This is a post about Homeland, season 4 episode 3 titled “Shalwar Kameez” This is chock full of spoilers, but it’s not a recap or review, more of a starting point to talk about issues that strike me. You don’t have to watch the episode to join in and comment on the issues, but I’ll be using shorthand for characters and to describe scenes in the show.
The episode is about love and war. The phrase “All’s fair in love and war” came to me as I thought about what struck me. What will people do for love? What will they do in a war? I like Mari-Lou A’s explanation, “The concept behind the phrase is that some areas of life are so important and overwhelming that you cannot blame someone for acting in their own best interest.”
The title of the episode, Shalwar Kameez, is an interesting choice. it is a traditional dress of South and Central Asia. It is worn by men and women in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. People selling them on ebay say,”Salwar Kameez (shalwar kameez) are beautiful and elegant Indian fashion clothing meant to accentuate the female body.” I’m curious how many knew what it was (sans Google) and why you think it was chosen.
I picked the “All’s fair in love and war” quote because I wondered who decided to conflate those two, and why do people either find it acceptable or a valid reason for lawlessness and horrible acts. I found the phrase can be traced back to a Renaissance English poet and playwright.John Lyly’s, from ‘Euphues’ (1578). The quote was “The rules of fair play do not apply in love and war. Does this tell us more about the poet, the Renaissance or the English?
According to the Homeland opening, Carrie feels responsible for getting it wrong on 9/11. I want to believe that in the intelligence community there were a lot of people who felt like that. We have seen how far Carrie has been willing to go to protect the country after 9/11. Why did she feel so responsible? Was it because of her love of country and her fellow Americans? Or was it because she loved her job and was ashamed she failed?
US Characters: Love of Country, Self and Others
Carrie’s love for Brody transformed her, especially when she saw he was not the threat. Look at how far she went for him out of love. Hate wasn’t driving her.
Love also played a big role in Brody’s transformation. First he showed traditional love of country as a Marine, then the love of a young boy he saw killed by Americans. We see how the boy’s father used Brody’s love of the boy, plus his new understanding of the situation, as a way to channel the father’s anger at the people who ordered the strike. Then we see how Brody’s love of his daughter stopped him from carrying out his suicide task. Finally Brody’s love of Carrie, and need for redemption lead to his final acts.
What we haven’t really seen is Carrie’s anger at the terrorists who launched 9/11. Her anger is directed at herself and her failure. She has a sense of responsibility but also a desire to solve a puzzle. She needs to get others to listen to her, and be proved right. Hopefully, the end result of this is to save lives, but in the process other lives will be taken. Later she can be fine with her actions when put into “the big picture.” As we see, that is harder to do when “the big picture” translates into real people.
Carrie is our fantasy CIA agent, embodying the qualities we want to exist. Even her weaknesses are understandable to the viewer, lots of people have struggled with mental illness, anger, guilt and then tried to numb the pain with booze or sex. The show runners could have chosen other weaknesses, but they didn’t. She could have been a careerist, a cynical hack, or an amoral intellect that doesn’t see people–just puzzle pieces.
She could have seen 9/11 as a professional opportunity, a chance for power or political advancement. She could have decided to cash in on her knowledge by going into the private sector. But all of these would have disgusted viewers and kept them from watching.
What would a show with a CIA agent with those characteristics look like? A documentary? It could exist, on Covert Affairs there is a guy who headed the CIA who is exactly like that, but everyone knows he is terrible. Also people don’t watch that show for him, but for Piper Perabo and her cute shoes.
Pakistani Characters: Creating the Perfect Victim/ Future Terrorist?
What we haven’t gotten to know yet is our fantasy victim/possible future terrorist. Just like they set up our fantasy CIA agent, Homeland writers have set up Aayan Ibrahim to be the best kind of victim/future terrorist. He’s quiet, intelligent and non-political. He’s a pre-med student in the wrong place at the wrong time. We start to see the forces around him trying to use him. Maybe he will always remain a pawn.
It isn’t clear to me how good an actor the guy playing Aayan is yet, he seems to float through scenes. If he didn’t transform after the bombing, what will push him over the edge? Maybe he will be like a 1970’s vigilante film star? “He’s mild-mannered man who was pushed .. just.. too… far. ‘They killed his family, ruined his career, threatened his life and now he’s going to STRIKE BACK! Charles Bronson IS Aayan Ibrahim IN Death Wish VI: Islamabad Nights. Coming soon to an iPad near you!”
