Season three of Homeland, Showtime’s critically acclaimed spy-thriller, has provoked much buzz and derision, among both avid watches and foreign policy circles alike. This season focuses on Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the modern SPECTRE in Hollywood's imagination. Disappointed fans who enjoyed the first season's suspense and nuance say season three falters badly, with a confused plot that is politically unfeasible and narrative holes that are left gaping.
Even while the recent diplomatic breakthrough in Geneva between Iran and the P5+1 promised a new thaw in relations, Homeland’s plot doubled the animosity. Head of the CIA Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin) revealed his plan to kill the head of Iran’s IRGC by enlisting the help of his Iranian double-agent Majid Javadi (Shaun Tobi), as well as Nicholas Brody (Damien Lewis). Saul explains his reasoning on ordering the killing of the IRGC head: “to break the logjam so that two countries who haven’t been able to communicate with each other for 30 years except through terrorist actions and threats can sit down and talk.”
Iranwire reached out to a few devoted watchers of Homeland to pinpoint the geo-political absurdities of the plot, why the show gets Iran's ambivalent relationship with Al-Qaeda wrong, and discuss whether the character of Iranian-American CIA agent Farah challenges or trades in cultural stereotypes.
Negar Mortazavi, Iranian-American journalist:
I'm not too critical of the main plot because it's a creative look at how things would go in a possible worst case scenario. It makes mistakes with important details, but in the end it could make geo-political sense, if a bit of a stretch. I have a genuinely positive sense for the plot, for instance Iranians think the CIA is their biggest enemy when in actuality the head of the CIA Saul is trying to revive US-Iran relations, while the Senator is being more harmful. They also included a smart, patriotic, and religious Iranian woman, Farah, which I found to positive, as it's an attempt to break a stereotype.
The whole Brody-Javadi sub-plot is so absurd it's nearly impossible. The scenes inside Iran scenes were also pretty amateur. There were some impressive details, for example cars and even their plates were the latest used in Tehran. But the general overview of the city, buildings, offices, houses, made Tehran look more like a small city than the major metropolis it is.
What was ridiculous was that the IRGC, who pretty much have a hand in the entire country, operated like the Hezbollah does in Beirut. In the last episode they depicted the IRGC being watched by Iranian Mossad agents from a balcony! The IRGC is an army, owns secure bases, and building complexes with parking lots. The head of the IRGC would never conduct business in backyards and in open streets while the entire neighborhood looks on.
Geraldine Brooks, journalist and author: The most insane aspect is, how Brody can pass himself off to the Iranians as the CIA bomber when the Iranians supposedly SENT the CIA bomber and know it's not Brody! The second most insane thing, is why are we in Iran at all? We were told Brody was abducted by Al Qaeda in Iraq, who are Sunni and generally speaking at odds with Iranian Shiites (yes-yes I know; sympathetic elements within cadres of the Rev Guard, etc.) But please. Conflating Al Qaeda and Iran is just like Bush telling us Iraq was responsible for 9/11. It's enabling American mental laziness when it comes to foreign policy.
Perhaps the one or two ways Homeland has cut Iran a break was the fact that Carrie's Tehran hotel is a LOT nicer than any of the ones I've stayed in. There's no apparent air pollution with a great view of the mountains. And the traffic is less murderous. I laughed when everyone's standing around in the middle of the road. A: There would be a traffic jam. B: Any pedestrian who stopped for two blinks in the middle of the road would be splatted in real Tehran traffic.
Holly Dagres, Iranian-American analyst: I think Homeland is playing on the misconstrued premise that Iran and Al Qaeda are buddies, hence we see Iran hosting Abu Nazir’s wife and then allowing in a well-known Al Qaeda recruit—post-Langley bombing—Congressman/Sergeant Nicholas Brody. In real life, the Iranian regime jailed the family members of Osama Bin Laden who fled Afghanistan for neighboring Iran as well as high-profile Al Qaeda operatives, which is why Homeland does not exactly make any geo-political sense.
In regards to the depiction on Iranians on Homeland, I think the idea of a nationalist Iranian father and daughter duo sounds realistic , especially someone like Farah Shirazi who worked for the CIA only to pay the bills—rare but a possibility as Iranian-Americans are weary of the US government.
Dr. Kenneth Katzman, senior analyst at the Congressional Research Service: The geo-political aspects of the show don’t make sense because no one in United States government would imagine they could engineer a major reshuffling within the IRGC. And it's ridiculous to think they could engineer the IRGC succession, or that such reshuffle would change the US-Iran relationship. I expect the next season will focus heavily on the Brody-Carrie relationship and her pregnancy.
Daniel Tavana, researcher at the Project on Middle East Democracy: Homeland elevates the US-Iran geopolitical rivalry for the purpose of creating good television -- so it almost doesn't matter whether or not it makes geo-political sense or not. Yes, the U.S. and Iran have adopted high-risk, high-reward approaches to undermine the other (remember 1953 Coup?): and that's precisely what they do in Season 3. But the tactics are unbelievably unrealistic, and that's the real problem.
The depiction of Iranians and Iranian-Americans on Homeland is problematic. I would point to three examples. The first is that of Farah (CIA agent) and the increasingly prevalent image of her "conflicted" loyalties." We see it when Saul ridicules her veil (a disappointing attempt to conflate religious expression with religious extremism), and we also see it when Farah is kept out of the loop of certain activities -- for no apparent reason. The second is that of the crowds that surround Brody in Tehran. Our only glimpse of Iranians depicts them as anti-American and supportive of terrorism and violence. The last example involves Farah's relationship with her father -- he is excessively paternalistic and critical, reinforcing the perception that Iranian women lack agency.