Altered States: Drugs, Bipolarity, Affect, and the ‘Killjoy’ in Homeland
Taking a longer view of Homeland than recent scholarship (Negri, 2015, pp. 125-58) this article traces the complexities of Carrie Mathison’s condition across all seven seasons of the series. This article focuses upon Homeland‘s affective domain as a structuring feature, offering a new approach to the series. Sara Ahmed’s notion of the feminist killjoy assists an exploration of Carrie’s willfulness, especially as it is filtered through the changing affective context of legitimate and illegitimate drug use. Finally, this article posits that Carrie is a new type of superhero, a kind of super-anti-hero, possessing a super-power and heroic but also complicated by her all too human sensibilities.
Homeland, spying, affect, drugs, states
The final scene of season seven of Homeland (Showtime 2010-20) takes place on a bridge as Carrie Mathison, the series’ main character and a spy working for the CIA, is delivered back into the hands of Saul Berenson, her handler and US national security advisor, in a prisoner exchange with Russia where Carrie had been held in captivity after a botched mission. Carrie has the look that viewers have come to recognize in the series: disheveled appearance, wild staring eyes, grimacing face, and lurching body movements. But this time her condition is much worse. Upon her release at the center of the bridge Carrie fails to even understand that she is to move toward her American liberators and is pushed when she hesitates. She then reels and staggers across the bridge passing Saul without recognition. With her medications for Bipolar Disorder having been withheld in captivity, Carrie has experienced a total psychological collapse in which recognizability itself has been deleted from her consciousness. The season ends as Saul strokes her hair and repeats her name while viewers wonder what will happen next.
Audiences have grown accustomed to Carrie’s precarious psychological states, which have ended in breakdown under various circumstances in Homeland. For example, she sometimes stops taking her medication to treat Bipolar Disorder in efforts to aid her spying. Once free of medication, Carrie’s condition produces heightened levels of perception and pattern recognition that allow her to identify things that others are incapable of seeing. At other times, her medication is replaced to undermine Carrie’s work, life, and national security objectives. Carrie also periodically uses her medication in conjunction with alcohol and other drugs to recklessly enhance her periodic mania. The effects of this regulated and unregulated drug use are key features of the series. However, after climaxing to dramatic effect in season four, Carrie’s bipolar condition took more of a background role in season five, and especially in season six where it surfaced only briefly and was regulated once again. In season seven, the bipolar narrative returned in its most extreme presentation yet to once again become a central plot line. Season eight, wherein Carrie no longer works for the CIA—but surreptitiously works for Saul—culminates with her infiltrating the Kremlin (through Russian spy-cum-romantic-interest Yevgeni Gromov) after yet another (real or manufactured) partnership ‘breakdown’ with Saul. While there are minor questions in season eight regarding Carrie’s mental health, in its final iteration the series refuses the connections established in prior seasons.
Taking a longer view of Homeland this article traces the complexities of Carrie Mathison’s condition at the series’ culmination rather than its initial presentation, to examine endings rather than beginnings. Such a view is able to account for how a series changes over time. In addition, this article offers a unique approach to Homeland by focusing upon affect as a structuring element, a claim which develops Emmanuelle Wessels’ argument regarding labor in the important article, “Homeland and neo-liberalism” where she asks, “who owns Carrie’s life and labour?” Wessels argues that, “[a]lthough Homeland sometimes ‘counts’ Carrie’s affective labor as work, the alienation and suffering she experiences as a result are coded as personal problems in the form of aberrant femininity and/ or mental illness” (Wessels 2016, 514). In this framework Carrie pays the personal price for her labor while the State remains the beneficiary (Wessels 2016, 517). Yet, the status of this benefit is different in Homeland and will be addressed in two ways here: first, in an unexplored approach to the relationship between Homeland and affect theory emerges, placing drug discourse at the unacknowledged and overlooked centre of the series; second, by using Ahmed’s “feminist killjoy” to consider the role of agency with regards to Carrie’s “disorder.” While Ahmed’s killjoy is a useful figure for thinking through political, subjective, and bodily states, Carrie’s body and actions mark a limit point for the concept that is examined here.
Studies of Homeland have not sufficiently attended to its affective elements. For this purpose, Sara Ahmed’s notion of the feminist killjoy—“willful women, unwilling to get along, unwilling to preserve an idea of happiness”—assists an exploration of Carrie’s willfulness (Ahmed 2014, 2) and her “unmanageable” character (Wessels), especially as it is filtered through the changing affective context of legitimate and illegitimate drug use. This article also posits that Carrie is a type of anti-hero—heroic in possessing a form of super-power but also thwarted by her all-too-human sensibilities. Such an approach advances both the study of Homeland qua series as well as the uses of affect as a theoretical framework for considering the relation between mental health and drug use, licit and illicit. Homeland matters for television studies because of its interesting and problematic framing of its female lead in the hyper-masculine field of popular culture espionage. It also matters due to its mobilization of affect, offering insight into the manners in which affect infuses popular representational forms. The “affective turn” (Clough) has only begun to be investigated in scholarly studies of popular culture. Carrie’s reliance on drugs is brought into relief here as a structuring dynamic that her own biomediated subjectivity must negotiate. In Wessels’ argument, the State has the last word regarding Carrie’s affective labor. This article also asks how the killjoy might produce spaces of agency for the subject within the frame of affective labor.
Homeland first appeared ten years after 9/11 and begins with CIA agent Mathison’s hunch that a returning US marine named Nicholas Brody had converted to Islam and was turned into a terrorist while in captivity in Iraq. Carrie must go to bold extremes to convince others in the CIA and government of Brody’s terrorist sympathies as he quickly advances through the ranks of the military and government, aided by his own victim narrative. Eventually, Carrie must save the President and his advisors from Brody’s intricately orchestrated suicide attack,in addition to averting the resulting constitutional crisis. While the Brody narrative ends with his hanging in Iran in the finale of season three, the series takes up Carrie’s heroic struggle to save the world in subsequent seasons in different ways: she becomes CIA Station Master in Kabul in season four; she briefly goes into private security in Berlin before learning of a major terror plot in season five; in season six Carrie returns to the United States to fight Alt-right domestic terrorism after a controversial presidential election, a fight which continues through season seven as the President struggles to survive a coup instigated by the Russians. In season eight, the narrative travels to Afghanistan for the series finale. In each of these circumstances Carrie must overcome immense opposition to her intuitive hunches, outbursts, and actions as she fights terrorism. The stakes could not be higher than presented in the finale of Homeland as Carrie infiltrates the Kremlin itself and secretly communicates her intent to Saul.
Through extraordinary moral virtue and patriotism, Carrie Mathison is framed as a type of superhero in Homeland. As Peterson and Park (2008) note: “Virtually all superheroes have character strengths, usually to such a degree that we can describe them as paragons of one virtue or another” (9). In addition, superheroes face moral dilemmas but overcome their own faults and misgivings to act valiantly in the face of evil. For viewers of Homeland, Carrie is recognizable within this frame as she fights global terrorism to restore order and peace. However, Carrie must also be understood as anti-heroic, making “moral compromises, often in an effort to reach a desired end or to help secure a fair conclusion” (Tally 2016, 5). Viewers witness moral compromises repeatedly in Homeland, such as in season four when Carrie seduces a young man named Aayan in Pakistan with the promise of entry into a US university. Carrie is attempting to capture his uncle, Haissam Haqqani, a top target of the CIA. Aayan is casually murdered by his uncle for the perceived betrayal but not before Carrie develops real if ambiguous feelings for him. These lapses, strategic and coincidental, occur throughout the series. Yet, it must be noted, as will be argued below, that Carrie’s anti-heroism is framed differently from her contemporaries in “TV’s Third Golden Age” (Tally 2016).
Alex Bevan (2015), in an exploration of women, mental health, and national bodies in Homeland, argues that “the mental and bodily health of Carrie Mathison become battlegrounds for the series’ overarching questions about state surveillance and citizenship” (145), adding that “[t]he series’ ongoing management of Carrie Mathison’s pathology and the government’s control over her body are also meta-interrogations of the logical fissures marking the temporality of national security” (149). For Bevan, similarly to Wessels, Carrie’s body is constantly placed under state control, like other women in quality television (e.g. Stella Gibson in The Fall and Debra Morgan in Dexter, etc.) (151), if in even more paternalistic ways, for example when Carrie is institutionalized in season three or loses custody of her child in season six. Bevan is correct to identify this coupling of pathology, gender, and national security. However, Carrie is anti-heroic in ways that are different from other contemporary figures. Her bipolar-induced intuition operates as a unique power that provides Carrie with knowledge that no one else possesses while also positioning her as a clairvoyant who leads others toward truth—although her followers always remain reticent because it is during psychological breakdowns caused by ceasing her medications that this power appears. Like many contemporary heroes, Carrie possesses a power that she must learn to use correctly while those around her learn to trust her unorthodox methods.
