A few years ago a friend of mine said this was the golden age of television. He was one of the most well read people I know. He said he spends a lot less time reading and a lot more time watching television. I was stunned to hear that. How could it be? The answer is he was right.
In the last 10 years or more, television has grown up. There is a lot of good television out there. One of the series that is among the best is Homeland. I look forward to each season with great anticipation. Now they have announced the current season, the eighth, will be its last. What a dreadful pity. But all good things come to an end. It is a greater pity when good shows run out of gas. It is pitiful to see shows lose their creative vigour and go through the motions. Well that does not happen in Season 8 of this series.
Along with The Wire, this is one of my all time favourite television series. TV as good as it gets. It has only sporadic physical action, unlike most thrillers. The thrills are cerebral. It shows that thinking is action! Thinking is exciting.
What I really like about this series involving intelligence officers from many different countries is that none of them have all the answers. Though some claim to. The series hinges on intelligence in both senses of that term. Intelligence gathering and intelligent people. Fighting mainly with their wits. That is the action adventure. Not car chases, knock down fights, or shoot-em ups. These are intelligent men and women not super heroes. Much more interesting than that.
The background for Season 8 is very real. It is actually what happened. The Americans and the Taliban try to negotiate a peace agreement to end the war in Afghanistan after 18 years. This is precisely what happened until Trump pulled the plug on those negotiations because he got mad at the Taliban. So the war continues.
In the TV series, Saul Berenson, the current Security Advisor to the American President, is trying to negotiate that messy peace agreement and he makes comment that rings home. In Episode 1 he says, “This war has lasted 18 years, cost trillions of dollars, and resulted in nearly 2,000 American soldiers dying.” Of course even more Afghans died but no one seems to care about that. Actually Saul does care. He leaves us thinking (and that is the key—thinking) for what end?
In the final season, the Americans eavesdrop on a conversation between a Taliban leader and his son who can stand up to him. The leader says, “We don’t want to end this war; we’re winning.” Saul, who overhears this, says to his associate, “That’s what we said for 18 years.”
In the series, Saul has been involved in these wars of the Middle East for decades. He knows the cost. He is weary of war. He wants the killing to end. As a result Saul sends a personal letter to a Taliban leader he personally knows and with whom he once fought on the same side. This is what it says:
“It seems like a lifetime since you and I met in the mountains. Then we fought on the same side. Now we fight as enemies using every weapon we have. Drones, suicide bombers. Killing families. Children. We are like two madmen hands around each other’s throats, unable to let go, spilling each other’s blood and treasure for 18 years. No one can win such a war. I’ve come to believe that and I think in your heart you believe that too. So I invite you to come talk to me face to face, because you and I know it is only the men with guns who can make peace. Let’s meet without guns, drones, or guards. It’s time to stop sending our young men and women to die.”
Wise words from a war-weary veteran. But of course, they must battle the extremists. They are everywhere.
All sides (there are always more than 2 in these stories) have extremists that must be controlled by intelligence. Again in both senses. It is much easier to start a war than end one. Why do extremists always seem so strong and moderates so namby-pamby? Those thirsting for revenge seem so smart, but are so far from truth. Haqqani an Afghan and Saul have a conversation:
Saul: “You’re innocent (of murdering 2 Presidents)
Haqqani: After 40 years of war no one is innocent.
Carrie Matheson is the disturbed protagonist, an American spy. Constantly fighting her own mental problems trying to balance her duty to her daughter (she is a single mom with a young daughter) and her duty to her country. One has to give. It is an uncomfortable dilemma. She is an incredibly fierce defender of her country, and her daughter at great personal risk to herself. For those goals she takes insane chances and makes insane choices.
Both Saul and Carrie have impossible choices to make. Can one betray the other to save the country? Or give up a hidden spy?
This series has the colour of truth. But it is a murky truth. There is ample corruption and chicanery on all sides. No one has a monopoly on morality or fault. There are good people and bad people but never entirely good or bad. They are seeking each other out in a world of desperation. Often truth and heaven are found in the most unlikely of places.
Evgeny the Russian spy is smart. He tells his American counterpart, “every time the Americans bomb a bunch of civilians it’s an opportunity for us. We help them rebuild.”
The American protagonists also must navigate their way through that dark world where truth is hidden and morality is as camouflaged as the soldiers. As Carries says, “I will never betray my country. I won’t do that. But between the black and white there is a lot of gray.” That is the way it is. It’s complicated. Simple answers wont’ do. Ideology cannot cut it. Intelligence is what is needed, but hard to find.
One of the finest TV series is over. I loved this series. I will miss it a lot.