Is this Feminist? (Homeland Rewatch S2.09-S2.12)

There were more exciting twists and turns this week as we wrap up season two of Homeland. Abu Nazir is finally dead, Brody is surely having some severe home-movie regrets, and Carrie falls back into her usual pattern of prioritizing work over all else. Carrie’s decision is, in fact, what I would like to focus on this week. Carrie always seems to have to make the choice between family and career (she essentially did this at the beginning of the season as well) but what does that say about Homeland and its relation to feminism?

After Brody tells Carrie that he is “all in,” she lets him know that she is going to need a bit of time to consider his offer. Carrie’s job is essentially her whole life at this point. After Brody gas-lit her last season into thinking she was crazy and Carrie getting kicked out of the CIA, she had to earn her way back into the agency even after evidence proved she was right about Brody’s terrorist ties all along. As early as season one, she reflects with Saul, realizing that her job is one that will relegate her to perpetual loneliness. The demand of her job and her steadfast commitment to it is unlikely to allow her to find a partner that will put up with continually coming second place to her career. alone-forever-carrie-homelandIt is not necessarily what she wants, but she lives with this reality. The depiction of Saul’s strained marriage in season one works well to highlight the legitimacy of this point and serves to justify Carrie’s choice to avoid romantic commitments. Like Saul, Carrie is steadfastly committed to her career, but unlike him seems resolved to suffer the single life that is inevitably tied to that choice.

For women in film, the conflict that emerges between family and career often come to a head, disallowing a female protagonist from having the best of both worlds. This has often been the case for Carrie and, with Brody finally leaving his family, Carrie is presented with the option to choose a “normal” family life with the man she has come to love. However, it is made clear that choosing  Brody means abandoning the career to which she has been  so unabashedly faithful. There is no way for Carrie to stay with the CIA while simultaneously bedding a reformed Al-Qaeda sympathizer and collaborator.

Near the end of season 2, episode 12, Carrie has resolved to abandon her career and commit fully to a relationship with Brody. However, her plan to pursue a relationship with Brody becomes thwarted once Langley is rocked by a bomb blast that originates from Brody’s car and Brody’s suicide tape is released to the media.brody-carrie-cabin Although Carrie believes Brody to be innocent and ultimately assists him in escaping the U.S. before the authorities can bring him in, she leaves Brody in his pursuit for the Canadian border and reveals that she no longer feels that she can abandon her job, which will need her now more than ever.

Homeland appears to be perpetuating the female centered myth that women cannot “have it all.” Carrie’s choice to to be with Brody and then her complete reversal of that decision seems to indicate that there is no possible compromise between these competing factors. Although Homeland empowers its main character to be abrasive and a “force of nature” within a largely male environment (i.e. The CIA), promise of a feminist friendly character, at least in some ways, seems to come up a bit short. After all, was it not some of the bigger feminist names that called for a better balance between home and career *(e.g. Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique)?

I might be writing a different kind of analysis here if it were Carrie’s only desire to work and have no kind of family life, however that is not the case. The audience of Homeland is made aware from season one that Carrie does, in fact, have some sense of yearning for, or at least a sadness of the impossibility of, the presence of a long-term romantic entanglement. What is it that seems to make this balance so difficult for women in media?

To be fair, there is perhaps at least something positive to be said about the way that Carrie resolves the conflict at the end of season two. Although the western narrative ideal tends to include a heteronormative “pairing off,” Carrie rejects this in favor of her career. carrie-baffledHowever, that does not mean that her inability to create a balance between her two desires is not still somewhat problematic. There should be no reason that having a career should mean “spinsterhood” just as having a relationship should not mean a sentence that equates to living as “just” a housewife.

Although this topic may need to be revisited once this rewatch project gets around to later seasons, at least for now, this seemingly progressive show still appears to toe the common line in demonstrating that women still cannot have it all no matter how bad-ass they are or how much their patriotism might warrant it.


8 thoughts on “Is this Feminist? (Homeland Rewatch S2.09-S2.12)

  1. Marilyn, I agree with your analysis of Carrie choosing between her career and Brody. Were you at all shocked as to Saul’s reaction to Carrie calling her the smartest and dumbest person he has ever met? I wonder if he was expressing his own anger in that scene? Also were shocked that Carrie went as far as she did in helping Brody escape? I myself was surprised she went as far as she did to help him.