In her own self-perception Carrie Mathison is the only person capable of saving America from the urgent threat of global terrorism. Carrie’s ‘saviour complex’ is a central theme raised throughout the series, one important enough to be included in the opening sequence in which Carrie says, “I missed something once before. I won’t let that happen again.” Saul Berenson, her handler, responds: “It was ten years ago. Everyone missed something that day” (Homeland S1-3, E1-12). The dialogue refers to the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, which Carrie believes she alone could have prevented. A version of the sentiment returns in each season. For example, in season seven Carrie’s sister Maggie sarcastically argues, “There is a vast government conspiracy and you are the only one that can bring it to light. I know Carrie” (Homeland S7, E2). Carrie, knowing that her willfulness sounds ridiculous, still responds affirmatively. She takes the responsibility of saving the world very seriously. In this sentiment Carrie is not alone. Popular culture contains many such televisual gestures in the years since 9/11, with programs such as 24 (2001-10), The Agency (2001-03), Threat Matrix (2003-04), NCIS (2003-present), The Grid (2004), Sleeper Cell (2005-06), and The Americans (2013-18) also appearing in the American context. Even so, Carrie’s feelings of responsibility are heightened by comparison to other popular culture heroes.
In The Biopolitics of Terror Julian Reid (2006) defines “logistical life” as “a life lived under the duress of the command to be efficient” (13), a similar notion to Wendy Brown’s “practice of responsibilization,” which forces the subject “to become a responsible self-investor and self-provider… that meshes with the morality of the state and the health of the economy” (2015, 84). A body’s capacity not only to always seek “health” and to “be healthy,” but also to seek security on individual, national, and global registers, these are central preoccupations of Homeland. Bodies here fall within strict disciplinary systems but also must circulate in relation to neoliberalism’s productive responsibilization, as Wendy Brown (2015) suggests:
No longer are citizens most importantly constituent elements of sovereignty, members of publics, or even bearers of rights. Rather, as human capital, they may contribute to or be a drag on economic growth; they may be invested in or divested from depending on their potential for GDP enhancement (110).
Homeland connects homo oeconomicus to homo securitas through this investment. It is Carrie who bears (i.e. carries) this burden disproportionately. Through the feeling of being responsible for American and global security Homeland positions Carrie heroically. After feeling like she had failed when 9/11 occurred she is committed to ensuring that such events do not repeat.
In this way, a primary problematic of Homeland is affective. Affect here defines the relation of Carrie’s body to the discourses of the war on terror, with its claims on security and territory, and those of Homeland, which mobilizes melodrama as its key narrative mode. Affect is omnipresent in the series, with anxiety, fear and paranoia being crucial concerns of Homeland’s security framework. These are felt not only at the subjective level but also at that of the nation, the primary figure through which terror responses are generated. As Sara Ahmed (2014) notes, the nation is both a site and a subject of feeling, such as when we say that “a nation mourns” (13). At the same time affect is not a possession of the subject but defines a relation between objects and is a type of precursor to emotion. Ahmed writes: “Signs increase in affective value as an effect of the movement between signs: the more signs circulate, the more affective they become” (45). Along similar lines, Sianne Ngai (2005) refers to affect as an “analog amplifier” (530). For example, the figure of the stranger gains affective value as other signs attract relational “stickiness.” Being seen to not assimilate, to take jobs meant for “natives,” or to pray five times a day—to name but a few—these signs all stick to the stranger to reproduce difference and emotion. In this way affect produces “intensification” as stickiness operates to reproduce strangeness, which is figured as non-alignment with the general will. As Ahmed (2014) claims in Willful Subjects, “Through acts of association a ‘moral and collective body’ is produced” (98). Entities like the “family” and the “nation” become “straightening rods” for the subject, intent on producing willing and aligned subjects (114). Carrie’s role as a CIA agent is to ensure that this aligned body is always maintained and promoted in the face of terror. The problem for Carrie is that her own body requires drugs to maintain alignment. Carrie’s willingness is based upon her body being drugged. Her willfulness emerges most pointedly when drugs are ceased. For Carrie, drugs mark the line between the good subject and the killjoy.
