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The Real Problem With Homeland

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The rather dull and uninvolving third series of Homeland - and let's face it, it's been going downhill since the middle of the first series - is, I think, the result not just of the curse of 'sequelitis' but the impossibility of turning a crisis into a drama.

Or, more accurately, a thriller into a drama. Series Three has thus far tried to involve the audience in intimate character studies. the plot has been subsumed by the writers' desire to flesh-out the tortured souls of the surviving 'victims' of a terrorist atrocity. The suicidal daughter, the unhinged seeker of truth and the now drug-addicted prisoner of his or someone else's misdeeds. But Dana, Carrie and Brodie are not truly what made this series so captivating.

It was the plot. The red herrings, twists, side-swipes, cliff-hangers. The whodunnit and dotheyevenknowtheydunnit premise. It was a conventional thriller made more emotive by the subject matter and more thrilling by the frantic implausibility of it all, especially the acting.

Now there is a strange drug-induced calm. Plot has given way to inner turmoil and whilst the erudite writers might be congratulating themselves on replacing action with words - taking the series back to its impressive Israeli roots, in fact - they've forgotten a simple rule of visual entertainment: you might be able to turn a drama into a thriller but you can't do it the other way round.

Consider anything by the masters of the genre - Hitchcock, Melville, Wilder even Michael Mann or Ridley Scott. Their very best achievements build to a crescendo, sometimes several. But they don't go from crescendo to character study because once you've fed the audience their 'treat' they don't want to be forced to indulge in the serious stuff. Chocolate mousse is served after the vegetables for a reason.

The original Homeland - Prisoners of War, set in Israel - was an intense, uncompromising study of two soldiers returning to a country that didn't want or trust them. Families betrayed them, colleagues ignored them, friends didn't understand them. It was a slow-building drama about alienation and loss that eventually hit us with open-mouthed revelations that made us reassess everything that had gone on before.

Clearly the American studio didn't think audiences would be able to stick with something so emotionally demanding. It thought action, not character, should propel the story. And once the wheels came off the plot - which was apparent to the viewers well before the writers - they decided to flip their strategy and delve into the tortured souls of their leads.

Undoubtedly there will be action to come, twists, turns and gunfire will drown out the pained expressions and soliloquy-like glances in mirrors but it may be too late by then. Ratings is a cruel mistress.

I'll stick with it, more out of expectation than hope. Expectation that it can't get any worse than it is, hope that Saul is finally unmasked as the terrorist king-pin-in-hiding. At least that might make it an implausible thriller worth talking about again. As it stands, it's just an implausible drama.

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