Television: A spoiler alert for ‘Homeland’, and a crafty way of idealising Christmas
The spy thriller starring Claire Danes and Damian Lewis went out with a whammy, but the glut of festive craft and cookery programmes is sickening
Veiled threat: Claire Danes as Carrie
Well, thank you, RTÉ continuity announcer. She introduced the season finale of Homeland (RTÉ Two, Tuesday) by saying “hankies at the ready”, or some such tear-jerk warning: code for the death of a main character. So that was her spoiler alert. Here’s my major spoiler alert: there’s a whammy of an ending, and Brody (Damian Lewis) dies. It’s two seasons too late, but still.
Convicted of killing the top man in Iran – and so completing his CIA-directed mission that placed an American mole in the Iranian government – he was abandoned by the CIA on the US president’s orders and then hung in Tehran.
There’s no denying the scene’s dramatic punch. It wasn’t one of those quick trapdoor jobs beloved of westerns. Instead, in front of a cheering crowd, the widow of the man he killed spat in his face and placed the noose around his neck; then an agonisingly slow crane raised him off the ground, where he twitched and twisted until he died. For once Carrie (Claire Danes), looking on from the crowd, could be excused for pulling one of her cry faces.
The paradox was that although the tense episode was the best of the series, it reinforced all the problems that have dogged Homeland since the ending of the brilliant first series: the unbelievable coincidences, the plot diversions (this year was the worst, with several episodes given over to Dana Brody and her boring teen angst) and the unexplained character dropouts (where did Peter Quinn, the most promising new character, go midseason?).
In the first series Carrie had to convince everyone Brody was a terrorist, in the second she had to convince everyone he wasn’t a terrorist, and in the third she had to do both at different times, with the result that the plot became so circular that there was no potential for it to shoot off in a new direction.
The narrative arc was all about bringing Carrie and Brody together – their relationship is an unbelievable romance by any measure – so a series of credulity-straining events placed them both in Tehran.
She moved around the city unnoticed by the Iranian secret service, although she was known to be the girlfriend of the most wanted man in the world, and he was transformed, through a few workouts with a special-ops team, into a disciplined killing machine despite just weeks earlier being a junkie in a slum jail in Caracas.
“It was always about him,” says the Iranian mole Javadi to Carrie in a jarring moment, because the man delivering the schmaltz was, just a few episodes before, introduced as a cold assassin who, in the most unnecessarily bloody scene, murdered his wife and daughter-in-law.
The ending, a contrived set-up for a Brody-less fourth series, saw the new CIA director, Senator Andrew Lockhart, give Carrie the top CIA job in Istanbul – an unlikely twist given that he has publicly dismissed her as deranged and dangerously unstable.
The first run of Homeland was a series of satisfying enigmas and thrilling cliffhangers; the only what-ifs at the end of this week’s episode was whether Carrie would keep the baby and whether she would ever master a baby pouch. Not exactly a nailbiting spy thriller, then.
Glossy women’s magazines are always in the firing line for giving young women idealised, unattainable versions of their bodies. Similarly, the glut of Christmas-themed craft and cookery programmes gave the mind-numbing impression that you should have a glittery “L” for loser glue-gunned on your forehead if you’re not planning on “freshening up your Christmas decorations with Indian ribbon” (Kirstie’s Crafty Christmas, Channel 4, Monday); spit-roasting a pig in the back garden (Heston’s Great British Food, Channel 4, Tuesday); gearing up, with lots of blokey banter about “proper lush” vegetables, to make “the best Christmas lunch. Ever” (Tom Kerridge Cooks Christmas, Monday, BBC Two); making a cloth poinsettia (The Great British Sewing Bee Christmas Special, BBC Two, Sunday) or whipping up a gingerbread McMansion like Mary Berry in The Great British Bake Off: Christmas Masterclass, (BBC Two, Tuesday). At the very least, your decorative colour scheme should be pink and white, which is “bang on trend”, according to Kirstie Allsopp, and not, sadly, the random collection of decorations you fished out of the attic last week and threw on a tree.
All those who’d-be-bothered complicated cakes and homemade glitter balls present a domestic vision that’s more idealised than the most cynical Christmas advertisement.
And it wasn’t just the deep tan of Berry’s baking sidekick Paul Hollywood that served as a reminder that many of these painfully contrived programmes, often complete with pretend Christmas parties, were filmed in the summer.
Kirstie’s Crafty Christmas is probably the worst offender. It’s the fifth year the property queen and presenter of Location, Location, Location has gushed, in her posh, jolly way, that “Christmas is all about big-impact crafts” – news to Christians or indeed anyone who doesn’t consider a glue gun a festive must-have.
Her canny craft is not actually coming up with the stuff herself – which this year was more bizarre than ever. Instead she watches experts make something while she whoops with delight and chirps that whatever they’re doing is her “favourite”, while she makes pom-poms or dabs a bit of paint on something. Her top homemade presents for 2013 were tie-dye knickers, and you didn’t have to see her streaky pink-and-white pants hanging out to dry to know it’s a terrible, deeply icky idea. Is there a viewer out there who believes a boxful of splodgy knickers is the perfect gift?
For “thrifty edible gifts”, Allsopp suggested – and this shows how demented and quite beyond parody this programme is – “my most favourite things in the world, mince-pie popcorn and pine cordial”. In case you’re stuck for a homemade tipple and lost the will to keep watching somewhere around the tie-dye-knickers stage, you make pine cordial by boiling up a few branches of the tree with water and sugar. Not being within sniffing distance, I can only surmise it had the whiff of old-school toilet cleaner about it. Cheers.