Whose 'Homeland' Is It?


Television now has three superb series that deal with terrorism and surrounding, attendant and related issues. First, there is the brilliant BBC show MI-5, which I have touted here extensively and just wrapped up its 10th and last season in the UK (where it is titled Spooks).

Then there was Sleeper Cell, a Showtime miniseries that ran for two seasons starting in 2005. And now Showtime again offers another series, Homeland, which began airing its first season last October. Simply put, it’s a dramatic show whose quality is right up aside such masterful modern series as The Sopranos and The Wire. Its premise is based around the return home of an American Marine sergeant, Nicholas Brody, captured in Afghanistan and held by an al-Qaeda-style organization for eight years before being rescued during a Delta Force raid in Iraq. A CIA agent who was posted in Iraq, Carrie Mathison, suspects the Brody may be a sleeper agent after being warned by a top terrorist leader just before he was executed that an American POW had been “turned.” The show deals with such pressing issues as returning servicemen and their families, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, surveillance of American citizens in the war on terror, domestic politics and more alongside its basic plotline.

One of the factors that makes Homeland so compelling is Clare Danes as Carrie Mathison, the CIA counterterrorism agent. She’s come a long way from first becoming a star actress at the age of 15 in the TV cult hit series My So Called Life. Since then Danes has certainly showed her mettle as an actress in films and theatre. But Homeland truly allows her to shine. Mathison is obsessive and passionate, and also suffers from a psychotic disorder she keeps secret from the CIA and treats with medication channeled to her without prescription by her nurse sister.

Her counterpart, Damian Lewis, who plays Brody, is one of the many British actors who has shone on American cable series (a phenomenon well worth a column in and of itself).

He does a magnificent job of playing the tortured and damaged square-jawed Marine whose behavior elicits justified suspicions. And then, as he grows more suspicious becomes more likable and sympathetic. Mandy Patinkin brings the gravitas to the central characters as Saul Berenson, Carrie’s mentor at the CIA. His grizzled yet wise veteran intelligence agent forms the moral and intellectual pivot in a flawed milieu.

Interestingly, Homeland is based on an Israeli TV series, like HBO’s In Treatment. I may have serious issues with certain policies of a nation where I lived through a war, but the fact that its television has inspired such fine offshoots makes me curious about that nation’s entertainment fare.

What makes Homeland most compelling and significant is how the series makes the geopolitical personal. In all the rhetoric that is hurled around by all sides in the clash between the Muslim world and Western civilization – one that has been simmering since The Crusades – the human element is frequently overlooked and underplayed.

As the string of its initial premise plays out in the first season, it will be interesting to see where Homeland takes matters. But its first time through certainly augurs well for monumental stature.

Rob Patterson is an entertainment and political writer in Austin, Texas. Email orca@prismnet.com.

From The Progressive Populist, March 15, 2012


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