When Showtime announced they would be starting the new series Homeland from 24 producer Howard Gordon, the feeling was this take on US-based terrorism might borrow a little too heavily from the super heroics of Kiefer Sutherland’s Jack Bauer. Almost immediately after its premiere, however, Homeland revealed itself to be much more than a run-of-the-mill 24 clone, or anti-terrorism action program. In fact, over the course of its first season, Homeland has proven itself to be not only the best series on Showtime, but also one of the best dramas on television, period.
One of the unique aspects of the series lies in the way it explores the fragile lives and psyches of those tasked with preventing or committing an act of terrorism. All season long, the game of suspicion and betrayal between Homeland’s three leads Damian Lewis, Claire Danes and Mandy Patinkin has managed to keep the interest in their separate stories as riveting as the overall threat of an American secretly turned against his country by the very people he was tasked in protecting it from.
What makes Homeland such a success is the way it layers the mysteries surrounding the three leads and their quest in protection, redemption or possibly vengeance, by leaving its audience in the dark just long enough to build suspense – but when the lights are turned on, each reveal cleverly leaves the viewer breathlessly questioning what will happen next. Case in point: Lewis’ Nicholas Brody, as the on-again-off-again terrorist threat that at first appears to be a troubled POW brainwashed beyond recognition, is briefly freed of suspicion, only to later be revealed as the ultimate threat.
What makes the turnaround, and the Brody character so interesting is the reveal that he is coming at an act of terror from a place of love and terrible heartache.
Similarly, Claire Danes’ role of Carrie Matheson is also driven by conflict; one that is equal parts her inability to come to terms with a past failure and a battle to contain a devastating mental illness. Like Brody, Carrie could have been a textbook character with a simple, straightforward objective, but here each character is elevated not only be the stellar performances of the actors, but also through the subtle shifts brought on by the confusion, self-doubt and guilt Danes and Lewis have been given the freedom to investigate and act out over the course of this first season.
However, let us not forget Patinkin’s Saul Berenson, who levels the series out as the quietly suffering, yet dutiful CIA agent who is so driven by his work that he is unable to maintain a presence outside of it. Much like Carrie or Brody, Saul is prone to extremes, but what drives him isn’t so easily labeled as guilt, fear or vengeance. It is something unidentifiable because it lives within him. In essence Saul is the best of the characters because he is propelled by something pure; the only problem is that unlike Carrie or Brody, there is no end in sight for Saul.
Instead of exploiting the various character defaults, Homeland chooses to explore them and delve into the tattered lives of those who are bound by a need to enact some form of action – whether it be harmful, or preventative – that ultimately impels the series and makes the endgame all the more potentially powerful – regardless of the outcome.
Throughout the first season, the thrust of Homeland has been the question of Brody’s allegiance to the terrorist Abu Nazir (Navid Negahban). The answer to this question has unraveled as slowly and diligently as the terrorist leader’s plan to assassinate the Vice President of the United States William Walden (Jamey Sheridan). The most impressive part of Homeland is that, even at the onset of the season finale, entitled ‘Marine One,’ the viewer is still unsure of how the events will unravel.
The 90-minute episode is briskly paced and follows the preparations made by Brody and his supposed-dead counterpart Tom Walker (Chris Chalk) in order to strike as the heart of the US government. Meanwhile, Saul attempts to help Carrie reconcile the fact that the life she knew is effectively over, and that her concern now is to deal with her untreated disorder.
Without too much ado, Walker finds an appropriate and safe vantage point from which his portion of the strike may be carried out. Meanwhile, Brody, wearing a bomb vest, waits until Walker’s assassination of Elizabeth Gaines (Linda Purl) – meant to look like an attempt on the Vice President’s life – helps to usher Brody into an enclosed room with not just the VP, but several high ranking members of the US government.
After seeing Brody’s arrival and being chased off by the threat of arrest, Carrie finds herself seeking help from Dana Brody (Morgan Saylor) – hoping a call from her will persuade Brody from going through with the attack. Although Carrie is not there to see it, Dana does contact her father, and in one of the most riveting scenes of the season, manages to talk her father down – while remaining completely oblivious to the fact that she is doing so, or that he very nearly committed mass murder.
Back at Langley, Saul uncovers a redacted file implicating his superior David Estes (David Harewood) and the Vice President in the drone attack that killed more than 80 school children – and resulted in the current imbroglio they all find themselves in.
It is the final moments for Carrie and Brody, wherein Brody convinces Abu Nazir that his insertion into the government will be more powerful than any bomb, and Carrie’s willingness to undergo electroshock treatment that underscore the season (and the series) with new meaning. As Abu Nazir acquiesces to Brody’s suggestion he rhetorically asks “Why kill a man, when you can kill an idea?”
What the audience is left with is a tense, well-written and superbly acted 90-minute season finale that not only answers the pressing points of ambiguity and reason, but also introduces Homeland’s ability to move beyond what may have been perceived as the corner it had been painted into.
The disarming of the bomb that literally and figuratively was Nicholas Brody served to be one of the most compelling and frightening aspects of a program that is essentially an anti-terrorism thriller. Through the power of excellent storytelling, the climax became the vessel in which a more thought provoking and disconcerting act of terror may be unleashed.
Homeland has an impressive batch of creatives that managed to tell a twisting and suspenseful tale, which surprised primarily through a willingness to be upfront with its audience, instead of treating them to series of tricks and off screen dealings to undermine the story that had been told.
Howard Gordon, Claire Danes and Damian Lewis are undoubtedly going to be recognized for what was a superlative first season. Any such accolades are certainly deserved and bring high hopes for the second season of Homeland.
Homeland will return to Showtime for season 2 in the fall of 2012.