“You lack faith,” the young leader of a terrorist cell says to a fellow Muslim fighter, who appears to be ever so slightly less radical in his beliefs. “A man without faith is dangerous.” Then he shoots the guy in the head as his crew prepares for a major attack in the United States.
Welcome to the everyday ethics of radical Islam.
The exchange could have been uttered in any of the previous five seasons of Homeland. But not in the current one, where an America-last philosophy has suddenly been coupled with tolerance of the intolerant. Instead, the brief theological exchange is a scene in 24: Legacy, one of the happy surprises of the current television season.
Former Army Ranger Eric Carter is played by the excellent actor Corey Hawkins, of Straight Outta Compton fame. Like the beloved lone fighter Jack Bauer before him in the original 24 series, Carter singlehandedly takes on ISIS-type extremists, the criminals who support them, and the intransigent intelligence bureaucracy — CTU still exists, with the hottest classified gadgets and the smartest nerds employing them to protect us.
While I’m enjoying the return of a new cycle in the mold of the first 24, which is in the hands of the writers and producers of the original series, Legacy has also made me feel nostalgic. That’s because the timing of the Fox show can’t help but draw comparisons to Homeland’s season six, which just wrapped up on Showtime.
It always seemed to me that Homeland picked up where 24 left off, standing on its shoulders. One ended in 2010 as the other began in 2011, one great post-9/11 series following another. 24 was thrilling and smart, Homeland was thrilling, smart and noir-ish. The writers — and the great Claire Danes — added intellectual depth without avoiding the dark realities of the war on terror in America and the Middle East.
No one apologized for portraying Islamic terrorists as the Really Bad Guys because, well, they were and they are.
So, as a Homeland fan with a tiny crush on Carrie Mathison, I had eagerly awaited the latest 12 episodes. Watching it felt like being dumped in public. Carrie is now a civil rights activist/struggling single mom. Islamophobia seems to be a bigger deal than violence in the name of Allah. A not-so-subtle political agenda has crept in — against “over-reacting” to terror, against “bigotry” and the dominance of the “white male membership” of the intelligence community, as actor Mandy Patinkin has said.
Even after a bomb goes off in the middle of Manhattan the president-elect speaks with an irritated sigh of “more witch hunts,” when she hears the sitting president call for re-enforcement of the Patriot Act. It’s a disorienting experience to watch the show. As if the countless fictional explosions in the previous season and the real attacks in Boston, Orlando, San Bernardino, Nice, Paris never happened or didn’t mean much in any case.
“The end of the West today would mean the end of any possible civilization,” the French philosopher Jacques Lellul wrote back in 1978. With all the casual blaming of America (and Israel) Homeland seems to simply accept this sad observation. The show is now covered in a creamy, politically correct sauce, hiding the freshness and flavors we used to love. It might be good for viewership and ratings. It is also morally weak. I used to love the moral clarity in the writing, as well as the realistic portrayal of the struggle with mental illness, single-mother child-rearing, and our conduct in the struggle against “violent extremism.” In an era when President Obama used that bland euphemism, Homeland called Islamic radicalism by its name. It used to be more or less aligned with President Trump’s current thinking. Now, it is backtracking to Obama’s.
The show’s sharp turn seems to be atonement for the sin of its realism in seasons 1 through 5. Patinkin said Homeland had become “part of the problem of the Islamophobia.”
Patinkin practiced good old virtue-signaling on NPR, but falling in line politically is never good for creativity and entertainment value. I sat through all 12 hours. My wife managed just under two. We used to stay up late to finish just one more episode, to see what Carrie and Quinn were up to. The once brave, dapper Quinn, is now diminished into a morally confused pile of misery. The English actor Rupert Friend is still superb as Quinn. But this time my wife started looking at her phone before 10 p.m. Then she went to bed, disillusioned by the vanishing of Carrie’s spine. With a yawn, my beloved spoke the words that every television writer should fear like the wrath of God: “I’m bored.”
In 2010, the New York writer Paul Berman, a self-described liberal, came out with an important, somewhat overlooked book, The Flight of the Intellectuals. A deeply considered broadside against cowardice of the left, he described how many thinkers have failed to grapple with the illiberal, anti-Western tendencies of Islamism. Berman compares the unwillingness to face the essential evil of communism with today’s inability to see the dangers in a faith on the march. He speaks of “a string of bumbles, gaffes, timidities, slanders, miscomprehensions and silences” from the elites in the face of a rising global Islamist movement and the expansive threat of terrorism.
The book is a gripping read, and it is more prescient than ever. Flipping through it recently, I wished Berman would turn his gaze to Season 6 of Homeland.
The disappointment among fans online — and in our house — is not about the fact that a politically correct, culturally correct show is attaching itself to the ideas of the Campus Left. What is disappointing is Homeland having changed so suddenly in the face of a bit of criticism over the last few years; in one season break, they went from Jack Bauer to Edward Snowden.
The good news is that 24: Legacy, the new Kiefer Sutherland show Designated Survivor, and Prison Break are filling the void. The jail break show is the most notable. It has come back from the grave, with most of its original cast. It, too, was a series I loved. Like many fans, I was dreading what I feared would be a lame remake on Fox. Instead, the writing is crisp. The entire original cast returns: older, wiser, a bit broken but not defeated. The gang is back together and the misery they find in the Middle East is shown in unsparing detail.
All these newcomers are doing well in the ratings. It seems that viewers like honest action that doesn’t care for safe spaces and victimhood for those inside the realm of radical Islam.
Many viewers crave face-paced shows about terrorism and the current reality of clashing cultures. A show that entertains and makes you think, while resembling reality instead of progressive dogma. They do still exist. Check them out in this order: