[This essay contains some spoilers for the last episode of Homeland Season 3 and the first two episodes of Season 4.]
I’ve never watched a character go from complicated to villainous in the public eye faster than Carrie on Sunday’s two-part season premiere of Homeland, which had Claire Danes’ character struggling — to say the least — with motherhood.
She was last seen pregnant with Nicholas Brody’s baby at the conclusion of Season 3. At the start of the premiere, she’s stationed in Kabul, coordinating drone strikes, while her long-suffering sister is back home caring for Carrie’s daughter.
But first, let’s back up and revisit a couple of conversations from the Season 3 finale. First, with co-worker Quinn (Rupert Friend), whose responses are weirdly similar to the rhetoric she might have gotten from a pro-life pregnancy counselor.
Carrie: I can’t be a mother. Because of me. Because of my job. Because of my… problems.
Quinn: Everyone has problems.
Carrie: I will be a great station chief. I’ll be fearless, obsessed, ruthless if I have to be. All the same reasons I can’t…
Quinn: A kid is a gift.
Later, she bluntly confides in her sister and father that she doesn’t want to be a mother and that she’s going to (presumably) give the baby up for adoption. Her sister — a mother herself —isn’t having it. “I think she’s going to ground you,” she tells Carrie. “I think you will be astonished by the love you have for her.”
This is the kind of boilerplate language childless or on-the-fence women usually get: You’ll never really know the meaning of love until you have a child, etc, etc. But… has she met Carrie? She’s bipolar, not boilerplate.
It goes without saying that absolutely nobody thought Carrie was going to be terrific at motherhood. As she herself puts it, the things that make her (sometimes) good at her job are not readily translatable to mothering: She regularly risks her life in the course of her work. She’s also living with a mental illness that occasionally rages out of control. She self-medicates — and undermedicates — in stupid ways. She can be blindingly selfish. And yes, she made the choice to keep the baby, because, as she tells Quinn, she wanted a part of (the now-dead) Brody. But since when did Carrie ever make decisions that were in her best interest?
And yet everyone around her is over the moon about the idea of her becoming a mother. I love that Homeland is going there; intentionally or not, it’s a fantastic example of how some women who really don’t have a maternal bone in their bodies are societally encouraged to do it anyway.
So cut to the second episode of the two-part premiere, in which Carrie is “recalled” to the States by Lockhart after a drone strike goes very wrong. “Look at it this way: You can spend more time with your kid,” he tells her wryly. The look of horror on her face at that remark says it all.
During the ensuing day she spends with her daughter, she fails to notice when she needs to be changed; lugs her around like an object, failing to talk to her except when she’s creepily parked out in front of Brody’s old house; puts her carseat on the front seat of the car, failing to strap it to anything; and nearly — deliberately- — lets her drown in the bath. It’s a tour-de-force of shitty mothering and a terrific episode, viscerally difficult to watch — especially that bath scene, in which I’m sure I wasn’t the only one holding my breath.
The Twitter judgment came out in full force.
“After watching the Homeland premiere, I’m declaring Carrie Mathison the official ‘Bad Mother of the Year.'”
“Carrie on #homeland in running for worst mother of year.”
“Homeland s4 eps 1 and 2 were great. Carrie is, unsurprisingly, the world’s worst mother so far. That poor baby…”
“the mother of the year award goes to anyone but carrie”
“I so wanna smack carrie for being an unfit mother”
I have yet to read one tweet saying “Did anyone listen to Carrie back when she was, like, I DON’T WANT THIS BABY. NO SERIOUSLY I DON’T.” Or “Homeland Season 4 Premiere: Drone Strikes & Postpartum Depression.”
Because everything else aside, Carrie is a walking, talking embodiment of that condition. The difference being, she was entirely upfront with everyone in her life about not wanting the baby (though it was, per Carrie’s habit of leaping first and asking questions later, when she was too far along to have an abortion).
In contrast to Carrie’s bluntness, most mothers-to-be or new moms who feel similarly have to pretend they’re loving it, fearing the stigma of being called — let’s just look back at that Twitter stream — The World’s Worst Mother.
So I’ll be very curious to see where this season takes Carrie — and her daughter. In terms of TV taboos, it doesn’t get much darker than a woman who’s devoid of motherly love.