Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Why Homeland is evolving into a John Le Carré spy drama

This season of Homeland (Sunday, Super Channel, 9 p.m.) is making people crazy.

Episode-by-episode reviews and recaps have, in the main, been negative. Some of the criticism has been warranted. But last week's episode, called Gerontion, gave hint of where Homeland is going and what might be the only the direction possible for the drama. It's going straight into John Le Carré territory.

What happened last week was yet another recalibration of the series. It became an old-fashioned spy drama. Less about the large mortal questions, less about America's enemies and the reason for anti-American hatred, and much more about the traditional craft of spying. All Cold War dynamics, the core issue has now become the baiting and reeling in of someone working for the other side. As we discovered, much of the early episodes of this season, with Carrie in hospital getting treatment and Saul seemingly indifferent, was an elaborate ruse to tempt someone from the enemy camp into reaching out to Carrie.

Story continues below advertisement

And now as that plot unfolds fully, it's all about the time-honoured conventions of espionage. Blackmail, double agents and the ruthless pragmatism of spies who control other spies. Such is the borrowing from Le Carré that Saul has in fact become a George Smiley figure, right down to the tensions at home with his wife's involvement with another man. In Le Carré's world of double-dealing spies, Smiley always captured the central tension between idealism and harsh political reality. And, all the while, the ambiguities of the Cold War world in which he operated were reflected in the ruins of his personal life. So it is with Saul. As Smiley carried the burden of his wife Ann's betrayal, Saul now grapples with wife Mira's involvement with another man.

There are other parallels, too – just as the point of George Smiley's life and work was to land Karla, the Russian spymaster, Saul's main goal has been to land Javadi, the Iranian who funds terrorist operations. And just as Smiley and his colleagues fought against the interference of their political masters in government, Saul is fighting a rearguard action against Senator Lockhart's plans to clean up the CIA and clear out those who have been involved in the mess of the Nicholas Brody situation.

In this context, the absence of Brody finally makes sense. Homeland is now much less about Brody's deviousness and the intricacies of his family life. It's about spying.

The problem for many viewers is that they became addicted to Carrie's craziness and the formidable lustiness of her relationship with Brody. What has happened now, as the series evolves, is a return to its origins as a paranoid spy drama set emphatically in a world where terrorists always lurk. It was always rich in nuance, smart and complex in dealing with Brody's return to the U.S. and the impulses which drive him. Some of the nuance has been lost with Brody so often on the sidelines, but in entering fully in Le Carré territory, it becomes more conventionally entertaining. It will still drive some viewers crazy, but at least Homeland now seems to know where it's going.

Also airing this weekend

Almost Human (Sunday, Fox, Global, 8 p.m.) is a late arrival among the new shows being launched this TV season. J.J. Abrams is the producer and it was created by former Fringe showrunner J.H. Wyman. Set in 2048 it's about a police force augmented by androids who can, of course, be shot and blown up by bad guys, but can be repaired and put back into action. The star is Karl Urban who plays a tough but damaged cop – literally and figuratively. He's haunted by past mistakes and he's got an artificial leg. Also, his new partner is an android. Some might say that some big issues are being covered in Almost Human. That is, the matter of determining if a robot can do police work as subtly as a human. But there's nothing truly serious about the show. It looks and feels like a video game, with similar depths to the characters. It's violent, colourful and very adolescent. Might appeal to the little boy in older men.

Inside JFK's Assassination (Sunday, CBC NN, 10 p.m.) is one of several JFK-related programs airing this weekend. Made by director Patrick Jeudy who had made several docs about the Kennedy family, this one promises to concentrate on the events of November 22, 1963 through the perspective of three people – Jackie Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and a bystander who happened to witness the assassination. The competing program is Letters to Jackie: Remembering President Kennedy (Sunday, TLC 8u p.m.) which has various actors reading some of the letters sent to Jackie Kennedy by ordinary Americans.

Story continues below advertisement

Report an error Licensing Options
About the Author
Television critic

John Doyle is The Globe and Mail's television critic. His column appears in the Review section Monday to Thursday and on Saturday. He has been the paper's critic since 2000. More


The Globe invites you to share your views. Please stay on topic and be respectful to everyone. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.

We’ve made some technical updates to our commenting software. If you are experiencing any issues posting comments, simply log out and log back in.

Discussion loading… ✨