute?

I don’t get if Quinn has been sanitized to make him more respectable and, therefore, more relatable  – because he was already a popular character. Or was he raised up so that his drop in the end would be even more spectacular in episode 11, which it wasn’t, as he didn’t fall as far as he could have?

In any case, fans love the Sweet Dirty Bugger. So why change him?

Another area that seems to have been sanitized, and also perhaps has stumped the show’s makers involves Fara Sherazi, an Iranian-American. Fara always wore a tudung (hijab or head scarf) throughout the last season, but when she appears in season four’s “Shalwar Kameez”, interestingly, the suit is missing a dupatta. Her everyday hijab is gone.

 

Fara (2nd from left) and Carrie (2nd from right) clad in head scarves. Photo credit - FOX Movies Premium
Fara (2nd from left) and Carrie (2nd from right) clad in head scarves. Photo credit – FOX Movies Premium 

Let me also be clear from the start – a head scarf doesn’t a Muslim make, and it isn’t Homeland‘s obligation to eradicate Islamaphobia, or be the poster-child for positive portrayals of Muslims. But the show chose to portray a tudung clad Muslim-American, and to its credit was praised for taking a risk, with the actress playing Fara, Nazanin Boniadi, telling The Guardian in October 2014 that “her character is so groundbreaking”. I think once you choose to make such a bold move, and journey on this special path, you can’t go back.

Did the cast and crew get death threats or did network advertisers threaten to pull out if Fara continued with her head scarf? Was it a business decision to raise ratings and the tudung/hijab character was hindering that? Nothing is worth someone’s life, business or career, so I can understand if this is why the hijab has been removed.

Or was it removed for Fara’s job? There is no one way of looking at things in Islam and whilst some Muslims said doing a noble job that saves lives is enough of a reason to discard the hijab during worktime, others said a job needn’t even be honourable, for one to remove the tudung if it impedes you on the job. Yet others said Fara shouldn’t be without her hijab in the office, right in front of unmarried and eligible Quinn and Max.

This brings me to the other notion that perhaps Fara has simply changed her mind about her values and beliefs. This happens everyday in real life, so why not let the audience know this?

Although I’d still question why the hijab was a hindrance or why Fara needed to change her belief system, especially when she spends the entire Season Four in Pakistan, where it’s filled with dupatta/hijab/tudung-clad women everywhere. Sure, the makers of Homeland can craft their characters however they deem fit, but why backtrack when you were so progressive in having a hijab wearing woman in your show in the first place?

It would’ve been much worse of course if Homeland had shown or explained Fara refusing the head scarf as a symbol of her being more ‘modern and liberated’  – because one person’s liberation is another person’s repression, and vice versa. The reality is that as much as you think the way you dress is ‘liberated’, you’re still going to be ‘repressed’ to a nudist.

Then there’s the small possibility that maybe nobody on set noticed the missing hijab, which I find hard to believe. We’re not talking a small five-man crew here, as Homeland is staffed by many people – and I can’t see how from the stylist to the script supervisor to the director to the producer and to the actress who plays Fara herself – nobody realised the tudung was missing?

The irony of this is that Carrie is always in a head scarf, with a lock of her golden hair showing, whenever she goes on the streets of Islamabad. Why is her head covered up? Pakistan doesn’t insist on women covering their heads, and it’s not like Carrie looks any more South Asian with her bits of her blonde hair and face showing.

Is Homeland simply stumped by this whole tudung-hijab situation? It seems very likely that they are. Then why didn’t they bring in an expert on Pakistan? After all, many Urdu speaking fans also caught on that the Urdu spoken and written on the show was terribly flawed as well.

Or was something left on the editing room floor? In which case, it’s rather negligent and extremely perfunctory to leave out such a pertinent part of Fara’s story. Surely everybody remembers the affecting and arresting moment when Saul tells a teary Fara in Season Three, “You wearing that thing on your head, it’s one big ‘Fuck You’ ” – referring to her colleagues who perished in a terrorist bomb blast.

