There has been quite a bit of discussion in class regarding the “feel” of this season of Homeland. I think that many of my classmates and I agree that season five has felt almost like a complete reboot of the show. It is different from the first four seasons in a number of ways, including (but not limited to) its European location, a far more politically savvy plot, and a whole new set of international threats beyond those from the Middle East. In addition to all of that, we have our three primary protagonists, Carrie, Saul, and Quinn operating largely within their own narrative arcs. The groundwork for how all of these might come together is beginning to be fleshed out, but there is little interaction in this season among these three (at least in comparison to other seasons).
Even with all of the strange (albeit exciting) territory Homeland season five is exploring, episode eight seemed the most out of place to me (even though it is narratively important) as it relates to the beginning episodes of the season. This episode weaves back and forth between the present and Carrie’s first arrival to Baghdad in 2006. Although these flashbacks set up an important reveal for Carrie regarding Allison’s status as a double agent, the flashback, as narrative device, feels very reminiscent of earlier seasons of the show. Because the feel of the show has so drastically moved away from the first seasons in the first seven episodes of season five, I could not help but ponder a bit about the use of the flashback and how it relates, not only to the characters but also to the audience.
The flashback can be used to relay past memories of the characters and/or to give explanation for a character’s current mental state. In the first seasons of Homeland, flashbacks were used for both of these purposes. Brody’s flashbacks showed viewers what Brody’s time was like while under the care of Middle Eastern terrorist cells and helped to explain how his time with them caused him to “turn” on his country. The first seasons also used flashbacks in accordance with Brody’s PTSD episodes to convey the serious abuse that he endured while he was a prisoner of war. In season five, episode eight, the flashbacks represent a collection of memories of both Carrie and Allison from their mutual time in Baghdad. Carrie’s memories – a collection on which she hopes to extend or, at the very least, more fully understand – and Allison’s memories – a collection to which she hopes Carrie has not become privy.
For the audience, this narrative mechanism, in this season, is meant to convey information relevant to the plot. However, I am convinced that the use of flashback is also meant to trigger audience reaction as well. First of all, long time viewers of the show will know that the show itself (pilot episode) opens in Baghdad. The first seasons of the show centered, in large part, on the intel that Carrie gathered in the opening scene of the pilot. Where the pilot is depicting the time just before Carrie had to leave Baghdad, the flashbacks in this season, harken back to the beginning of her time there. Where the beginning of the show itself uses Baghdad as a place associated with information about a traitor, so to is this “return” to Baghdad via flashback.
Within this episode, during one of Carrie’s flashbacks, we also see a shot in which Carrie canvases a wall decorated with the photos of “current” prisoners of war. She seems to linger just a bit too long on the one featuring Nicholas Brody, which begs the question: Is this lingering a function of “present” Carrie’s reminiscing, a fun tidbit for long time viewers, or a little bit of both? Regardless of the answer, this lingering on Brody’s picture in Baghdad returns to this overarching connection of Baghdad and turned Americans that was introduced in the pilot. After all, we are going to learn, by the end of this episode, about the beginning of Allison’s arrangement with the Russians. I also cannot help but wonder, considering the connections that these episodes seem to draw if there was, perhaps, a reasons for casting “Allison” as a redhead.
As much as season five has established itself as something more evolved than its first seasons, episode eight (of season five) brings everything back to its roots. Clearly, the information in these flashback scenes serve an important narrative function, but it also still helps to ground long-time viewers of the show and remind them just how far the show has come.