Disclaimer: Homeland is great. It can stretch plausability at times, but if you’re willing to suspend disbelief a little it’s one of the most enthralling dramas of recent times, with one of the most captivating dichotomies in the protagonists Brody and Carrie. Mike Copus writes weekly reviews for us, and does a far more articulate job than I can. Really the quality of the show itself is the antithesis of the nature of the opening credits.
You can divide the opening sequence into 2 equally clunky parts. One spells out the political backdrop that’s very much the world that Homeland is set in (or isn’t, technically), and the other ties this together with the dream-like stream-of-consciousness of the show’s protagonist Carrie Mathison. I don’t think it’s actually a terrible idea, but it’s one they’ve executed extremely poorly.
First, I’ll break down what doesn’t sit right with the political elements. While it’s important to establish a context, it does this so heavy handedly that you’re almost sick of the subject matter by the end of the credits. Stylised monochrome footage of speeches and monologues from US presidents delivering anti-terror discourse. But really in the 2 seconds soundbites from each all you hear is “terrorists. TERRORISM. We will not stop. blah blah blah” – imagine if the credits to Breaking Bad went like this - ”the war on drugs. crystal meth. heroin. crystal meth. methy methy meth meth”. It has all the subtlety of Brian Blessed headbutting you in the cojones.
Problem #2 with the political aspects of the credits – it’s messy; it would be naive to expect Homeland to have an entirely fictional US history – so I have no real problem with the use of Reagan, Bush Snr, or even Clinton, and the show has made it abundantly clear that Homeland is set in a post-9/11 framework; the references to Bin Laden, and “I won’t – I can’t let that happen again” – but the show now exists with a fictional president and vice president, suggesting that at some point in the decade preceding 9/11 things morphed from real life history into the Homeland canon.
I absolutely hate writing this, and discussions about what’s canon, but it’s necessary when Homeland invites such questions – the show itself at times is guilty of muddling it’s history a little, but to a much larger extent the credits and footage of Obama totally undermine any semblance of timeline, and bring such questions into the fold. With fiction like this, it’s always best to not mention such inconsistencies with reality, and especially not remind everyone of inconsistencies each week.
Let’s move onto the dreamlike quality of the sequence – and this is opening a whole other can of worms. I’ll focus on just a couple of the more overt problems with this – the use of the maze is just about the most overused and tired metaphor they could possibly use to represent what’s actually a very well written cat-and-mouse chase between Carrie and Brody. It’s the television equivalent of some terrible band thinking they’re deep when singing about a journey, or falling.
I’m a big fan of the dream sequence – in particular I think LOST and The Sopranos were responsible for some of the most memorable dream sequences of recent years. They worked well because they delved into a character’s psyche and gave you an insight into their thoughts and memories, whilst giving it the obligatory surreal twist. To be fair to Homeland – it also does this to an extent, with the political footage, childhood photos and general context of espionage clearly weigh heavily on Carrie’s mind. But I want to single out the lion mask above – we don’t know Carrie’s life, sure, maybe it’s real important to her – but it boils my blood when I see it each week. It feels so lazy, like someone found in laying around in the prop department and thought – “hey this looks weird, perfect” without an afterthought.
Apart from what is tangibly featured in the opening credits, the whole dream aspect has another major flaw – the editing looks like a GCSE student was let loose on Windows Movie Maker’s more crass effects – look at the image of Obama in particular, why in god’s name is he upside down? I’ll tell you – because someone thought UPSIDE DOWN = SURREAL, and that was it. The whole thing is full of cheap effects like this, for example inverting the colours – how they didn’t know better is beyond me.
This is actually one of the opening’s better parts, and the least scathing I’ll be – the footage of a young Carrie practicing trumpet along with the footage of Louis Armstrong are a nice personal touch and nod to her love of jazz, the genre that soundtracks the show so well – it’s perhaps only the element of the dream sequence that works. And really it only half-does, the solitary trumpet parp just sounds funny, reminiscent of Soft Cell’s dire Torch. The general music is alright, but the dissonance and eeriness of it would work far better if it didn’t accompany such badly put together footage, and as such feels as if it’s trying too hard – like the rest of it.
Overall, perhaps it’s only worst when you individually look at the elements that make up the credits individually, but even watching the credits passively it feels like a mess. When you watch it actively, you realise what a contrived travesty it really is.