HOMELAND “Pilot” Season 1 Episode 1 – You know that saying, “save the best for last?” Well, pilot season is just about over and this is one of the last ones to make it through the gate. And that saying? Totally applicable here. Comedy or drama, this is probably the best new show of the fall, and it trumps a fair few returning shows too.
From the creative team behind 24, which even naysayers have to admit was pretty excellent up until around the first half of season five, adapted from an Israeli television show, Homeland focuses on a case of a US Marine sergeant missing in Iraq found alive, brought home as a national hero, while one lone and possibly crazy CIA analyst doubts his story thanks to some potentially faulty information she received from an informant in Iraq some years before. It’s a show which explores some of the biggest themes concerning the United States in the world today: patriotism, privacy, family, love, honour, racism, terrorism, secrecy, security. It’s a show which, from the outset of its pilot, promises a lot. And I don’t mean in, “damn, give this show a few weeks and it might be quite good”. I mean, “damn, this show is kick ass right now!”
Claire Danes plays Carrie Mathison, a CIA operative in the counterterrorism unit. She alone questions Scott Brody’s return and sets about trying to catch him: she bugs his house, follows him to park bench locations and pretty much fulfils every paranoid conspiracy nut’s nightmare, with the tentative and reluctant support of her training officer, played by Mandy Patinkin with the sort of verve and subtlety he never showed on Criminal Minds. Danes is brilliant. She’s one of the best physical actors working today, with the ability to distort her face and body into effortlessly interesting shapes, but she’s got an ability to tap into a deep well of emotions and emote while providing gleaming touches of nuance to the character of Carrie.
The writers, fresh off of the strict confines of 24 which made it insanely difficult to provide character moments, give Danes plenty to play with and Carrie is one messed up woman. She’s popping pills and seeking out one night stands, hitting on her superior just for the chance to continue spying on an American hero.
She’s exactly how you’d imagine a CIA analyst in the counterterrorism unit to be: she’s wary and nervous and unhinged, someone who knows way too much about the cogs of the world without any power to prevent bad stuff from happening. Her performance and her loose cannon character gives this show so much of its appeal: the tension, the open nerve, the panic, the doubts, the paranoia.
Not to be outmatched is Damian Lewis as Nicholas Brody. Rescued from a hellhole in Iraq where he’s been kept captive and tortured for eight years by al-Qaeda, it is the question of whether Brody has been turned which drives the plot, a question only Carrie, urged by her informant in Iraq some years ago, asks while the rest of the government is busy shaking his hand and posing for photo ops (a lovely touch, by the way, was Brody’s confession to his friends that he didn’t even know the Vice President’s name). Lewis is fantastic as always and finally seems to have a role to match his considerable talents as an actor. He plays Brody with a great amount of stillness, which is brilliantly contrasted to Danes’ physicality and suits his regimented soldier well.
His trials as he returns home to a wife whose been sleeping with his best friend, a daughter who can barely remember him and a son who doesn’t even know him give the show and his character, who could have been terribly panto and clichéd without this family dynamic, or rather, without such a fully fleshed family dynamic, a resounding heart. The writers know what they’re doing. In the pilot there is a sex scene with his wife (played by V’s Morena Baccarin, also excellent) that is so awkward and stilted and turns suddenly animalistic, violent even, that would have been tragic never mind horrific since it all plays out under Carrie’s pervasive eyes. It’s one of many powerful scenes in a pilot filled with crisp, emotional, complicated moments.
The world shown here is one that’s been lived in. This isn’t a show with a good guy and a bad guy. Carrie is not quirky or sweet. She can be a serious bitch, and she doesn’t give a crap if you like her or not. I cannot tell you how rare that quality is in a lead female on television, and how relieved I am to see it. Wonderfully directed by Michael Cuesta, it’s one of the best pilots I’ve seen in a very long time and promises a smart, engaging, taut new show.
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