30 December 2015

Ich bin eine blonder Spionin (Grand Review: 'Homeland' Season 5)

So, Homeland came back for a fifth season after a mostly high-quality fourth run that moved away from the original plot, sending its leads to a new location... from which not all of them came out alive.

This review contains spoilers from the get-go.

So, Carrie Mathison is back, defending the US from terr...

Record needle scratch

No, she isn't. She's left the CIA after the events of the fourth season (so she didn't crash her car then) and is now in Berlin, working as the head of security for a German billionaire, where she can look after her toddler daughter, who really has inherited her late father's hair colour. In addition, she's acquired a new boyfriend... and a new religion. Carrie Mathison is now a paid-up member of the Roman Catholic Church.

While she's doing this, a pair of hackers working out of a sex club (OK, was it really necessary for the plot for that to be their location?)  decide to muck around with a jihadi recruitment time at the same time as the CIA are taking a look... and somehow manage to accidentally access the CIA servers, downloading thousands of documents relating to a rather dodgy activity.

Namely the fact that in order to conduct domestic surveillance on dodgy people in the Federal Republic of Germany while dealing with restrictive privacy laws as a result of what previous governments did on non-dodgy people... by getting the US to do their electronic eavesdropping for them.

This naturally leads to quite a few problems...

I won't be doing a full plot breakdown this time due to a lot happening and sheer lack of time to write this, so here are some of the salient points.
  • Carrie in a balloon hat at a children's party? Both hilarious and adorable. Seriously, every scene in this could be improved by the balloon hat. The 1970s-style black wig is also welcome to return.
  • Ms. Mathison is useless at her Listen checks; she gets ambushed from behind twice in this show. Also, bright blonde hair isn't very good in a game of hide and seek. Also, it's not a great idea to offer your gun to a terrorist.
  • To try and figure out who is trying to kill her, Carrie decides to go off her meds to improve her thinking... which merely results in her going a bit crazy. Seriously, you don't do that sort of thing without professional medical personnel to hand. Also, I call scenes like that 'I want another Emmy scenes' as Claire Danes is clearly trying to get another one in them. 
  • Howard Gordon, the show runner here, worked on 24 and it really shows; there are multiple episode endings that just needed a "beep beep beep".
  • Also, Sean Callery's music remains superb; I'm looking to watch Jessica Jones at some point if I can find another legal avenue outside of Netflix and the fact that he's done the music for that is another reason to watch it.
  • Speaking of Jack Bauer, Carrie gets a distinct lot of Bauer action; notably running into a train tunnel to stop a terrorist... but jumping out of the way of an oncoming train. That's a James Bond move (Skyfall in fact). I did consider retitling this 'Blonde, Jane Blonde'. Mind you, she's not totally 'half-nun, half-hitwoman' (she's definitely no nun) - getting distinctly upset after killing the terrorist. I'm not sure she's actually killed anyone face to face before, but I may be wrong here.
  • Also, there's another distinctive mole in the form of Alison, who turns out to be working for the Russians. In one moment that would make Jack himself wince, she gets information from someone by shooting her bodyguard in the head, then kills him and then shoots herself in the shoulder to make it look like she didn't do it. As the seven F-bombs (I counted) she drops  immediately after makes clear, it would probably really hurt.
  • Peter "The Mighty" Quinn really goes through the wringer here; being shot, then nearly killed by sarin gas and almost killed when Saul tries to wake him up to get key info from him. At the end, he's in a coma and Carrie is about to seemingly smother him with a pillow when the sun lights up the room - a rather odd cliffhanger. I really doubt he'll be coming back for Season 6.
  • Saul Berenson is not a guy you want to mess with, especially in the bedroom. Alison ends up with the car she's in being shot up by four or five people with assault rifles, killing her and her Russian minders. That's definite overkill.
  • Dar Adal is a really dislikeable fellow. Far too much of a 'smooth operator' for my tastes.
  • The 'dissident journalist' Laura Sutton is very annoying, which may have been intentional on the part of the writers. She really isn't a sympathetic character, although recklessly releasing secret info onto the internet isn't a good idea. Exposing illegal practices needs to be done, but there are better ways to do it.
    • Re Sutton, the secret world's perception means that any real mess-up tends to be put down as conspiracy i.e. an actual suicide of a suspect here.
  • The shoot saw graffiti artists hired to write Arabic graffiti put 'Homeland is racist' instead of what they were meant to do. That said, few people really come out of this looking good. The Americans don't look great, the Germans are definitely dodgy... but the Russians come out worst of all, willing to let a major terrorist attack go down for their own ends.
  • Berlin Hauptbahnhof features extensively here (and very nice looking it is) as a potential terrorist target - although I would note a geographical error; the Berlin U-Bahn doesn't go to Potsdam; the S-Bahn does and there's only one U-Bahn line that serves that station, U55, which only goes as far as the Brandenburg Gate - an extension to link it to U5 has been delayed until 2020. Indeed, Berlin looks very good throughout.
  • The last episode does really peter out somewhat. 24 was able to keep the action going a lot better and not run out of steam 30 minutes before the end. The German billionaire's proposal (which sounded like he wanted to marry her!) was a bit out of left-field.

While not perfect and with some notable flaws, this is a strong season for Homeland and it will be interesting to see where our blonde spy goes next.

I don't want this killed with fire. I want Carrie to kill things with fire.


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