Why It’s Hip to Hate ‘Homeland’

Homeland Season Finale: Why It's Hip

The height of first-season hype virtually assured the show would ultimately be maligned

Showtime’s “Homeland” ended its polarizing third season Sunday night in typically polarizing fashion.

A cursory review of social media and critics’ post-mortems tilted toward negative assessments, which should come as no surprise. Hating a series that was once the cat’s meow has become so gradually ingrained in the groupthink about this show over the past few years that Showtime could have staged a nuclear war in the season finale and the blognoscenti would have still been dissatisfied. (Buzzfeed even went so far as to post a particularly scientific listicle, “35 People Who Gave Up On ‘Homeland Tonight.“)

And yet I felt that the last three episodes of the series were the best “Homeland” delivered since the annus mirabilis of its first season, niftily course-correcting a season that began so badly that, like many, I considered just giving up on the show. But I seem to be in the minority regarding perceiving any sense of the show returning to form.

My theory as to why that is has less to do with the actual intrinsic creative value of the series and more with the fickle dynamics of a phenomenon known as “hype.”

The moment the series’ second season started to look a bit wobblier than its first, “Homeland” began committing a cardinal sin. Once it became clear that the incredible hype that enveloped the series in its first year was going to be unsustainable, “Homeland” put its ardent fans in an uncompromising position: they had to back down from fervently championing a show received so overzealously that the series swept all the key Emmy Awards drama categories in its rookie season.

This is why the slow build of a “Breaking Bad” is an infinitely better hype arc to maintain than the supernova-like rise of “Homeland.” Burning that bright can only be followed by burnout.

That said, let’s not understate just how low “Homeland” sunk creatively. The beginning of the third season in particular was punishing. There was too much crying and too little spying, as best exemplified by the bizarre focus on the teenage character Dana. The shame was that actress Morgan Saylor was really wonderful in that thankless role. But her storyline belonged on the CW, not Showtime.

So the decline of “Homeland” wasn’t as simple as the series inevitably broke stride from its first-season miracle run. It’s not as if there was some minor dip in quality that was magnified because it had fallen from such a great height.

No, “Homeland” dropped a whole lot, and it wasn’t the height from which it fell that was the primary problem, but the depth to which it had sunk that was the real culprit.

Debate the distance of the decline if you will. But that’s besides the point, which is that “Homeland” critics were inevitably going to make the decline out to be more than it really was. Because by declining whatsoever, Showtime essentially violated an implicit compact with the influencers who fell under the show’s spell.

Call it the Pedestal Plummet Effect: A show will be praised to the heavens for only as long as the quality is maintained at a certain level. But fail to stay above the threshold, and the axes will never stop swinging at the pedestal the critics themselves erected.

It’s as if the influencers who lauded “Homeland” feel they have to atone for the sin of their misplaced faith. They’re made to feel foolish for gushing in the first place, so that false idol they prayed to can’t just be toppled to the ground; overcompensation necessitates it be smashed to bits.

So even if “Homeland’s” writers managed to execute the minor miracle of devising a trio of episodes that seemingly returned the series to its previous exalted level, there was never going to be any recognition of that. Bad buzz rolls like a snowball that will not be slowed. Mean memes like ‘Homeland sucks’ take on a life of its own. Once it becomes fashionable to bash the show, not even a creative recovery can remedy the situation.

It’s a bleak picture being painted here, as if “Homeland” will wander the rest of its time on earth in search of a redemption that will never come, like Brody himself. But fear not, Showtime programming chief David Nevins.

Because just as the series essentially pressed the reset button on itself with the death of one of its lead characters, it set itself up for the next stage of the hype cycle. Once something like “Homeland” has been pushed from its pedestal to the ground, the dust settles and another meta-narrative takes root: the comeback story. There’s no better time to get behind a series all over again than once it’s been counted out.

Just you wait. Months from now, “Homeland” will make some doozy of a casting announcement before the fourth season and the buzz will be back again. If Showtime’s got the goods, the fans will be good to “Homeland” again.

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  1. joe says:

    It’s not that good!!!
    the dialogue sucks…
    the characters suck…
    It’s a “24” rip off…

  2. LucasCorso says:

    You were almost right here. It is largely about “hype,” but the real reason there has been a critical backlash against Homeland is that it was NEVER good. It garnered critical thumbs up early on based on hype. It’s similar to what happens with Ryan Murphy’s shows. They aren’t good. Put they push the right buttons, and they get a lot of hype. So, invariably, you end up with “it used to be good, but isn’t anymore” after the buzz of hype wears off. Homeland is like that. It was never good. It just used to get positive reviews. But it was never good.