  2. One of the things about Homeland is that no character can “have it all.” Brody cannot have it all because of choices he’s made. Carrie cannot have it all because she is in the CIA and falls in love with a one-time terrorist. Saul cannot have it all because his devotion to the job steps on and overshadows his devotion to his wife. Quinn cannot have it all because he is a black ops specialist which takes too much time and emotion away from his girlfriend and son. Saul’s wife cannot have it all because she loves Saul but also wants to feel loved and do a job she loves (which is very far away). Estes cannot have it all because he slept with Carrie (and because he is now dead). So, the question then is, who on the show can “have it all.” I think the answer is that Carrie’s sister. She is a practicing doctor, married (though the husband is noticeably absent), and raising two children. In fact, Carrie’s sister – as a female who shows she can actually balance work and life – may be a way the show depicts balance as a key to manageable lifestyles. While her job is not glamorous like Carrie’s, she is always home for her daughters when they need her and able to take care of her family members (Dad and Carrie) when they need it. What about her in relation to “the feminine mystique” type issues?


  3. Yes it’s difficult to discuss this when we know what’s ahead, but you are laying an interesting groundwork for an important discussion to come. As much as “career” is an impediment to heteronormative coupling and balance for a lot of these characters–as Brian suggested–there’s also Carrie’s bi-polar condition to factor in. So it’s difficult to see Carrie as some sort of Everywoman test for workplace developments for the modern feminist. She is way outside the norm. But yes, we will be coming back to this bigtime.
    Another take on it would be the weird echo of Casablanca. Just as Carrie leaves Brody to go fight the big fight with Al Qaeda, in Casablanca Bogey sends Ilsa off so he and Louie can concentrate on fighting Germans. I always thought Casablanca was a weird way to prepare Americans for dealing with loved ones being gone 2-3 years in a World War–it ennobles the sacrifice. The problem with the “Global War On Terror” is that sacrifice is not really in the equation. We don’t have higher taxes, we have an all Volunteer armed forces, it’s not easy to see how America has made any sacrifice to fight violent extremists. (Other than Airport security checks) Yet Carrie does give up her potential happiness with Brody. God love her!


  4. I agree with your analysis here Marilyn. As a woman, it is frustrating to view female characters as not able to “have it all”. While I thought it was foolish for Carrie to initially choose Brody over her career. I completely agreed with Saul when he was attempting to point out how absurd it would be for Carrie to throw away her career for a terrorist. I agree with Brian’s assessment about Carrie’s sister Maggie. From the first time we were introduced to Maggie, the contrast between the seemingly perfect mom/doctor/wife vs. the workaholic, bi-polar, harried CIA operative was stark.


  5. Carrie and Saul are not romantically involved, but would you consider her returning to him in the very last scene of the season an instance of that heteronormative pairing off? I am still trying to become more versed in feminist theory and thought and wondered if that violated that “Western thought” you mentioned? Ir are you just referring to Western culture in general and NOT specifically feminist ideology? Either way, I do think this show in particular coupled with readings your (and others in class) blog is helping me conceptualize these issues.


  6. I really agree with your assessment of Carrie’s choice between her career with the CIA and her relationship/future with Brody. Homeland seems to have stuck her with a pretty black and white choice and she cannot possibly have it all in this situation. I’m hopeful that another romantic opportunity will come along that does allow her to have both a fulfilling career and a fulfilling relationship/family life. Additionally, I did notice that when Carrie left Brody in the woods it wasn’t a tearful, sobbing moment where she had to be torn from him. It was emotionally intense, but she seemed at least somewhat at peace with her decision to pursue her career over him.


  7. Interesting thoughts on this topic! I was going to bring up Carrie’s bi-polar (but someone beat me to it in an earlier comment.) It seems that when considering the “family versus career” dichotomy, Carrie’s mental illness plays a large role. When discussing a possible future together, Carrie tries to explain to Brody that he should be “worried,” by her condition. So it sometimes feels like the show is setting Carrie up in a way that makes us question whether those with mental illness can have healthy relationships. It’s all very interesting to think about.


  8. I’m finding it difficult to decide if its because she is choosing her job over her love life, or is it that because of his issues Carrie is scared to step out on that leap of faith and taking another look chance on getting her heart broken again and relating it to Brody and trying to find a way to fix it.


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