Carrie Mathison possesses many of the central features of Sara Ahmed’s killjoy. In her book Living a Feminist Life (2017), Ahmed includes both “A Killjoy Survival Kit” and “A Killjoy Manifesto,” which are her most recent explorations of the idea. The essays feel like character studies of Carrie Mathison but require qualification regarding subjective fragmentation, as will be stated in the concluding remarks. In its most literal manifestation, the killjoy kills joy. Yet, Ahmed does not suggest that killing a narrow concept of joy is the killjoy’s only action. More frequently it is alignment itself that is challenged by the killjoy. A pronounced example in Homeland is that of family. For Carrie, family relations are fraught in similar ways to her other relations. Her mother abandoned the family when the children were young and they retain an uncertain connection to her as adults. Carrie seeks solace and protection from her father, but he also has bipolar disorder and remains periodically misaligned himself. Dis-ease is always in the way, upsetting their relationship over and over. Indeed, joy itself is hard to find in her family and alignment is rare—despite remaining an abiding desire for everyone. Carrie’s sister, a medical doctor who surreptitiously provides drugs to Carrie at times, is supportive but paternalistic. Always telling Carrie to settle down, to attend to her health (and take her drugs), to sleep, to be more involved in family, to reconsider her work life, Maggie seeks familial alignment and cannot understand her sister’s decisions when they upset family cohesion. Carrie’s obsessions keep her from experiencing familial alignment, always pushing her toward an unattainable goal in the series.
It is with regards to her child that Carrie’s misalignment is felt most acutely. Frannie was born after her father, Nicholas Brody, was executed for treason in Iran in the finale of season 3. Upon learning of her pregnancy Carrie experienced mixed emotions because the child represented a coveted but lost connection to Brody—whether it was in fact real love or not—and a block to Carrie’s work. Carrie failed to both tell Brody about her pregnancy and to bond with her newborn baby. Indeed, in a highly discussed scene from the season 4 premiere Carrie is seen bathing Frannie. Suddenly, Frannie slips from Carrie’s hands and her head goes under the surface of the water. Looking up from Frannie’s perspective the audience sees Carrie hesitate before saving her baby. Carrie finally recognizes her own state and lifts Frannie from the tub, Carrie’s face exposing a sense of shame as she recognizes her dilemma. Later in the episode, Carrie leaves for a new posting in Kabul and departs without saying goodbye to Frannie. These two connected scenes demonstrate Carrie’s misalignment with her role as mother. Maggie, her sister, often cares for Frannie in Carrie’s absence and later seeks custody after a particularly fraught situation in season 6 in which Frannie is removed from Carrie’s care. In order to chase a hunch, Carrie leaves Frannie in the care of Quinn, a close colleague and friend from the CIA, but who also periodically abuses drugs and is in recovery. However, when Quinn arrives he is recovering from an unintentional experience with methamphetamine that was affecting his perception still. In Carrie’s absence, a communication mix-up escalated into an armed standoff between Quinn and police in Carrie’s apartment—with Frannie present. Mistakenly, Quinn takes extreme measures to protect Frannie but instead he endangers her. Frannie is removed from Carrie’s care.
Bad parenting is not the unique purview of the killjoy. Carrie, driven by her obsessions regarding terrorism, repeatedly rejects family relationships in order to serve a higher order that is itself structured through notions of alignment. She refuses the happiness that is coded into the idea of family, and rarely—if ever—experiences anything like joy. Many of Ahmed’s principles in her manifesto for the killjoy describe Carrie’s sensibility. For example, Ahmed (2017) describes how institutions are often constructed as “promises of happiness” (257). When she rejects this promise, Carrie demonstrates that she is “willing to live with the consequences of what she is willing” (Ahmed, 257). In this sense she embodies Ahmed’s “Principle 7,” which states, “I am willing to live a life that is deemed by others as unhappy and I am willing to reject or to widen the scripts available for what counts as a good life” (264). Just as the promise of happiness contains violence, the killjoy must accept not only her own unhappiness but the unhappiness she causes, “Living a life with feminist principles is thus not living smoothly; we bump into the world that does not live in accordance with the principles we try to live” (Ahmed, 256). Drugs, particularly those used to treat Carrie’s bipolar disorder, are a critical component of Carrie’s sensibility because they alter her affective alignments. Drugs hold Carrie’s killjoy at bay. Yet, she moves in and out of alignment, at times choosing misalignment while at other times choosing the promise of happiness—temporarily. Ahmed (2017) describes this movement:
Timeout from being a killjoy is necessary for a killjoy if she is to persist in being a killjoy. Being a killjoy is not all that you are, and if you are too consumed by her, she can drain too much energy and will. Come back to her; she will come back to you: you will, she will (242).
