Jan 19, 2012

[TV] Homeland: Season 1

One of the things that I probably inherited from my father is a healthy appreciation for fiction involving the military, terrorism and that sort of thing. He was quite the military history nut with loads and loads of documentation about various battles, technical specification of vehicles and the inevitable spy thrillers and the like. And I didn't actually take all that time to read the books he had, but we did have quite a number of conversations and weird nights of watching him play Conflict: Korea or some other related strategy game.

What may have just started as a healthy appreciation for historical accounts and TV mini-series like Band of Brothers had clearly bloomed into a healthy respect for the genre. While I still don't go out of the way to find new books related to these themes or even new movies, when they do come along, I do get pleasantly entertained from time to time.

Now when this series came along, I had mixed feelings given some of the casting. But then it was already towards the tail end of a lot of the initial Fall network runs and that certainly left us with a little availability in terms of our TV-watching dance card.

But now I totally don't regret having "risked" watching this show - it has certainly paid off in spades.

Homeland is positioned as a thriller / drama series based on an Israeli TV series created by Gideon Raff entitled Hatufim or roughly Kidnapped. It was developed for US television by Howard Gordon for Showtime.

The show centers around CIA operations officer Carrie Matheson (Claire Danes). After conducting an illegal intelligence operation in Iraq, she gets assigned to the CIA's counterterrorism center at Langley. However while she was in Iraq, one of her intelligence assets revealed that an American prisoner-of-war had been turned and this knowledge both burdens her and challenges her to figure out what he meant. And in order to have TV-perfect timing, it is announced that US Marine Sergeant Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis), who has been missing in action since 2003, has been rescued from a terrorist facility in Afghanistan.

Claire Danes at MuchMusic, for the program Muc...
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The timing Carrie immediately suspecting that Brody is the POW that her asset warned about, but naturally the rest of the community is proclaiming Brody a war hero and her boss David Estes (David Harewood) will never authorize any kind of surveillance operations given his status. That leaves Carrie with the difficult decision of figuring out how to confirm or deny that Brody is the compromised POW in question while navigating the tricky politics of the CIA. And thus she finds the closest thing that she has as an ally in her former boss, Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin).

The show is a brilliant drama - one that has a taste of the kind of grueling surveillance and investigative work that CIA operatives undergo in order to find sufficient evidence to bring potential terrorist threats into custody and a lot of more personal drama too. Beyond the big plot, there's also the various issues associated with each of the characters, since people can't be perfect after all.

Of course one of the more interesting angles of the series other than the big counter terrorism investigation is the challenge for Brody to reintegrate with his family. After all, its been pretty much 8 years since he disappeared and his family has practically moved on in many ways. His wife Jessica (Morena Baccarin) is revealed to have started an affair with his best friend Mike (Diego Klattenhoff) nearly at the beginning of the show and the two quickly drop all pretenses of a relationship once Brody returns home. His daughter Dana (Morgan Saylor) is quite the feisty teenager while his son Chris (Jackson Pace) was a lot younger when he left and doesn't have as strong memories of his father. And add to the mix the fact that Brody is still dealing with all the trauma from his years of torture and captivity and you know that you have quite the emotional powder keg in the making.

Now I've had mixed feelings about Claire Danes over the years given some of her career choices and roles. As much as she started as a pretty landmark young actress with My So-Called Life, since then she's ended up in weird places that tend to reside outside my comfort zone (for lack of a better term). And I was initially skeptical about her ability to convey the full emotional range of her character - at least up until I watched the pilot episode. Then there was little question that she was fully committed to this role and her progress throughout the season has been a very impressive one.

English: A cropped picture of Mandy Patinkin p...
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And yes, the old Chicago Hope fan in me was happy to see Mandy Patinkin in a drama series like this one again. His character is a delightfully complex one - a man who clearly understands how Carrie works very well but at the same time recognizes the limitations of the system in place. He's not all gung-ho, let's charge the enemy or anything like that. He's a very cool, calm and collected individual who shows a keen mastery of interrogation, analysis and the drudgery of political maneuvering.

The core mystery of the show is a delightfully complex one and the writers did a great job of constructing the story in such a way that we're left constantly wondering whether or not Brody is in fact a sleeper agent. And even when you think you have things figured out, they make sure to pull the rug out from beneath all of us with more twists and turns that continue to make sense and don't get overly far-fetched. And that's no simple feat - I can project quite a number of sillier, perhaps more "conventional" ways to resolve a lot of the plot lines. But instead they kept the entire story nicely engaging with a rich tapestry of interconnected stories and plot twists that come together in the end.

I think the biggest challenge for the show was figuring out the second season. I mean just based on the premise, as a viewer we know that the way this show will reach fulfillment is once we determine who the terrorist is. But even after we discover who it is, there's still a lot  more questions to be addressed and perhaps a more sinister plan ahead, one that will definitely have us coming back for the second season.

Homeland is definitely one of the best new shows I've seen in a while - one that takes Tom Clancy type action and skillfully adapt it for the small screen. Thus I more than happily rate the show a full 5 rather intense moments of Carrie pushing the limits of what she can do to get her man out of a possible 5.

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