Maybe he will just be used as a pawn by the Pakistani media, intelligence agency or the CIA for their own purposes. In this episode two different attempts are made to turn him. Carrie first gets Fara Sherazi, the woman who unraveled the banking transactions last season, to talk to him and even calls it, “a seduction.” Later we see Carrie do the same with Aayan. This isn’t love, it’s war, and they have decided, “all’s fair.” What was especially interesting about the scene with Aayan and Carrie in the bathroom was the sincere apology she made to him about the death of his family, even while maintaining her cover as one of the people directly responsible.
Question: Would you be less likely to seek revenge if you knew that the people who killed your family at a wedding you attended were really sorry about it? What if you knew the guy they killed at the same time was double Hitler? We know that in some lawsuits and wrongful deaths that apologies ARE very powerful, but the system doesn’t want companies and people to admit guilt. They believe that it will impact negatively the financial settlement. But you hear people saying, “I just wanted to hear an apology. And to promise they won’t do it again.” That is what they want to hear from the humans behind the death story.
It occurs to me we expect the family and friends of the innocent people killed by our drone strikes to be better than us. We expect them to understand why we had to do it, how hard we tried not to hurt others and how, if only they hadn’t been palling around with terrorists, they would have been safe. We expect them to see our point of view but we can’t be expected to see theirs. If we do talk about their viewpoints, we are told we are terrorist sympathizers. We get thrown into the position of defending terrorists, when we really want to defend innocents.
What are the reasons for waging war?
Recently we saw what was used to get sign off on Syrian and ISIS airstrikes: beheading videos, stories of ISIS as “worse than Al Quada” and the fear of not wanting to “look weak.” My questions is, “What would it take to get the sign off to stop?” That might be one of the stories that Homeland is showing us.
Would stories of our atrocities make people in the US say, “Enough! Find another way!” What about stories showing that the reasons for war were exaggerated or fabricated? How about stories where we could relate to the people under attack? The ones who don’t see us as “liberators?” Who would tell us those stories? And if someone DOES tell those stories, who goes out of their way to watch them? Nobody who hasn’t already decided. These kind of stories need a device like Homeland (or M*A*S*H) to get told.
Like a good drama, this episode pulled us back from the geopolitical issues of terrorism, war and the intelligence community and has shown us what is happening with the main characters. Carrie manipulating her way into going back to Pakistan to follow up on the murder of Sandy, the former station chief of Islamabad. Quinn back in Virginia guzzling schnapps and having sex with the sympathetic landlady. We see various kinds of love and affection between Saul and Carrier; Quinn and the landlady, Quinn and Carrie; Saul and the ambassador. Then how the various forms of love was used and what it revealed.
What we aren’t seeing much of is the love stories of the people in Pakistan, except in that video of the wedding. We are seeing the hate in the death of Sandy, but we are also seeing the calculating Pakistani Intelligence service using this opportunity to strike back. It looks to be a long term set up that they knew the Americans would fall for. It also would mean they Pakistan intelligence agency set up and allowed 40 innocent Pakistanis to die from a US bombing run.
Can you imagine a countries’ intelligence service setting up a tragedy on their own soil directed at their own people so they could use the emotional reaction to get what they want?
What if they anticipated a terrible event and were ready to capitalize on it? If they did that, and people found out, would it change the direction of people’s anger? Can we be mad at the people who did the killing, and also at our own people who either set up the narrative, or capitalized on an event?
But in all this I still want to ask, where was the “original sin?” Who started attacking whom? Why must elaborate worse case scenarios be used to get people to act? Because as we know from our own history, if a good story doesn’t exist we make it up. Babies thrown out of incubators! Mushroom cloud WMDs!
By shocking the public in the US the Pakistani Intelligence service is creating a story the US public will respond to. Nobody likes to be called a baby killer, even if they did it “for the big picture.” Killing innocents is usually bad PR, no matter how you spin it.
In this episode part of the goal is to show that the good people at the CIA were set up. But in many ways the damage is already done. It might make the CIA officials and government feel better,knowing they were led into the wedding strike, but the public already has the images in their heads. “Sure THIS one might have been a set up, but what about the other ones, the ones where there is no video?”
As I watch Homeland I think about the current stories that are told by our war making industry. We know the stories that make the war go, but what are the stories that make the war stop?