For Ahmed, one is not a killjoy all the time. For Carrie drugs connect the killjoy and the person more than the volition that Ahmed here ascribes to the subject. In addition to Ahmed’s interesting framing of the killjoy’s temporalities, the fragmentation that accompanies the figure is important, as will be argued below. In this sense, it is important to note that drugs are not only important in Homeland because of Carrie’s medical condition. Drugs are a fulcrum around which the series is structured.
A scan of the series reveals approximately 200 instances of drugs being taken over the course of eight seasons. Apart from their physical administration, talk about drugs is ubiquitous in Homeland. Drugs are taken for a variety of reasons: alcohol is consumed regularly, and extensively for Carrie and Quinn, her CIA colleague; marijuana is regularly used by Brody’s daughter and her friends, who are underage, beginning in the first episode; several instances of hard drug use occur, including Quinn consuming methamphetamine; there are several instances of people being drugged in the series, including Brody being turned into a heroin addict while in captivity; there are instances of drugs being used for medical purposes, such as when the terrorist Hoqqani is provided medication by his nephew Aayan, mentioned above; and, there are numerous instances in which Carrie’s medications are administered to either assist or undermine her. In total twenty-two separate drugs are used in the series, including caffeine (which is mentioned only because it was being snorted), marijuana, Ativan, lithium, morphine, heroin, and numerous others ranging from soft to hard. Drugs and drug discourse are structuring features of Homeland.
Drugs influence affect by either amplifying or dampening it. In Carrie’s case, bipolar disorder medication, Lithium, dampens affect. It is in this state—medicated—that she is considered to be balanced and healthy. As Nikolas Rose (2007) notes of psychopharmaceutical drugs today, they “do not so much seek to normalize a deviant but to correct anomalies, to adjust the individual and restore and maintain his or her capacity to enter the circuits of everyday life” (210). Brain chemistry is routinely regulated and fine-tuned in modern medical practices, utilizing drugs to return the subject to the ‘normal’ state from which it had ostensibly strayed. Through psychopharmacology, disorder becomes order as the subject’s will is realigned with the general will. For Carrie, depression and mania disappear as her sensibilities are dampened by the drugs prescribed to rebalance her. Conversely, there are instances in which Carrie intentionally ceases taking her medication, and the return of affect produces many problems for her; nonetheless, the attending intensification of intuition that Carrie feels produces a state of hyper-awareness in which she is able to identify patterns where others cannot (including her other self). It is precisely the amplification of anxiety and paranoia that pulls Carrie closer to the object of her affective response and ultimately reveals the pattern that she can communicate to others. This is her power; however, it comes at a significant price.
In Willful Subjects, Sara Ahmed (2017) asks, what is the relation of the part to the whole in a social body? She argues that the reproduction of the national body relies on a “crucial mechanism,” “[t]he creation of a distinction between willing and willful parts” (128). A willing subject’s “self” aligns with the general will. To be willful means to not be aligned as required by a social body. To be identified as willful is to become a problem, Ahmed suggests:
When attunement becomes the aim, those who are not in tune or who are out of tune become the obstacles; they become the ‘non’ attuned whose clumsiness registers as the loss of a possibility. This ‘non’ is saturated: those who are assumed to cause the non-attunement become the non they are assumed to cause (51, emphasis in original).
Nothing could describe Carrie Mathison’s position more deftly. Aligned when medicated and mis-aligned when not, this is the (perhaps too convenient) binary that Carrie’s subjectivity negotiates at every stage in Homeland. Her so-called misbehavior, those actions that place her at odds with everyone but often save the day, produce intense challenges for everyone, but especially for Carrie. Yet, this is her biological self, unedited and as close to the truth of the subject as one might come. In this resides a potentially productive, if flawed, figure. Ahmed (2017) argues that willfulness is a “style of politics” that involves not only being willing to not go with the flow, but being willing to cause its obstruction (161). The killjoy is not only a block to the literal idea of joy; rather the figure challenges the very concept of subjective alignment. In this sense, the killjoy troubles consensus:
Perhaps some have ‘ways of life’ because others have lives: some have to find voices because others are given voices; some have to assert their particulars because others have their particulars given a general expression. For some, willfulness might be necessary for an existence to be possible. When willfulness is necessary another world becomes possible (Ahmed, p. 160).