Fara’s hijab, her tudung, her dupatta, her scarf – however you call “that thing on her head” – it was all part of her identity. It wasn’t a small deal. It was part of who she was. Fara’s disappearing hijab would be akin to Quinn turning up next season not knowing how to shoot a gun – and with no explanation given.

Or was this an attempt at sanitizing another Homeland character, this time to make Fara’s Muslimness seem more palatable to American audiences? If so, then what about the approximately 500,000 American-Muslims who wear the tudung each day out of their own choice, even as they might struggle to do so within a sometimes extremely precarious environment? Wasn’t Fara suddenly appearing without her hijab one big ‘Fuck You’ to them?

Sure, Homeland, it’s none of your business to portray the under-represented, educate people or even stand up for minorities. But it would’ve just been nice if you had the guts to stay on the journey you yourself created. It would’ve just been nice.

Another area lacking in sensitivity is in Carrie’s carnal technique of getting information from a source. Yes honeypots exist in the CIA, but there was no other way for an intelligent and experienced Station Head to turn an immature and confused 18 year old around, than to go the sex route?

Fans’ comments haven’t been nice either with many calling Carrie’s particular anatomy “Killer Vagina” and “Magic Pussy”, since Aayan does spill the beans shortly after bedding her. It’s sloppy and lazy writing, and rather insulting to working women everywhere, to reduce Carrie to turning on the sex when she could’ve spent the short time she had in more riveting ways to get the same information.

And if the makers merely wanted a sex scene for Carrie, or to make Quinn jealous, then why not have her have sex for pleasure or leisure instead? After all, she has so many men around her providing her with so many choices. But keep the sex out of her scope of work and recruiting techniques as it degrades the character otherwise.

Homeland should take a leaf out of another spy TV show, the plodding but richly connotative, The Honourable Woman where the Head of MI-6 is also a woman, Julia Walsh (Janet McTeer), who manages to accomplish the impossible. When asked how she managed to do it, where other male officials failed, she confidently says, “in a room full of pussies, I’m the only one with a vagina.”

She never took off her clothes, not even once.

Another problem this critic found is in Episode 12 which starts about nine to ten days after episode 11 ends, and has some pivotal plot points dropped suddenly without explanation, new characters introduced who are disconnected to the earlier story, and even has some resolutions already having occurred off screen that are explained to the audience by the characters’ dialogues. Isn’t a TV Show suppose to show us what happens, and not tell us?

Having said that, the bulk of Homeland season four consists of enticing plot points as well as gripping action sequences. Scintillating, exciting, taut, suspenseful, and thrilling, the first 11 episodes are the best this reviewer has seen from Homeland since its inception. But you might want to take Episode 11 as the finale instead, and Episode 12 as a bonus feature as this last episode truly runs on a totally different path.

Above all, Homeland doesn’t have an easy job – it’s got to be political yet sensitive, exciting yet insightful, entertaining yet plausible – and through it all the show has to appear seemingly real too. It’s such a fine line that they have to constantly balance on, and it’s no easy feat.

So basically, it’s like this – you are going on a roller coaster (or your favourite ride), and it will be the best ride you’ve ever been on, you’ll enjoy yourself and have great fun, and there’s no other ride at the moment to compare to the thrill of this one, – but you know it’s going to stop abruptly.

Come on, wouldn’t you still get on?

PS – This is my first story welcoming 2015 so I’d like to take this opportunity to wish all Blogcritics’ readers a Happy New Year. May 2015 bring more enticing and thrilling theatre, television and movies!

Look out for my review this month of Iranian playwright Nassim Soleimanpour’s White Rabbit, Red Rabbit which sees every night an unrehearsed actor take the stage, script unseen, and with no director in sight. Renowned thespians John Hurt, Stephen Rea, and Tamsin Greig have performed this unique play in the past.

White Rabbit, Red Rabbit will be performed in Canada, Singapore and Australia between January and March 2015.

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About Sharmila Melissa Yogalingam

Ex-professor, Ex-phd student, current freelance critic, writer and filmmaker.

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