The Good Guys (Homeland Rewatch S1.9-S1.12)

Much of the criticism of Showtime’s Homeland centers on the representation of Muslim’s within the show. Debates abound whether their representations of Muslims are fair and whether or not the representations matter. Peter Beaumont, for example wrote an essay in the The Guardian that is quite critical of the show’s depiction and argues that negative depictions in media can reinforce negative stereotypes among viewers. Other opinions on the show question whether those producing media actually owe it to audiences to provide a more nuanced depiction. A classmate of mine worked a bit with this concept on a more scholarly level. I highly recommend checking out his blog.

Although the last four episodes of season one do not completely absolve the show runners from their arguably narrow representations of the Muslim community in earlier episodes, abu-nazir-homelandthe last third of the first season begins to provide additional information around the larger plot that provides explanations behind the impetus for the terror plot that is unraveling. If nothing else, the final four episodes of the first season effectively call into question which party (the terrorists or the USA) is actually standing on higher ground, the Americans or the terrorists? Is there much difference between them?

The loss of Issa at the hands of the U.S. provides a very human rationale behind both Abu Nazir and Nick Brody’s grievances against the U.S. After all, it is revealed through Saul’s research that David Estes, the Vice President, and other high ranking security officials played an integral role in green-lighting the operation that took the life of Issa Nazir and eighty-one other children. The attack was justified by U.S. operatives by saying that Nazir’s hiding among the children was what put them in danger (implying that it was Nazir’s fault and the U.S. used this logic as a method of absolving itself of fault/guilt for the decision they made to drop a bomb). Suddenly Nazir’s position as sinister terrorist and the U.S.’s position as a righteous western state attempting to fight against terrorism are both called into question. Although these episodes further muddy the waters in terms of who should or should not be considered “in the right,” the question becomes, do these episodes finally give voice to and subsequently balance out the representation of the “other” side?

abu-issa-and-nick-homelandThe last four episodes of the first season does more than any other episodes to humanize those that are inclined to commit acts of terrorism against the U.S. Abu Nazir and Brody’s positions as fathers are largely responsible for aligning these two men as two sides of the same coin (so to speak). Brody’s relationship to Nazir’s son becomes something of a stand-in relationship for the children he has at home but is no longer able to see. He comes to love the child of his “enemy” and even seems to gain a respect for Nazir as a father. The pain of Issa’s death helps these two men find common ground, and ultimately, a common enemy. But is that enough to understand these two men’s motivations, or should we still be more suspicious of Nazir even in the moments that he exercises kindness to Brody?

First of all, Nazir is already considered a terrorist prior to the drone attack that took his son’s life. The rationale behind dropping the bomb on that spot was a result of Nazir’s presence and his ties to terrorism. However, for Brody, Issa’s death becomes the catalyst for his radicalization even though he has not had much negative to say regarding the West’s actions in the middle east preceding this event (at least not that we know about). issa-nick-gif-homelandKilling of women and children is often understood as a war time taboo in the west and Brody, up until the point of Issa being killed, is understood by the audience to still be a loyal marine, who would be understandably appalled by any action that would lead to the murder of innocent civilians (particularly children). Therefore it is not entirely surprising that Brody is found questioning the righteousness of the American aims against terrorism in the East. However, is the U.S. correct in taking innocent lives under the guise of protecting our own? Yes, Nazir was already on the U.S.’s radar but perhaps these actions are taking retaliation a bit too far.

Although Issa’s death seems to be the ultimate turning point for Brody’s loyalty, the audience sees that, even before Issa’s death, Brody seems to be experiencing a fairly substantial amount of freedom within his captor’s compound. Perhaps it is critical to consider that Brody was already beginning to feel some compassion for his captor. He clearly loved Abu Nazir’s son and was not necessarily fighting to escape Nazir’s compound, even though he seems to have quite a lot of freedom in movement. issa-funeral-homelandPerhaps he was already experiencing some degree of Stockholm Syndrome before Issa was ever even killed. It is just as easy to read this dynamic as a piece of psychological warfare (upon Brody) on the part of Abu Nazir to start the transition of Brody to come to his side. It is quite possible that Issa’s death just helped him along. After all, Tom Walker turned eventually but did not seem to have the connection to Issa or Nazir that Brody had and even mentions to Brody that he came around to cooperating with Nazir more quickly. This begs the question, what was the true turning point for Walker? Was kindness from Abu Nazir something that Walker also experienced and was that enough to “turn” him?

Although these episodes are certainly giving some insight on the motivation behind two American’s turning and allowing the audience to understand how American involvement in the middle east is not necessarily free from fault, the show is still walking a fine line and allowing the audience of the show to interpret several aspects of the show in the way that they wish. However, in an age where Islamophobia is running wild in the West, we must contend with the question of whether this interpretation at the discretion of the beholder is the best way forward. On a grand scale, these episodes seem to suggest that there is not much difference between the east and the west and that the “bad guy” is not necessarily easy to point out. However, there are certain aspects of the way in which Eastern terrorists are depicted that, for those paying attention, there might be some question as to the effectiveness of this “evening out” between the east and west when it comes to fault.

