Anytime you read a story about Showtime’s brilliant drama Homeland, you read a lot of very common adjectives. People discuss the “gripping” storytelling or “thrilling” action sequences. Still others talk about “tense” character interactions and the “brilliant” writing by show creators Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon. Though all of those adjectives are perfectly applicable to the exceptional series about to enter its sophomore season, my favorite adjective used to describe Homeland is “fearless.”
Fearlessness pervaded this show’s premiere season which garnered it massive amounts of critical acclaim and award nominations. Claire Danes attacked her role as CIA operative/crazy person Carrie Mathison with such a ferocious honesty that the Emmy race for Outstanding Lead Actress was over by late October. Damian Lewis mastered the art of playing hard to read as it was almost impossible to get a fix on Nicholas Brody for the vast majority of the season. The show did a remarkable job of displaying the complexity of the war on terror and issues of religious differences/misunderstandings between the West and the Muslim World. Neither of those things are particularly easy concepts to cover, yet the show tackled them in a way that was respectful of all groups involved while showcasing the tension that exists between all the groups involved. Plenty of people took issue with the end of the season, but it is safe to conclude that this show is better off with Damian Lewis as part of the cast regardless of the plot contrivance needed to keep him involved.
The fearlessness of Homeland continues into the first few episodes of its second season. Those fans/critics that complained at length about the ending of season one will immediately be taken by the performance of Damian Lewis. His part seems a little larger and/or broader this season, but it’s a product of having more to do this season than the previous year. He’s still a confused and conflicted man, but his position is still difficult to read. It’s a testament to Lewis that he can still convince us of the difficulties of a man in his position, when so many of us would be willing to write him off as a terrorist sympathizer at best, and a full blown terrorist at worst. To make us try to feel for a man that seems to have befriended the one group of people universally hated by most, if not all, American citizens requires outstanding writing, superlative acting, and the requisite fearlessness to pull it off. As you watch the first few episodes, you’ll be beyond thankful that Nicholas Brody didn’t blow himself up in the bunker last December.
While Lewis seems to raise his game a notch or two at the beginning of the season, Claire Danes simply picked up where she left off the previous season. A minor concern of mine was Danes’ performance. Given all of the accolades of the previous year, a lesser actress could have taken the character to an even broader place and reduce the specificity that made her character so outstanding the previous year. Fortunately for us all, Danes continues her superb, specific performance. However, one of the major differences in the first few episodes is that Danes is playing a Carrie Mathison that vacillates on the edge of sanity. The degree of difficulty is higher as you can see Carrie shuttle back and forth in her mania within the course of the same conversation. It’s yet another example of a performer at the peak of her powers. Despite the increased bouts of crazy, Carrie is still able to showcase what made her such a brilliant CIA operative at the outset of the show. While watching Danes deal with Carrie’s anxiety is riveting, it’s good to have a reminder on occasion that she is a brilliant CIA operative.
The topical nature of the program, and the outstanding performances from Danes, Lewis, and Mandy Patinkin are all well worth the price of admission, but the true brilliance of Homeland lies in its ability to attack certain motifs or ideas that most shows would be afraid to even go near. You can argue that Homeland is allowed to do it because of their location on a paid cable channel. While being on Showtime definitely helps the content, plenty of shows have popped up on Showtime, HBO, and Starz over the years, but failed to deliver on this level. Risque sex and foul language aren’t exactly on the same plane as issues like America’s military industrial complex, the war on terror, and issues of mental illness. It’s one thing to be racy, it’s all together another to be fearless.
All hail the return of the most fearless show on television: Homeland.