We’ve done quite a number of reviews here at Faceplant over its illustrious lifespan (I’m kidding, we just get hits on Tophats The Fifth Element article for no reason). Books, movies, video games….well, I’m branching out, damn it. We had never reviewed a television show! Probably because we don’t watch much TV. Hell, Tophat doesn’t even have cable and has taken to watching horrible things on Netflix instead. There isn’t much on TV I truly enjoy right now, but one new series has grabbed my attention and I’d like to talk about it here, because it deserves yours as well. That would be Showtime’s new series Homeland. It’s ostensibly about a CIA analyst attempting to discover whether or not a marine newly returned from imprisonment in Afghanistan is now working with the enemy. However, the surprising thing is how far this show is willing to go in its portrayal of how she goes about getting there.
Claire Danes plays Carrie Mathison, the aforementioned CIA analyst. She starts the show in Afghanistan as an active field agent, gathering intelligence from the locals, but quickly finds herself back in the US after causing a minor international incident by bribing her way into an Afghan prison to talk to an inmate. Carrie is portrayed as brilliant, driven, and capable…..as well as obsessed, ruthless, and possibly mentally unstable. She’s the kind of person I wouldn’t want to be, but I’m glad she’s out there fighting for us. When she talks to the inmate she bribed her way in to the prison to see, she makes the promise that she’ll protect his family in exchange for information, which he agrees too. That she had no intention of ever doing so, or any knowledge of the guys family in the first place, becomes clear quickly after. Carrie is not a knight in shining armor.
Damien Lewis, whom I absolutely loved in Band of Brothers, here plays Nicholas Brody. Brody was a marine on active duty in Afghanistan as part of a sniper team, when he and his partner vanished. Presumed dead, it’s eight YEARS later that he’s found barely alive being held captive in a terrorist safe house. We get to see Brody come home, his wife find out he’s not actually dead, meeting his young kids all over again, him trying to cope with returning to something of a normal life after years of being a POW….but all that is secondary. Carrie suspects he’s actually now working as a sleeper for the enemy, a sleeper agent who nobody would suspect. It’s a fascinating question that I’m sure will take a long time to be answered, but watching Lewis’s portrayal of Brody is riveting. Is his strange behavior (sitting in a corner for hours at a time, mood swings) just the result of his years of captivity, or something more?
The rest of the cast is strong too, in particular Mandy Patinkin as Carrie’s boss and mentor, Saul Berenson. I’m a fan of Criminal Minds and am a firm believer that the show got worse once he left it. His reputation around show business is that he’s “hard to work with” (read: kind of a douchebag) but there is no denying his prowess as an actor. Morena Baccarin (most recently seen in ABC’s V) plays Brody’s wife and arguably has the hardest role in the series. What would it be like to lose someone you loved, move on, then eight years later find them again? And not only find them again, but that they’re now vastly different from they were before? She brings that sense of weight to her character, Jessica, and never comes across as over the top about it.
What is most impressive about Homeland is just how far it will go in depicting what actually trying to gather intelligence in the world of counter terrorism must be like. Flashbacks to Brody’s time as a POW are some of the must brutal moments I’ve ever seen on television or film. Hearing him say that his partner was beaten to death is one thing, having the full details of how exactly that happened via flashback is something else entirely. Cruelty at the hands of terrorists is one thing, but it’s the flaws of the CIA agents that strike me the most. Carrie telling a source that she’s being monitored and protected 24 hours a day, when we as the audience know that isn’t true. The CIA director ordering the officer in charge of Brody’s psych evaluation to convince him to become a poster boy for the US army, his mental state be damned. No one person is more valuable than the war itself and it’s clear even from two episodes that sacrifices will most likely be made. A scene in which Carrie pleads to Berenson for more freedom to put Brody under surveillance was striking. Carrie remarked that she has to be sure, she cant’ miss a potential clue like she certainly missed something on 9/11. Berenson sighs and responds “We all missed something that day.” Is it this grim determination that now makes some of those involved feel it’s ok to lie or inflict harm to their own people? I don’t have the answer, but that the show even raises these questions is a triumph. Danes and Lewis are truly fine actors who have clearly embraced exceedingly difficult roles, and the runners at Showtime have given the creative team behind it no rules. It’s a rare combination that results if one of the most gripping shows I’ve ever watched, and that’s only two episodes in. I look forward to seeing much more.