  3. bloech says:

    For me the show lived up to the hype right up to the final episode, when it all collapsed. Then it suddenly seemed as if all that time spent with Brody had been wasted. I refused to believe what was happening until the body stopped twitching. I didn’t feel let down so much as I felt that I was still hanging up there in air with Brody and the lights had suddenly gone out. It would be an understatement to call it emotionally unsatisfying. I appreciate Mr. Wallenstein’s sly, well-reasoned optimism, but I don’t think I’ll be tuning in next season and setting myself up for another fall. Unless the hype is really, really good.

  4. JJ says:

    Perhaps people didn’t like it because it wasn’t very good…

  5. Ts115 says:

    Haha this writer can’t see that no one likes homeland anymore because it actually does suck now. Just like 24 after season 1 the story just devolves asking us to suspend logic over and over again. Read Aristotle’s Poetics and you’ll understand it has nothing to do with how much it was hyped.

  6. tmeister says:

    They wrote themselves out of an audience. The protagonist is now the pregnant schizophrenic. I think it got too real. A government that would sacrifice a hero and promote a woman who should be on family leave sounds just about right. If I wanted a show about the incompetency of our government I could have just watched Fox News.

  7. dee says:

    Thank you for doing such a lousy job with Homeland. Now I can really cancel my expensive bill with Verizon for this show time crap!!!

  8. c hansen says:

    What a ridiculous childish notion. We’re all in 7th grade and enjoy being “haters?” Probably in your experience. This show is as bi-polar as Carrie. We loved the mania and now we’ve been driven weary by the depressing, confusing under-development, shallow, two dimensional character development, writing, and directing of a once exciting show and the squandering of a fortune; early hype and quick fame. Now noticeably undeserved. They got lost on the way to the bank.

  9. walkerdocs38 says:

    Brody had to die but I died a little too watching half this season.

    Less is more. There were some great episodes in 3. They should have realized the Dana story was below par and gone with a 6 episode season.

  10. ML says:

    Very well-written and clever piece, but can’t I just be totally disappointed that a show I was riveted by the first season hasn’t been special since then? I don’t think it’s necessarily about hip or hype. The first season had me glued to my seat. (I recall binge watching.) I certainly watched the next two seasons, but there was no comparison. I wanted to love it. But I couldn’t. And this is from a person who sometimes watched the last seasons of ER. (Not often, and yes they were bad.) I do think there is chemistry between Quinn and Carrie and the writers have gone out of their way to have him looking out for Carrie. So maybe their romance is next, along with edge-of-my-seat suspense. And yes, we love Mandy.

  11. Lura says:

    I’m done with Homeland, No more Brody, and Dexter is gone too. So no more Showtime for me….

  12. Xybernauts says:

    I don’t agree with the article. I don’t know about others, but i feel the show’s third season promoted a narrative no one wanted to hear. The show is called “Homeland”. It’s about a CIA agent who works to protect the USA from terrorists. The entire story that was being conveyed died when the show runners decided to let the terrorists win. After working tirelessly to prevent terrorist attacks the show ended season 2 with what arguably would be two of the worst terrorist attacks in American history. The show was only bound to go downhill from there. Its not impossible to make a comeback from that, but its extremely hard and the show demonstrated that it didn’t have the chops to recover. It isn’t hype that killed the show, just bad writing.

  13. @radiomogul says:

    Yes S3 started a little slow, but redeemed itself over the last several episodes, beginning with the one showing the struggles of Brody in Venezuela and Carrie back in the States. It’s still a better show than 95% of the tripe the big four networks regularly

  14. mehrgriw gartenbau says:

    This Season was not that bad like many fans are complaining about. I still enjoyed it very much!
    It is only average when you compare it to the first season, which was just exceptional astonishing.
    If i give the first seson a 10/10, season 2 and 3 are still 9/10.

