Two Sides of the Same Coin: Homeland and 24
Since Homeland debuted in 2011 it has been consistently compared to its predecessor 24, and with good reason. Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa who created the show wrote for 24 before it ended in 2010. They stated early on that they wanted Carrie Mathieson to be as different from Jack Bauer as possible, and she is. But I can’t help but wonder if she doesn’t reflect the inequality that still plagues our times.
Jack, despite all his flaws, was still regarded as a hero. Time and time again he pushed the bounds of morality and consistently held himself above the law. Despite his often brutal methods, he was rarely reined in by his superiors. Since his methods were effective and he got the job done, most people, including the various Presidents over the years, looked the other way. The writers and the viewers perceived Jack to operating for the greater and good.
In season seven we see Jack finally answering for his crimes and he is unapologetic, but not all together unsympathetic. Like any good solider, he does things that civilians are unwilling or unable to do. (“You can’t handle the truth!) He is incredibly patriotic, but has seen corruption run through the highest levels of our government. Rather than swearing allegiance to a particular party or president, Jack swears to uphold the ideals he holds dear.
Is torture inherently wrong? Probably. But we do not live in a black and white world. Bad people do good things and good people do bad things. The writers wanted to show us that these lines people draw are murky at best, and they succeeded.
Carrie, on the other hand, is the one who is tortured in Homeland. She has lost her job and been considered a loose cannon and crazy woman by her superiors by the end of season one. The second season sees her reinstated to some degree to continue her work in bringing down Abu Nazir. But as I watched her fly into mania and sink into depression, I couldn’t help but think of how vulnerable she was. It would be all too easy to see her as weak even though the viewers know that she is very strong and very sharp. Making Carrie into a female Jack Bauer might have been more interesting in the long run, instead she is stuck battling the traditional female battle against her emotions.
Truthfully Jack Bauer’s reckless disregard for the law and violent tactics are merely the flip side of Carrie’s craziness. I would argue that both suffer from extremism, but that it manifests differently. When men are depressed they tend to express it through anger. Women often express it through tears. My question is, was making Carrie bi-polar a smart move or sexist one?
In season one of 24 we find out that Jack had an affair with Nina while he and his wife were estranged. Nina, it is later revealed, is the mole inside CTU. In a similar fashion, we see Carrie falling for the wrong guy. Instead of feeling shocked and betrayed at the big reveal of her lover’s true nature at the end of the season, Carrie suspects Brody of being a terrorist all along. Despite her suspicions, Carrie falls in love for Brody anyway.
The writers view Carrie Mathieson and Nicholas Brody as two broken and damaged people who forge a connection and that does make for a compelling relationship. However, many viewers find themselves stepping back and wondering how Carrie could put herself in such an unwise position. Her decision to get involved with him appears perhaps a bit foolish, whereas Jack’s involvement with Nina doesn’t seem as unsympathetic. We can reason Nina tricked him and Jack was victim. Can we say the same about Carrie? Was her involvement calculating like Nina’s involvement with Jack or was she simply weakened by her feelings for him?
Brody does ultimately betray Carrie to protect his suicide mission for Abu Nazir. Because she was intimately involved with him it subverts any power she had as a CIA agent and, much like the Greek Oracle Cassandra, no one believes her when she predicts his attack.
Though I have yet to catch up on Season 2 and Season 3 of Homeland, I have read that Carrie and Brody end up back together. Once I get a chance to watch those episodes, I will comment more on the progression of their relationship.
In any case, as someone who suffers from Bi-Polar disorder, I can appreciate the fact the writers of Homeland are making an effort to portray the illness as accurately as possible. It can have a devastating effect on anyone’s career or life, but it doesn’t mean that they are stupid or incapable of contributing greatly to the world at large. I do hope to see Carrie come out of her tailspin and gain back her confidence. I enjoy seeing her make intuitive leaps and prove herself to be excellent at her job. That sort of dedication and professionalism can serve as an inspiration to girls around the world, so long as the focus doesn’t remain on her illness I think.