Thursday, November 7, 2013

"Homeland:" Defending Dana (Sort-Of)

*Spoilers for this season of Homeland below*

Look, I'm not saying that this season - Homeland's third - is providing a particularly compelling plot the Dana Brody (Morgan Saylor) side of things. For one thing, with Nicolas Brody (Damian Lewis) on the lam now, the stories happening in the Brody family seem very tangential to what's happening in the main Carrie (Claire Danes) - Saul (Mandy Patinkin) plot. It doesn't help that Dana's subplot has mostly been about her relationship with Leo (Sam Underwood) - yeah, frickin' Leo - in the aftermath of her suicide attempt. Romance has never been this show's strongest suit: the writers have done terrific work at using the fallout from relationships to drive plots forward, but the romance itself is usually stale and distracting.

Homeland, of course, is a thriller, providing a weekly dose of American espionage that also tackles current geopolitical issues. But at its heart, it's also a show about mental illness and how it affects both the afflicted and those around them. The obvious example here is Carrie, who suffers from bipolar disorder that affects her work and her judgment. This season even hinges on the idea of her being "crazy" and "unstable" being both an asset and a liability to the CIA.

Dana, then, gives us another example of mental illness with her depression. As someone who has suffered from depression for over a decade now, I appreciate the show sticking with her and presenting the illness in a way that's both nuanced and incredibly honest. In particular, I'm thinking of the scene in the season's second episode, "Uh…Oh…Ah…," where, after bringing her home after she snuck out the night before, Dana skulks off to her room as her mother, Jess (Morena Baccarin), exasperatedly asks if her suicide attempt and subsequent behavior was a cry for attention. Dana leads her to the now-remodeled bathroom where she had slit her wrists and explains why.

"I wasn't looking for attention…It wasn't a cry for help, what I did. I didn't want anyone's attention. I wanted to kill myself. I wanted it all to be over, and I wanted to die because I could not stand it anymore. But now I can. Now I want to be alive…Right now, at this moment, I want to be alive."
That struck a chord with me. I know how that feels. And I was floored that the show had allowed Dana to give such a startlingly honest explanation for how she felt then and how she feels now. When you take yourself to the edge like that, it's devastating. If you don't succeed, you really do come to appreciate life more. It doesn't necessarily take a Leo (god, Leo) to make you "want to be alive." But, even if the depression lingers, it does become much more difficult to go back to that place. At least, that's been my experience.

Ultimately, Dana's young, confused, and deeply hurt. So yeah, she's probably going to make poor relationship choices (again, Leo) and other awful decisions - those photos she took of herself earlier this season are surely going to come back around before it's all over. I don't think her current young-love subplot is what the show should be concerning itself with right now. But for the moments when Dana confronts her depression…as she says in the same episode, it's having someone who understands you. There aren't many shows on television that are dealing with depression, so to have Homeland do so with such honesty and panache, Dana - and the show - get my respect.

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