Carrie’s willfulness begs to be understood in this light. As noted, she blames herself for 9/11 and vows to ensure that it is not repeated. “It was right in front of my eyes,” we hear her whisper in the main title sequence of seasons one through three, a version of which she repeats each succeeding season. The stakes are high for Carrie. The “responsiblization of the self” outlined by Brown finds its highest expression in her. Yet, for this moral economy to be successful it requires that Carrie also de-responsibilize by ceasing the very action that keeps her aligned and healthy. There is a paradox in this relationship, with drugs standing at the nexus of individual and collective health, security, and nationalism. If bipolarity here signals an incommensurable relationship between biological and neurochemical selves, then it is also Carrie’s biological self that is posited as the altered state. Without drugs she loses her affective alignment, and yet becomes the spy that best serves today’s augmented system of state surveillance. This places Carrie, and those around her, in grave personal harm, a point that the State is only too willing to capitalize upon in Homeland.
Patricia Clough (2010) argues for a biomediated body that challenges the autopoietic, that is the self-creating, self-producing, and self-knowing, character of the body-as-organism that by the nineteenth century had become the model of what a body is (207). In this she echoes Eugene Thacker (2004), who defines biomedia as:
particular mediations of the body, optimizations of the biological in which ‘technology’ appears to disappear altogether…The ‘goal’ of biomedia is not simply the use of computer technology in the service of biology, but rather an emphasis on the ways in which an intersection between genetic and computer ‘codes’ can facilitate a qualitatively different notion of the biological body—one that is technically enhanced, and yet still fully ‘biological’ (6).
If affect defines a kind of “visceral perception” that precedes perception, as Massumi suggests (cited in Clough 2010, 209), then it opens the body to indeterminacy. Clough (2010) notes, “Affect and consciousness are in a virtual-actual circuit, which defines affect as potential and emergent” (209). The oppositions that have been held in place by the body-as-organism, between the living and the nonliving, the technological and the biological, the natural and cultural, are shifting at this post-biological threshold where the dynamism of matter challenges notions of the autopoietic subject that still dominate contemporary thought (Clough 2010, 209-10). For Clough (2010) and others the body and “life itself” are better described as informational. It is constantly remediated through recombinant information, subject to “turbulence,” “bifurcation,” “emergence,” “capitalist capture,” “nomadism,” etc., in a wider field of forces, intensities, and duration (209, 216, 224). Clough states:
Biopolitical control is not the production of subjects whose behaviors express internalized social norms; rather, biopolitical control is an effect of the ‘normative’ undergoing rapid inflation, as classificatory and regulative mechanisms are elaborated for every socially recognized state of being…‘Normal’ is now free-standing, no longer the opposite and necessary complement of ‘abnormal,’ ‘deviant,’ or ‘dysfunctional,’ as it was under disciplinary power (222).
The subject of discipline has been transformed into “generic figures of affective capture” in which individuals have become “dividuals,” an idea taken from Gilles Deleuze, “statistically configured in populations that surface as profiles of bodily capacities, indicating what a body can do now and in the future” (Clough, 222). The fragmentation attending this notion is important as it emphasizes key aspects of the subject’s formation. As Judith Butler (2005) claims, any account she gives of herself begins in media res, “the norms by which I seek to make myself recognizable are not fully mine. They are not born with me; the temporality of their emergence does not coincide with the temporalities of my own life” (35). When Butler asks who this “I” is that gives an account of self, she underscores the subject’s fragmented relation to its own sovereignty.
If one considers Carrie Mathison through the frame of the biopolitical, that is not as a human with full sovereignty over the self, motivations and actions, but rather as a body that is biomediated—that coheres, organizes, and disassembles according to the circulation of affect, intensifying or stultifying as the thresholds of its capacities are experienced—then one can better understand the operations of the State upon and through her. Whether she is good or bad is less important than considering how she negotiates altered states between her biological/neurochemical selves and the State she serves. Drugs are the key to these reconfigurations in Homeland. Medication maintains Carrie’s alignment with the general will and her affective capacities supercharge her subjectivity in the interests of the will of the State when withdrawn. But the algorithm that links nomadism and control is more complex than this simple binary relation. The personal side of the equation guarantees stability so long as Carrie maintains her medicinal regimen. Her family, friends, acquaintances, and anyone with whom she has personal contact appreciate the version of Carrie that presents while medicated. It is easier. When she withdraws from medication, though, all of her relationships become challenging within a very short period of time. When this unaltered body begins to wander an argument favoring nomadism emerges. However, we must also understand, as the bridge scene in season seven so adeptly demonstrates, that the endgame for Carrie is total psychological collapse.
