Flashback (Homeland Rewatch S5.05-S5.08)

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. Screen Shot 2017-05-02 at 12.01.54 AMAlthough 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.

Screen Shot 2017-05-02 at 12.03.57 AMFor 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. Carrie memory gifAfter 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.

7 thoughts on “Flashback (Homeland Rewatch S5.05-S5.08)

  1. Because I can’t focus on one thing at once I am actually rewatching Lost right now when I have free time. Episode 8 VERY MUCH reminds me of the way a character will relive a memory over the course of an episode and come to some shocking revelation at the end like in Lost. I am really impressed with the Russian actor’s consistency, seems to be exactly the same dude however many years later. And of course, in the midst of such a complicated season, the damn screensaver is what changes the game. Oh Homeland.

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  2. Marilyn,
    I agree with you that season five illustrates the overall growth of the show. Like you I felt like several episodes (8) in particular connects and brings long-time viewers to the show. In a strange way its like a band that introduces a bunch of new material, but still continues to play “old school” hits at their concerts.

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  3. I also chose to analyze the use of flashbacks in my post this week, although I just focused on the “All About Allison” episode. I find the use of flashbacks very helpful in flushing out more of the narrative and providing more background on the pivotal characters in a particular story arc. I also noticed how Carrie paused to look at the pictures of the captured military men and women, and found it interesting that they had Brody’s picture prominently displayed. You also wondered if they purposely cast an actress with red hair to play a Russian spy. That is an interesting observation and now I wonder if the writers of Homeland have a grudge against red heads, or if there is some significance in showcasing a turned American with red hair?

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  4. I like that you pointed out the overall “feel” of the flashback utilized in this episode. It certainly seems a bit jarring in terms of where this season has been going. Also– it felt a little like an 80’s (?) kind of vibe (especially with Allison’s style,) which was a bit bizarre for me. Overall, I appreciated the backstory for Allison- which I thought actually made Allison more compelling and interesting than simply a Russian traitor without a motive. It also seemed to make sense that the choice she made would logical seem like the only good option she had at that point. I also thought it seemed to hint that Allison never had the same kind of affinity for the job that Carrie did (and did not seem to be as adept at affective labor as Carrie.)
    I think the Banana Joe’s thing and the screensaver gimmick was a bit ridiculous.
    I also like that you pointed out the “lingering,” on Brody’s picture. I think an interesting case could be made for the way in which whenever we access memories, we are always changing them. So the “lingering” could be the “current” Carrie’s brain making an association she didn’t necessarily make at the time.

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  5. I like your comparisons between these flashbacks in season five and the earlier Brody flashbacks. These Allison flashbacks seem a bit more “hey, we really should give her a backstory now” than Brody’s did. While I agree that season five is definitely higher quality than the earlier seasons, I find the flashback scenes troubling. They feel too staged, and too obvious to me. By that I mean it disrupts my verisimilitude because it is so clear they are doing it just to give the backstory. It’s not a smooth transition, probably becasue the show almost never uses these tactics. And when they did extended flashbacks before, it was with a character, Brody, we already knew quite a bit about, and the flashbacks were simiply giving pictures to things we already inferred.

    And that lingering on the Brody picture…talk about going a bit too far…

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  6. I actually like that screen saver as Allison’s Achilles heal because I think it indicates a materialistic/creature comfort side of her that just isn’t going to survive in the kind of work she was doing in Iraq. I’m going to talk about Flashbacks in class today, but my notion is that this is really about exploring Carrie’s personality more than anything, and that maybe Carrie is the anti-Allison. Is Brody the equivalent of the Iraqi guy who turns up in St. Lucia? Hmm. Don’t forget the other flashback in this season, Saul and Dar at the beginning of their careers.

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  7. I did enjoy the flashback scenes. It was definitely different and we got to see a whole different side of both Carrie and Allison before the CIA took a toll on them both. The only thing that really bothered me is that this long flashback all led up to a one in a million chance of Carrie remembering that one conversation with Allison that outed her as the mole in the CIA. That was so unbelievable that it almost hurt. I mean there are a lot of far fetched ideas running around this season but that one was top of the list especially considering Carrie didn’t even have the full picture of the bar and was able to remember that name.

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