So sick of disbelief syndrome

Published Dec. 15, 2012

As Homeland winds toward a promisingly explosive finale Sunday night, some critics are tied in knots over what they think are the show's outlandish plot twists and revelations.

But in watching last Sunday's episode, that stuff didn't bother me nearly as much as a typical TV convention that drives me crazy: Persistent Disbelief Syndrome. It's that setup in a show where almost no one believes the star character, despite the fact that he or she is almost always right and has a really long track record of being right.

For a while in Homeland, the writers managed to turn that formula on its ear. The lead character, Claire Danes' bipolar CIA agent Carrie Mathison, distrusted herself when her grand conclusion — that Damian Lewis' war hero Nick Brody was a sleeper agent working for terrorists — seemed wrong.

Only the viewers knew she was actually right (especially after electro shock therapy removed some of her memory). That led to delicious moments when we were sitting at home shouting at Carrie to trust herself.

Flash forward to the end of this season, and Homeland is drowning in a serious case of PDS.

Everyone, especially Carrie, now knows she was right about Brody, and he has started secretly working for the CIA. Still, the other characters, especially David Harewood's behind-covering CIA director David Estes, must doubt Carrie's instincts to create conflict in each episode.

It was Carrie, of course, who originally figured out that Brody was working secretly with Middle Eastern terrorists to try and assassinate the vice president. It was Carrie who figured out how to play Brody so he would turn on his terrorist compatriots. And last week, we saw it was Carrie who figured out that the show's Bin Laden, terrorist Abu Nazir, was hiding in an abandoned warehouse.

If you ask me, the show's most outlandish element is the way no one else makes important discoveries about the terrorists except Carrie. It's as if America's worldwide intelligence network has just one person smart enough to figure out their tactics and plans.

If you don't watch Homeland, what I've already described is enough to explain why critics say the show's outlandish plot twists are its real problem.

Still, the PDS stuff here drives me insane. It's even flavored with a bit of sexism, since there are no other high-ranking CIA agents shown who are female.

And it doesn't just happen on Homeland. This is a dynamic sprinkled through shows such as House, Psych, Law & Order: Criminal Intent and CBS' new Sherlock Holmes remake, Elementary.

By now, these characters should know the hero (or heroine) is going to figure it out. Just step back and slap on the cuffs when necessary.

But to create a sense of drama and conflict, they have to show doubt and resistance. No matter how dumb it looks.

I'm sure that feeling will nag again on Sunday, as we learn whether Estes' plan works to kill Brody and sideline Carrie's mentor Saul (the wonderfully bearded Mandy Patinkin) — the only other guy who seems to figure out anything in time.

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For the future of the show, I hope producers figure how to get over their Persistent Disbelief Syndrome. It can do serious damage if left untreated.