Words: Andrea Zanin
Illustration: Fleur Beech

Any TV show that has the confidence to dish up a protagonist who is as vastly unlikable as Carrie Mathison in Homeland’s season 4 premier deserves some respect the Aretha Franklin way – big, bold, brash and ballsy! Testosterone has tyrannised the entertainment industry for decades, both in front of and behind the cameras, but these days viewers are demanding more. Gone is the time when insipid lady loves and Stepford-style wives were enough to draw crowds.

Along with the right to vote, wear trousers and play rugby came the idea that women don’t need to settle, heralding the birth of the strong, complicated albeit lesser-spotted female character. And then there was Carrie: socially impaired by night but by day an ace, terrorist-ensnaring behavioural analyst; unreliable as a daughter, aunt, friend and lover, a rubbish employee (authority – what’s that?) but the ultimate patriot – her personified irony and consequent depth of character fits the brief.

The thing to remember about feminine prowess, however, is that it’s not always synonymous with likeability. And the truth of the matter is; we prefer it that way. There’s nothing duller than subjecting oneself to the familiarity of an I’m-sleeping-with-the-enemy-and-birthing-his-love-child (ehem!) type of tale. We want badass, manipulative, self-centered, annoying-as-crap Carrie; the Carrie who is flawed; the Carrie who got crazier just when we thought she’d used all the cray-cray up.

We root for Carrie because she’s real. The emotions arising from the conflicts she faces are recognisable

We want the Carrie who tells Peter Quinn to ‘get over it’ after killing three civilians at point-blank range in an attempt to save a fellow agent from an angry mob just before said agent is beaten to death in the street; we want the Carrie who blackmails her way back to Islamabad after being demoted; we want the Carrie who casually puts her baby’s car chair in the front passenger seat, who has no idea how to feed, change or love her baby daughter; we want the Carrie who would rather go to war than look after her child; we want the Carrie who contemplates infanticide as she submerges her baby beneath the bath water. Why? Why do we want this? Has the world gone completely mad? Are we now in the habit of championing war-mongers and child-killers?

No, that’s not it. We root for Carrie because she’s real. The emotions arising from the conflicts she faces are recognisable. It’s a matter of being inclined toward the yin part of the yang, the cloudy part of the ‘the balance’ that is intrinsic to the condition of being human. We’re looking for “the dark half”- as Stephen King so aptly put it. We seek vicarious affirmation of this so-called ‘dark half’, the ‘bad’ part of ourselves, because it is suppressed by the bonos mores of society – the expectations that keep Lord of the Flies from happening on a grand scale – and we need to vent the tension invoked by our duty to keep chaos at bay. Freud called it Catharsis – the rapid release of negative emotions by, say, screaming, hitting a pillow, breaking bottles against a wall or identifying with the trials and tribulations of TV characters – non?

Relatability, in the Carrie Mathison context, does not mean that we have contemplated murder and detested our children (good to know); rather, it’s about those moments…those moments when we’re impatient, petty, arrogant, conceited, narcissistic, sly or insubordinate. Those moments when control is lost and sanity hangs by a fine, desperate thread. Homeland’s pulpy version of life’s darkest minutes reminds us that we’re all navigating the same tumultuous landscape. Through Carrie Mathison, we get to relive the anger, the hurt, the hate, thus purging our emotional angst and in the process we realise that we’re glad we didn’t…whatever that means for you.

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