  15. Marshall Silverman says:

    One of the most disheartening themes of HOMELAND during the past couple of seasons has been that if a person is dedicated to his or her job and does outstanding work, he or she will be eliminated by newly appointed supervisors who have no appreciation or understanding of what that person has done. Good work is not rewarded when new managers come in and there is no company loyalty to its employees. Carrie has been locked up, shot and given electric shock treatments by her own bosses for doing exceptionally good work, Bradey has been left to die. Saul has been fired. And that theme seems to be permeating other TV dramas these days too. Some examples are the elimination of the California Bureau of Investigations for doing a good job on THE MENTALIST, and Annie Walker being hunted down in “shoot to kill” mode by her her own organization on COVERT AFFAIRS. Is this really a message we need to be fed by night-time television right now? How does that help improve morale and optimism in this economy and this job market?

  16. HomelandGuy says:

    “Hype” is what caused critics to love Homeland in the first place- it was the “cool kid” after S1 and a lot of critics jumped on the bandwagon to show that they were hip. Catch phrases like “Carrie and Brody’s ‘chemistry’ was undeniable” and other groupthink took over after Season 1 and critics stopped looking at the show objectively until this year when it finally became painfully obvious that the show was not the greatest TV show in modern history. It also became painfully obvious that Claire Danes is a one trick pony and the novelty of the ugly cry wears off after about a season, maybe two at most.

  17. flo says:

    The only way I will care to watch Homeland again is if Damian Lewis returns. Why is it that critics always fail to recognize the atom splitting chemistry between Damian and Claire is what made the first season so good in the first place?? This is why writers should listen to fans and not critics. This show is OVER. No actor could replace Damian and Claire’s rapport.

  18. PJM says:

    If the first five episodes of this season had been condensed into one, the chorus of complaints would have been significantly lower. The character of Carrie Mathison has always been a presposteous conceit — her mental health issues alone would have tanked her career in real life. By slowing down, “Homeland” merely gave viewers time to think about how ridiculous her character was, and the series lost its balance. Also beyond belief: the idea that our Congress would ever threaten the existence of the CIA.

    That said, “The Sopranos” often took forever to get off the ground at the beginning of a new season — and critics seemed to forgive that show anything. Of course, those were the days before whiners could take to Twitter to create the impression of a groundswell. The real test for “Homeland” will be if viewers return for the fourth season. Like most viewers, I don’t much care what the critics think. And I care even less what the Tweeters think. Anyone who takes to Twitter to express an opinion deserves to be ignored.

  19. Trisha ZIff says:

    Whether Homeland is hip or not is really irrelevant.. For me at this time of politically building bridges and the hope with the new leadership in Iran with Rouhani,which in essence makes the world potentially a far safer place.. for us to have to watch this continual caricature of Iranians is as base as it gets. It takes us nowhere… ! I am so disappointed that something that began so intelligently and complex has plummeted to this place we find it now. Its like watching a cold war soap opera when the wall is coming down? What potential this series had to challenge rather than reinforce America’s myopia. What a lost opportunity! And how offensive to watch consistently this representation of Iran today….
    Trisha Ziff.. documentary filmmaker , Mexico City.

  20. jason says:

    Last night Carrie was forced to speak “writing” like the: “I was put on this earth to meet you.” If you can’t see that as groan inducing than you are the one engaging in group think. Valid criticism isn’t just hipness cause you disagree with it.

  21. Michael Jaffe says:

    My wife and I thought they totally redeemed themselves with the last 3 episodes.

  22. doubledown44 says:

    Unfortunately, this article makes it seem like we are all guilty of group think. I have not discussed Homeland with anyone online during its run, nor have I read any articles about the show until now. However, my wife and I, separate from any hype, have drawn our own conclusions that this show was terrific in its first season and then proceeded to go into a rapid descent from that point forward. How does that fit into the writer of this article’s narrative? Sometimes, a show just loses its way and everyone can see it. If the writer feels the last three episodes were anywhere near as good as the first season, that’s obviously his prerogative. But I just don’t see it that way. Most of it was pretty predictable, while other choices were baffling. Just one example: We spent ungodly amounts of time with Brody’s family (this season especially) and yet, not once do we see their reactions to anything that happened in the final episodes — including when Brody died. I believe the series could have ended with last night’s episode and I think many people would have been fine with that as an ending.

    • As a fan of Homeland that is well aware that this season was deeply flawed, thank you for writing this article. Recognizing the faults of Homeland’s season without completely eviscerating it and invalidating what it’s achieved in the past (as many although not all critics have been doing recently). Good read.

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