Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Catching Up with Homeland: Season Four


There is an old saying among television writers that you do not save anything for the second season because you do not know if you will get one. The Homeland writers definitely used this philosophy writing a big plot twist with the emotional weight of a season finale every two to three episodes (even though they did not really need to do so because everything on Showtime gets renewed, and basically gets five to seven seasons). They burned through enough plots in one season many shows take three to five seasons to get through.

This was a double edge sword because as awesome and epic as the first season was, the second was a bit of a let down and lost more and more speed as the season progressed. Seriously, Brody killed the Vice President by hacking his heart monitor and no one noticed Brody enter or the leave the office in one of the heavily guarded residence in the nation.

But the second season was still watchable, the show completely came off the rails in season three when the writers gave us the love no one wanted to see. I had to rack my brains to think of a show that had fallen that far that fast, but the demise of most television shows are slow to the point you do not really realize until two or three seasons too late when you wonder why exactly are you still watching. The closest I could come up with was the Belfast season of Sons of Anarchy (also its third season), but that was not bad; it was just mostly boring and cumbersome to sit through.

Sons of Anarchy did rebound when the cast returned to Charming for the most part (it would have been better had FX kept Kurt Sutter’s hubris in check not allowing him to do ninety minute or even two hour episodes just so he could squeeze in a extra ten minute musical montage or three). So there was hope for Homeland, the show finally killed off Brody in the season finale even if it was two seasons too late and teased a move to the Middle East with Carrie getting a position in Kabul. Only Lane Kiffen fails upwards more often than Carrie Mathison.

Season four started off with a hard reboot, Carrie was now the drone queen in the Kabul station, Saul was in the private sector, Quinn was doing Quinn things in Pakistan, and not a Brody to be found, except Baby Brody on Skype. The only thing to stay the same was Lockhart still in charge of the CIA and as curmudgeony as ever. The season starts of with the Drone Queen doing what she does best, sending drones to kill terrorists even if they are at a wedding. Being this is Carrie, probably especially if they are at weddings.

The season really pick up with the death of the Pakistan station chief (after seeing him all summer with an Anime type wig, it was weird seeing Cory Stoll with the thin halo of hair and a dark beard). Then the show had to go back to America and baby Brody with Lockhart threatening to keep the Done Queen stateside. Thankfully Carrie wanted to spend as much time with Baby Brody as the viewers did and blackmailed Lockhart to give yet another promotion, this time as Pakistani station chief.

Where as the fist season burned off finale type plot twists every couple episodes, season four of Homeland seemed more tradition with a slow build to one big moment in the anti-penultimate episode when Haqqani’s plan was finally set in motion. Sure the first half of the season was rough in spots (Carrie sleeping with yet another asset, Quinn’s out of nowhere puppy love of Carrie, Saul’s private sector job being utter inconsequential, the mustache twirling evil female ISI agent, and basically every scene the ambassador’s husband was in) the show finally found it feet right around the time Saul got abducted (granted if former CIA directors are really allowed to walk around unintended in Arab country airports, they should really change that policy).

After the raid on the embassy, we got to finally see Quinn shake out of his season long funk and go full black ops rouge. Sure if this was season one, he would have been allowed to kill Haqqani even with Dar Adal in the back seat). And done it in the first five episodes of the season. But know it look like the writers are saving plot for future seasons. The season was so slow moving, Carrie did not bother to even confront Adal until the end of the finale, after driving cross country to confront her long absent mother and night lasagna with Lockhart, Saul and Quinn (one of the season’s best scenes.)

So at the start of season five it looks like Saul will be back as director of the CIA despite being forced out after the CIA building bombing and just being held capture by a terrorist. It is s sad to see Lockhart get forced out because him going HAM on everyone has been the most entertaining part of the last seasons (though I do not know why he wussed out at the threat of killing Farrah), but this is Homeland where everyone seems to fail upward, so he may be president by the start of season five. It will be interesting to see if Quinn and/or Carrie go rouge next season trying to finally get Haqqani. Or the writer will bring back Dana Brody and have her join ISIS with plenty of hallucinations of her father.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Catching Up with The Affair

It is hard to hear the description for The Affair and not think of last year's Betrayal which was one and done on ABC. That "one" was a season, but the show could have easily been pulled after one episode because it was a bit of a bore and it did not help that the lead's American accent came and went from scene to scene. Both shows followed the extracurricular activities of two married people; one seemed to be in the perfect married, the other q bit of a messy one. There is also a murder clumsily tacked onto the plot that just reeks of network meddling which was probably the case for ABC, Showtime seems more laissez faire).

