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What HOMELAND Can Learn From THE WIRE

We all know that the last season of Homeland was below par — I’m not going to relitigate that. But what I find striking is how similar the show is to The Wire, and that there are several major lessons that Homeland could learn from it in order to rebound next season.



Both shows focus on a brilliant investigator, who despite being the most talented detective within their law enforcement agency, are marginalized outsiders due to a combination of character flaws and an inability to navigate the politics of their workplace. To a large degree the shows are also police procedurals — showing audiences how cases are built and bad guys caught. Where The Wire sails to the list of greatest TV shows and Homeland starts to flounder is in the scope of each show.



HBO, David Simon, Dominic West, Idris Elba, Frankie Faison, Lance Reddick, Amy Ryan,  Michael K. Williams, Isiah Whitlock, Jr.

The genius of The Wire is that it took something that seems relatively small in scale — the drug trade in West Baltimore — and turned it into a huge narrative by showing the many lives that are affected by a junkie buying a vile of crack from a corner boy. We saw how the addicts, drug dealers, police, politicians, courts, unions, schools and newspaper reporters were all interconnected. 



On Homeland it’s the opposite.

Despite the potential vast scope of international terrorism, everything seems to boil down to Carrie, Saul and a few analysts sitting in a room obsessing about just one terrorist. If Homeland were written by the team behind The Wire, there would be scenes in the halls of Congress, in closed door committee meetings, multiple terrorist, we’d see how the press reports the stories, etc. Simply put, we’d see all of the various people who play some part in fighting terrorism (both good and bad guys). I found if to be a total tease that in this past season of Homeland Brody was in Congress and virtually nothing was done to exploit possible storylines from that.



Showtime, CIA, Islam, Claire Danes, Damian Lewis,  Morena Baccarin, Jamey Sheridan, Mandy Patinkin

The Wire was also a show heavy on message, most notably with Season 3 making the case for legalizing drugs and Season 4 attacking the “teach the test ” culture in public schools. Easily the biggest missed opportunity from Season 2 of Homeland was that the story line of Brody converting to Islam. It was gestating for a while and then went nowhere. The obvious path for it to have taken would have been the conversion becoming public knowledge due to Dana‘s slip at school, and then the Vice President not wanting to dump Brody from the ticket for fear of looking racists — suddenly the VP has to become a champion of Islam. That would have tapped into how many public figures claim to cherish diversity and freedom of religion while being hostile to some religions. It would have been great TV, but instead we got a drawn-out storyline about teenage vehicular homicide that had no consequences except feelings of guilt.



The last major way that Homeland should take some cues from The Wire comes with the police procedural aspect of the show. The Wire was deliberate and meticulous in showing how a case was built. For instance, before they could get a wiretap an episode or two was spent showing the investigative work required to obtain it, and even once they had the wire they had to break whatever code the drug dealers were using.

In Homeland everything comes too easy. The CIA agents can instantly access any security camera in the nation, run facial recognition software, and call on a seemingly infinite number of foot soldiers to help support them. There’s just no real police procedure for them to go through. And by having the twist ending, all of the procedural work is moot. 


Homeland could do all of this without fundamentally changing the show. If anything, the vast amount of time spent this past season on Dana, shows how there is plenty of screen time that could have been used to introduce new characters and plotlines.

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