When Homeland came on the scene in 2011, at first glance it looked like just another crime drama: special agents pursuing baddies with a government-issued Glock while riding on the wings of an eagle and wrapped in the stars and stripes. We’ve seen this before. Tom Clancy has made a fortune off trying to scare us with impending nuclear doom from foes in desert wastelands, snowy tundras or high-tech submarines. So how the heck did Showtime think Angela Chase was gonna keep us safe? She couldn’t even handle striking up a conversation with Jordan Catalano.
However, if you gave Homeland a chance, you quickly realized this wasn’t any ol’ hunt for Red October. There was a POW soldier who might be a turned Al Qaeda spy living here among us, and CIA agent Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) couldn’t get anyone to believe her. So, she does what any one of us would do: She bones him. Yeah, she decides to start sleeping with the enemy. Who doesn’t want the fate of our country in the hands of a woman who is distractedly checking her phone to see if he called?
From there, if you weren’t hooked already, Homeland bombarded you with more horrors. It seemed like every plotline happened to run alongside a real-world headline — either one that had just happened or one that was about to. Terrorists bombing subway stations in Europe? Check. Attacks on an American embassy? Check. U.S. drone attacks gone awry, killing innocent civilians? Check. Chemical gas attacks? Check.
Last season was filmed before the 2016 campaign, but it depicted a presidential race rife with cybercrime, an underground network of computer bots pushing misinformation meant to divide the country, an Alex Jones-style web messiah screaming seditious missives and a presidential candidate who was paranoid that the CIA was out to get them. Sound familiar?
Not since The Good Wife portrayed the NSA’s ability to spy on us through our computers have I been so sure that TV writers can predict the future. You’re sucking on Tide pods if you think I haven’t put a piece of tape over my laptop’s camera.
So, is Homeland reflecting the United States today? Are the writers picking up ideas from what they see going on? Or are our leaders, and our terrorists, getting bad ideas from our most creative people? Perhaps a little bit of both. According to Entertainment Weekly, Homeland creator Alex Gansa and his writing staff have taken a trip to Washington every year to speak with CIA members and gauge what difficulties face America. However, they found that the CIA members were acting very differently this year. “There are intelligence officers we met in D.C. who say that what they do every morning is wake up and check their phones to make sure Seoul, South Korea, is still there,” Gansa said.
If Homeland’s producers are spooked, then we should probably worry. These are the people who have tried to kill Agent Quinn about 17 different ways, including putting him in a hermetically sealed box and pumping in sarin gas until he foamed at the mouth and his skin started to bubble.
So, how do you keep cloak and dagger fresh when the truth is stranger than fiction? Government operatives having an affair and getting caught texting their lovers might seem over the top if it’s “crazy” Carrie, but not when you think that FBI agents Peter Strzok and Lisa Page just had their texts become government (and public) knowledge. Last season’s Muslim Americans losing their civil rights for posting videos online seemed overblown. Then, mere months later, ICE is breaking down people’s doors and there is the weekly threat of an impending travel ban. Homeland’s President Keane arrested 200 intelligence agents and is now under investigation. Seems farcical, save for the fact that our actual president has declared war on his own intelligence agencies and Department of Justice by firing some members, publically berated and hindered the work of others, and is under investigation himself.
How do you write a TV show about terror for a world that is becoming more and more terrifying? When leaders are bragging about whose nuclear button is bigger and false alarms about missiles can be sent by pushing the wrong one, how can anything written for Carrie Mathison top that? It seems that nothing on Homeland can really compete with the crazy, messed-up world we are currently living in. There’s really only one thing that could make America safer — and that’s Jack Bauer.