The State suffers from no such dilemma in Homeland. Just as it benefits in a variety of ways from Carrie’s pharmaceutically produced stability—because she is already an agent of the highest quality in the CIA—it then benefits disproportionately when Carrie is withdrawn from her medication. As her intuition is supercharged, forms of creativity and obsession drive Carrie toward her ultimate goal of ensuring that 9/11 does not repeat. But it produces great harm to Carrie as this form of value is extracted. In this she shares a common quality of the emergent contemporary hero who often must endure emotional duress, physical transformation, and/or trauma. While this form of hero becomes more complicated today, and as audiences demand more of them in the age of quality television, where will the trend lead? Carrie Mathison broke through a significant barrier regarding the role of women in the espionage genre and her accomplishments are not to be underestimated. This article has argued that affect is a primary but largely overlooked register for understanding Homeland, and that examining Carrie’s character, actions, and motivations through the lens of affect advances understanding of the series. In this context it is tempting to view Carrie’s willful wandering body as a model that frees her from constraint in the series. However, because the very moment that Carrie’s medication is withdrawn and her body begins to wander the State becomes the beneficiary of her actions in new and troubling ways, the question of the political expediency of the killjoy must be asked, as self-harm overwhelms Carrie’s subjectivity even as she is heroized through service to the State. In this sense, Carrie’s experience demonstrates a limit point.Carrie’s refusal to “just get along”—even in its most extreme expression—lands her a place at the top of Russian intelligence. This is the ultimate career accomplishment. It is Carrie’s peripatetic body that placed her there, not because she played by the rules and acted like a ‘good girl’ but precisely because she rejected her prescribed roles in family, career, and nation. With drugs marking the line between willing and willful, Carrie repeatedly acts as an agent to attain the ultimate level of spying—the hero that saves the world from terrorism. However, her path is not straight, the means are frequently unethical, her relationships suffer irrevocably, and viewers never learn whether her romantic relationship with Russian agent Yevgeny Gromov—which she has used to reach this pinnacle—is sincere. It’s probably not.
Carrie’s willfulness is always framed after the fact as the common good in the series. When issues arise for her, as Wessels (2016) argues, they are coded as personal rather than professional (512). At the same time the words of Sara Ahmed (2014) must stand as reminder of the potential of the killjoy, “When willfulness is necessary another world becomes possible” (160). One of those possible worlds is achieved as Carrie successfully fights terror and attains a position at the top of Russian Intelligence. However, while Carrie’s body is aligned with the state in fundamental ways in Homeland, what would happen if her body wandered otherwise? There is no necessary correspondence regarding the direction of Carrie’s wandering as drugs are consumed or ceased, just as there are no guarantees regarding the potential of Carrie’s presence inside the Kremlim. Yet, it must be noted that, while the State’s imperatives may remain secure and stable in its demand for her labor, this is not to suggest that Carrie’s status as a killjoy, and as an agent of change, are eradicated. Even without national and global transformation the killjoy’s work remains. The State may experience no transformation as a result of Carrie’s affective labor; however, the killjoy must continue to challenge the promise of happiness. In this sense, while change may be a goal, the work of the killjoy is often thwarted. Yet, she must carry on. Finally, Ahmed (2014) reminds readers that “widening the script” (264) may not always be an admirable objective: “We are not grateful when a system is extended to include us when that system is predicated on inequality and violence” (263).
Carrie Matheson is a complicated figure who is challenging to understand without reverting to stereotypes of women, mental health, work, family, and nation. The approach explored here refuses to overwrite Carrie’s subjective states in efforts to render her totally legible. In this sense, Carrie’s body is ultimately unresolvable as a feminist object. It will always push back. In the era of quality television, with its focus on the journeys of anti-heroes and challenging narratives it is important to explore approaches that address complexity rather than to distill objects into easily-consumable portions. The accursed share, what Georges Bataille (1988) describes as the irrational, excessive, and non-recuperable elements of an economy—much like Butler’s subject in media res—here finds alignment with affect and melodrama. Homeland retains key features of the melodrama genre and its search for moral legibility. As Elisabeth Anker (2014) suggests in Orgies of Feeling:
the felt experience of being an American comprises not only persecuted innocence and empathetic connection with other Americans’ suffering but also the express demand to legitimate state power. In these melodramas the nation’s unjust suffering proves its virtue, and virtue authorizes dramatic expressions of state action, including war and state surveillance (3-4).
