HOMELAND: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON
MOVIE: **** (out of 5)
BLU-RAY EXPERIENCE: *** (out of 5)
Claire Danes as CARRIE MATHISON
Damian Lewis as NICHOLAS BRODY
Morena Baccarin as JESSICA BRODY
David Harewood as DAVID ESTES
Mandy Patinkin as SAUL BERENSON
Studio: 20th Century Fox
BY KEVIN CARR
The only thing I had heard about “Homeland” when it started was that it was from the people who made “24,” which is one of the more exciting shows to hit the airwaves in the past ten years. However, this show is decidedly different for several reasons, the most obvious being that it airs on Showtime rather than broadcast television, which allows it to be edgier and essentially R-rated.
There are some other differences, too. Instead of being an action show, “Homeland” is more of a slow-burn drama. It’s tense, that’s for sure, but it’s not the unrelenting push that “24” was. and that’s a good thing because while “24” was a great series, it didn’t need to be duplicated.
“Homeland” follows Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes), a woman working for the CIA who is trying to track down a notorious terrorist (who is clearly a fictional version of Osama bin Laden). Carrie has her own secrets, of course, hiding the fact that she’s bipolar, because this could cause her to lose her security clearance.
After interrogating a prisoner, she learns that an American POW has been turned by Al-Queda. She suspects Sgt. Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis), who has recently been liberated from a safe house after being held and tortured for eight years. While the rest of the country sees Brody as a hero, Carrie is determined to uncover the truth about him, and she goes to dangerous lengths to do so.
The biggest strength of “Homeland” is its actors. In the hands of lesser performers, the series would quickly become trite and overly weepy. However, the powerhouse cast really holds things together. The lynchpin in this cast is Danes, who manages a wide range of emotions and motivations. She’s both alluring and terrifying. She’s obsessed and erratic, but the audience never loses faith in her, even when she does in herself.
Damian Lewis also throws down a fantastic performance as Brody who, like Carrie, shows a mosaic of feelings and thoughts. While we eventually get a look into the man’s motivations and true convictions, Lewis manages to give us a sympathetic character even when we are certain he is quite possibly a monster.
Of course, the unsung hero in the cast is Mandy Patinkin as Carrie’s CIA colleague. Patinkin has a distinguished career, and he doesn’t shy away from television. He brings a level of sadness to his role, much like he did the character of Rube in “Dead Like Me,” where he plays a similar mentor to a young and sometimes unstable female character.
The writing of “Homeland” is strong, though the series does fall into many traps that make things utterly unbelievable. These sorts of conventions worked in “24” because the series moved so fast, there was little time to question what was happening. Because of the more deliberate pacing of “Homeland,” it’s clear when the story swerves into silly plot devices and cliches. Not to go into specifics, but these moments remind me of how often the terrorists in “24” infiltrated CTU (and once infiltrated the White House itself using the same dig-a-tunnel plot device).
I had the same problems with the late-90s action film “Air Force One,” which had a great premise that was completely impossible. But like I did back then, I now suppose it’s a comforting thing that to make such a tense show work, you need Hollywood cliches. Because if this shit really does happen this way in real life, the world would be an even more terrifying place than it already is.
It’s a very different show than “24,” but it’s clear that “Homeland” operates under the same influences. It’s a powerful drama, and I’m looking forward to season two.
The season one Blu-ray comes with a short prologue to season tow, along with deleted scenes and a commentary on the pilot episode. There’s also a sizeable featurette called “Homeland Season One: Under Surveillance,” which offers some nice insights into the series and its development.