 

9 thoughts on “The Good Guys (Homeland Rewatch S1.9-S1.12)

  1. Marilyn
    I agree with your observation about the last four episodes humanizing the Muslim community, however, the show does a lot of damage to the image of not only Muslim terrorists, but the overall Muslim community. It would be interesting to see if this show aired now with Trump’s Muslim Ban (although not a ban) on these regions and how and if it would have greater support.

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  2. I found your comment about whether “in an age where Islamophobia is running wild in the West, we must contend with the question of whether this interpretation at the discretion of the beholder is the best way forward” very intriguing, if for no other reason than to ask what the alternative is? If we do not allow the “beholder” to interpret information – no matter how skewed the information is – are we not then arguing for totalitarianism where interpretations all come from the top down? If rhetorical arguments are about persuading people to think or act a certain way, isn’t it important to allow for a wide variety of arguments and then allow those listening to decide? If your argument, though, is that our current system only allows one side of the argument, even though these episodes challenge that one-sidedness in some ways, then maybe what you really mean here is instead of “interpretation at the discretion of the beholder” is “interpretation at the discretion of those in charge of popular entertainment.”

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  3. I definitely agree that they used these last four episodes to humanize the terrorist both eastern and western. Instead of portraying the bad guys as just villains who like to kill, they have given them a purpose, a reason for the vindictiveness. Even though we are correct in saying that Nazir was a terrorist beofre Issa’s death, we still do not know what triggered that. It could be the large amount of Islamaphobia and his feelings for his people that triggered his cause. I’m interested to learn more about him as we go into season 2.

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  4. I made some similar observations regarding the connection between Brody and Issa and how Issa’s death may have been the catalyst to “turn” Brody and the notion of who is the villain, Brody or Abu Nazir. I also appreciated your observations regarding the show’s portrayals of the Muslim community. I know we discussed this a little in class and I feel this will be a reoccurring theme throughout the remainder of the seasons.

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  5. Really interesting questions. You are correct that we get backstory and an explanation for why Brody “turns,” but where is the corresponding motivation for Walker? I’m starting to feel uncomfortable in that the white soldier has to have a compelling reason to go against his country, but the black character just jumps on board. Let’s think for a second about your point about Brody and Abu Nazir sharing a fatherly concern for Issa. Brody doesn’t try to make Abu Nazir into a suicide bomber. Abu Nazir still wants his American puppets to do his dirty work. He may have grievances against Americans which go to long before the 2003 invasion–certainly Bin Laden resented us for the first Gulf War and the 500,000 “infidels” in the Holy Land of Saudi Arabia. Both characters on one level are quite naive: on war “shit happens,” kids get killed, do they really think Issa was the first and only important one?
    Anyway, the Beaumont screed was worth looking at, but I really got more from the comments on the article, which were quite typical of the Guardian readership. One made a rather interesting point I hadn’t thought about: It is not the Islamic professor who tries to recruit Aileen for terrorism, it’s the other way around. That’s not the way these things usually go when you are doing Islamophobic fiction. Also there were some interesting counters to the Shaheen thesis: basically like this, it’s a show about an agency that fights jihadists, why would you expect a cross section of “reasonable” Muslims? Anyway, thought provoking material, nice!

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  6. Interesting concept with all the talk about America “moral standing” in the world coupled with President Trump’s comments about morally being on par with Russia. I have also always wondered how problematic showing an assassination attempt is to write for the creators. I feel like it would be uncomfortable trying to make it look genuine, that would take some sinister thought.

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  7. I’m really interested in the turning of Tom Walker. I don’t know if we ever get that information. I agree that there is more complexity to the empathy Brody gains through his symbolic adoption of Issa, and that something before must begin to unravel his previously held allegiance to the West. I have watched a bit ahead and I’m pleased with how the show addresses this during season 2.

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  8. I really enjoyed reading this interpretation of Brody’s “turning.” Especially after watching these last few episodes I understand that there are many reasons that Brody chose the path he chose and there are a lot of complaexities to the situation. I understand how becoming close to and then losing Issa would motivate Brody, but I am confused about Tom Walker. I am hoping to learn more about his story and come to an understanding about his choices.

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  9. I thought is was interesting that you brought up Tom Walker and what might have motivated him. There’s a lot of unanswered questions when it comes to Walker’s character; after he was “killed,” by Brody the first time, what actions led him to choose to side with Nazir? Additionally, it’s interesting to think that one of the POW’s was given “better,” treatment than the other. Was kindness to Brody only used as a tactic when it became clear that he would not “turn,” as easily as Walker?
    I also think that in some ways, the depiction of Issa’s death is used more as character development/justification for Brody than it is for anything else. As an audience, we empathize with the idea that the killing of innocents is unimaginable– but are we meant to believe that in the end, it is justified?
    On some level, I think it gives us a way of doing what Carrie said Saul told her to do– to ask “what makes them human,” not what makes them terrorists.

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