Catching Up On Homeland

Nov 8, 2011 by

Catching Up On Homeland

Sweet Hosanna! Quality programming is back on pay cable, folks: Showtime’s Homeland is straight-up crack-cocaine television. Its sixth episode aired this past Sunday, so I’m a little late to the party. But I’ve been taking a lot of shots to catch up.

Homeland concerns the return of a POW American sergeant from Afghanistan named Nicholas Brody. He has been held prisoner by Al Qaeda for eight years but is suddenly rescued by American troops. CIA analyst Carrie Mathison, played brilliant by Claire “Forget That I was the Star of Terminator 3 Soon, Please” Danes receives information from a soon-to-be executed terrorist informant in Iraq that a terrorist cell has supposedly turned a captured American against the United States. She immediately suspects that the rumored plant is Brody. Let the games begin.

There are many different layers working for this show. First and foremost, Claire Danes’ Carrie Mathison is a complete crazy. She pops pills, wears a wedding ring to scare off men, and has the wild, flashing eyes of a genuinely unhinged person. It’s a great performance. Damien Lewis, who plays maybe-terrorist Brody, is equally fine. He’s most recognizable as the stoic and moral Lietenant Winters from HBO’s classic miniseries Band of Brothers, and here he turns that performance on its ear. Brody is a lot like Lieutenant Winters, if Winters had severe PTSD and (maybe) a little Manchurian Candidate-esque brainwashing.

Another extra layer Homeland has in its favor is the role surveillance plays in the show. Mathison is closely observing Brody at home after illegally installing wiretaps and cameras everywhere. We see Brody’s story unfold as Mathison sees it, outside of some flashbacks to his captivity that divulge little. Is Brody actually a terrorist or is Mathison a certifiable nut? Or a little of both? We’re watching her watch him, and the way that interplay works is brilliant. We’re not really sure which one of them is crazy. I just hope the crazy one doesn’t end up being, well, the viewer.

I have two concerns with the show thus far (full disclosure: I’ve only watched the first two episodes, but I will catch up before next week’s episode and start writing weekly reviews.): Rubicon and the plight of the single-season mystery. This show, despite being on Showtime, is strongly reminiscent of AMC’s last two stink bombs, Rubicon and The Killing. Rubicon was all about government intrigue within the bureaucratic system as intelligence analysts tried to deduce whether a wealthy cabal of businessmen was behind an impending terrorist plot. It was hard to understand, and also super boring. Homeland has more than a little of Rubicon in it. (One episode this season has even been written by Rubicon‘s former show-runner. Uh-oh.) As for The Killing, the comparisons are even scarier.

How can you expect to milk an entire television series out of resolving one mystery? The Killing did it by exploring every pointless dead end and cul-de-sac in the mystery, and then ended in an insanely stupid twist. It left the viewer no closer to knowing who committed the titular killing than they were while watching the pilot. And that show was renewed for a second season. So has Homeland. Gulp. I hope this doesn’t mean what I think it means, but I’m not optimistic. We may not have any answers to Homeland‘s mysteries by the end of its first season.

Still, Homeland is better than everything else on TV right now. Watch it for the mystery, the intrigue and the solid performances. It’s too early to rush to judgment, but please steel yourself for what could be a season-ending letdown of Killing proportions. But that’s six weeks away. For now, glass half-full it and enjoy the premier thriller on television.

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