Of course that is the biggest difference is that the same type of show is much more likely to be more watchable on premium channels compared to free television because Showtime can attract better actors, writers, it is easier to tell a concise story in ten episodes compared to twenty-two, and it is doubtful ABC could get Fiona Apple to write them a theme song. The biggest difference story wise is The Affair tells the story from the narrative view of each of the adulterers. Sure, again, ABC just did that again this season with yet another one and done series Manhattan Love Story but where that show just followed the inner monologue from the two leads, The Affair give each lead their side of the story of a single day during their tryst.

Before you have Lost flashbacks where that show would annoyingly re-film a scene from a different point of view, basically seeing the same scene from different camera angle up to four different times, the adulterers Noah and Allison had different recollections of how their dalliance happened. Sometimes it would be as minor as he would remember her hair down and she would have it in a ponytail. Sometimes it would be wildly different (the biggest of which comes in tonight's season finale) and in some cases, he would remember them hooking up in a field but when she retold the story, she was not even there. Really this has to be the best writing gig in town because any pothole or errors in continuity they can just blame the characters on miss remembering.

The most interesting part of this storytelling is just how Noah and Allison view each other and themselves. According to Noah, he is this noble super-dad and husband (well aside from that whole cheating thing), while his parents-in-law are the big bads despite providing his lifestyle probably even helped him transition into a man because his father is not even worth mentioning. To Noah, Allison is a flirty local who always makes the first step.

For Allison, she is the victim, taking no culpability in her son's death; it was either bad luck or her husbands fault. Noah is the emotional support that she can no longer get from her husband because talking to him would mean having to come to term with the death of her some even if Noah come across as a little sleazy, and of course he always makes the first move. Really all the guys in her life are kind of sleazy, her bothers in laws are drug dealers (of course she is an unwilling participant again refusing to admit her involvement), and her boss is constantly trying to have sex with her again for the first time in fifteen years. And again, her mother-in-law can be seen as the enemy even though she was there for Allison when her own mother was not.

The two even have two different views on the murder that happens sometime in the future, Noah thinks he went through a messy divorce while Allison thinks he has been happily married for over two decades. Are they juxtaposition their own realities on him or is the detective telling the two what they want to hear to make him seem more reliable. In the finale we get a third extremely different possibility to the detective’s love life when neither of the two leads is around.

Alrighty, this is the part I am going to get into a bit of the spoilers from the first season now, continue reading at you own risk.

Like I mentioned earlier, it seemed like ABC meddling when Betrayal inserted a murder plotline, but that does not seem like Showtime's MO. But the murder subplot seemed to be shoehorned into most episodes, given about a minute at the beginning or end of each act of the show. The murder victim seem like it was some big mystery, but halfway through the season, the detective just causally mentioned that Allison's bother-in-law Scott was the deceased. Up until that point the other time I remembered him was trying to sneak upstairs with Noah's daughter. Which of course put Noah high on my list of suspects (okay, he was basically the only one, aside from creepy diner owner and un-scene drug traffickers). Not surprisingly Scott turned out to be Whitney's baby daddy.

As I teased, tonight's episode features what is probably the most different retelling of a scene this season which features many of the show's main players finding themselves in the same place at the time. Where I tend to believe Allison over Noah, this scene is one of the few times I believe Noah's version more, plus his version of events may be the best scene this season.

Though it seems like an after thought in the first couple episodes, we do spend more time in the still undetermined future (unless I missed if they let us in on a date). But unlike Betrayal where we got the murder mystery wrapped up in a nice neat bow before the season series ended, The Affair leaves that a bit up in the air. But since this is a premium channel, even poorly rated series get at least a second season and The Affair has already been renewed And since the future seems at least five years away, it may take us a while to catch up.

The Affair airs its season finale tonight at 10:00 on Showtime preceded by the season finale of Homeland at 9:00.