Friday 16 August 2013

Terror on TV – Homeland Season 3 preview

Who do you trust?

It seems commonplace in this new political landscape following the events of September 11, 2001 for television crime dramas to draw on themes of political violence and threats to national security as mechanisms for action-driven drama. Series such as Alias, 24, Lie to Me, The Unit and NCIS all incorporate distinct ‘terror and crime’ conventions that lend themselves to thrilling television drama. From investigating acts of espionage to neutralizing threats against homeland security, the persistent narratives running across these dramas construct terrorists as the ‘other’ while all the while legitimizing violent forms of manipulation and interrogation as investigative tools, and conflating terror with domestic and international crime. 

The US series Homeland, recently completing its second season, takes the perpetuation of fear in relation to terrorism to a whole new level. By dramatizing the possibility that a US war-hero may have been ‘turned’ by the enemy and now poses a unique and ‘sleeper’ threat to national security, Homeland utilizes the same narrative conventions of ‘terror’ described above and bumps them up a notch – so that elements of political tension, violence, surveillance, racial stereotyping and torture become part of a mediated experience of fear for the viewer. 

The first two seasons, which played on the complicated lives of Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) and Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis), received critical acclaim and was well received by audiences. In particular, the question of Brody’s conflicted loyalties kept viewers on their toes throughout both seasons. In combination these episodes of Homeland have provoked a number of questions surrounding complex issues of crime, terrorism, power relations and identity. Is there a common enemy to be feared? What constitutes legitimate forms of coercive techniques? How do we know what a ‘hero’ is? Can we trust in the authority of the state to adequately protect us without infringing our rights?

With season 3 to premiere soon (see the preview here), it looks like these issues will continue to be at the foreground. It will be interesting to see how the storyline progresses in relation to Brody’s character.

How do you see Brody – Is he a terrorist or not?

1 comment:

  1. Speaking of trust – I think that Homeland serves to problematise not only our trust in the Law and the authorities that represent it post 9/11, but also our trust in those extra-legal invigilate/super-hero/mary-sue type characters that have flooded our screens for so long – by this I mean the trust we as viewers place in these seemingly infallible characters whose personal ideas of justice (which usually means extra-legal acts involving violence, shouting and unnecessary back flips) we readily substitute all the while saying ‘that was just, s/he deserved it’.

    Jack Bauer and 24 provide a prime example of these ‘trust issues’ mentioned above. A typical 24 episode involves an imminent terrorist threat, little to no information or sketchy misinformation, someone being tortured and Jack’s Bauer saying: ‘You’re just gonna have to trust me’; what’s exceptional is that, with no discussion, no evidence and no reasons, the person on the other end of that conversation does just that, they trust Jack and we as viewers trust him too. The appeal to trust, is as Manderson (2010) points out ‘an end to argument and reasons, a ‘why-stopper’.’ Justice becomes ‘singular, isolated, instinctive and non-negotiable’ (Manderson 2010).

    In this way justice and therefore the truth are positioned against the law; indeed we are largely distrustful of the government Jack Bauer works for – in the very first episode we are told there is a traitor within the organisation and that the whole structure is potentially corrupt. Immediately post 9/11, our trust in Jack Bauer makes sense – the law failed to bring justice so justice must necessarily transcend the law’s constraints. Legal institution acted on this idea too, providing unprecedented discretion to police officers and other legal authorities allowing them to act instinctively and justly beyond the codified law.

    But over a decade after the fact, Homeland presents us with the conundrum of Carrie. As an audience we largely distrust the CIA as this extra-legal, shadowy, secretive organisation (of note is the fact that the CIA issued press release with the aim of a debunking some of the Hollywood myths of secretiveness and torture – the result was a collective scoff heard across the internet). So faced with an untrustworthy secretive government authority, Carrie should be our Jack Bauer right?

    It’s just that – she’s not. Even before we know that Carrie has mental health issues, she seems unstable and erratic – we can’t find in her the non-negotiable, ‘my justice is the only justice’ way that Jack seems to have and we just can’t trust her. She’s fallible and shaky just like the concept of justice in reality. In this way Homeland encourages the viewer to acknowledge their discomfort with Carrie and consequently the artificial relationship between truth and justice or ‘true justice’.