Homeland, like other melodramatic series, offers freedom to those who are virtuous; however, virtue is hard-won in the series. As the late John le Carré has brilliantly observed about espionage: “We are constantly asking people to abandon what they believe in, in order to defend it” (cited in Bruccoli and Baughman 2004, 8). Capturing the dilemma that all spies must negotiate, no one suffers more for her struggles with virtue than Carrie. Anker (2014) states that the attainment of such virtue is meant to revitalize sovereignty for both subject and nation, that sovereignty can only be achieved in melodrama “after an overwhelming experience of vulnerability, powerlessness, and pain” (13). This claim must be framed slightly differently for Homeland. While the State benefits from such virtue, the heroine of the story is left in a suspended state, seeking and never attaining total virtuous sovereignty. This article claims, against the will to render the subject totally recognizable, that Carrie’s illegibility is productive. Exploring her complexity through the figures of drugs and affect assists the understanding not only of how Carrie is made meaningful in the series, but also points to the challenges of positing Carrie as figure of resistance. The killjoy resists. But not always.
Perhaps this is the ultimate point of Homeland’s final scene where Saul discovers that Carrie has made contact with him from Moscow. As he opens a book in his personal library, spurred by a secretive suggestion from Carrie, he recognizes that Carrie had discovered how he was communicating with a prior agent in the Kremlin (who had been unmasked). Saul finds a note from Carrie tucked into the binding of the book. This is not the act of the broken Carrie seen on the bridge described at the beginning of this article but Carrie at her most contained and focused. As Saul simultaneously realizes Carrie’s place, and that she is communicating as a spy making contact with her handler, the scene and series ends. The discovery suggests that audiences have not yet seen the last of Carrie and Saul, leaving viewers to speculate about both the new-found stability Carrie experiences as she infiltrates Russian intelligence, and, more importantly, what lines of flight Carrie’s wandering willfulness will take in the future.
- Ahmed, S. (2017). Living a Feminist Life. Durham and London: Duke University Press.
- Ahmed, S. (2014). Willful Subjects. Durham and London: Duke University Press.
- Anker, E. (2014). Orgies of Feeling: Melodrama and the Politics of Freedom. Durham and London: Duke University Press.
- Bataille, G. (1988). The Accursed Share. Princeton,: Zone Books.
- Bevin, A. (2015). The National Body, Women, and Mental Health in Homeland. Cinema Journal: The Journal of the Society for Cinema and Media Studies. 54(4), pp. 145-51.
- Brown, W. (2015). Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism’s Stealth Revolution. New York: Zone Books.
- Bruccoli, M. and Judith B., eds. (2004). Conversations with John le Carré. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi.
- Butler, J. (2005). Giving an Account of Oneself. New York: Fordham University Press.
- Clough, P. (2010). The Affective Turn: Political Economy, Biomedia, and Bodies. In: Gregg, M. and Gregory Seigworth. Eds. The Affect Theory Reader. Durham and London: Duke University Press, pp. 206-25.
- Crutchley, L. (2004). The Fictional World of Espionage. In: Bruccoli, M. and Judith Baughman. Eds. Conversations with John le Carré. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, pp. 6-9.
- Homeland. (2010-20). Showtime.
- Ndalianis, A. (2009). Comic Book Superheroes: An Introduction. In: Ndalianis, A. Ed. The Contemporary Comic Book Superhero. New York and London: Routledge, pp. 5-15.
- Negri, D. and Jorie L. (2015). In Focus: Homeland. Cinema Journal 54(4). pp. 125-58.
- Ngai, S. (2005). Ugly Feelings. Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press.
- Peterson, C. and Park, N. (2008). The Positive Psychology of Superheroes. In: The Psychology of Superheroes: an unauthorized exploration. Rosenberg, R. Ed. Dallas: Benbella Books, Inc., pp. 5-18.
- Reid, J. (2006). The Biopolitics of the War on Terror: Life Struggles, Liberal Modernity, and the Defence of Logistical Societies. Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press.
- Rose, N. (2007). The Politics of Life Itself: Biomedicine, Power, and Subjectivity in the Twenty-first Century. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press.
- Swenson, K. (2013). Lifestyle Drugs and the Neoliberal Family. Pieterlen and Bern: Peter Lang.
- Tally, M. (2016). The Rise of the Anti-Heroine in TV’s Golden Age. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.
- Thacker, E. (2004). Biomedia. Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press.
- Wessels, E. (2016). Homeland and neoliberalism: Texts, Paratexts, and the Treatment of Affective Labour. Feminist Media Studies 16(3), pp. 511-26.