Reviewed by Pat Harrington
From the opening credits Homeland is unsettling. There are flashing images and voice-overs of presidents, including President Obama. The images and sounds are disturbing in the way they are juxtaposed Jazz and recorded warnings of terrorist attacks. Baby pictures, people fleeing the collapse of the Twin Towers and surreal images of the characters in mazes assault the eyes in quick succession – almost like blipverts.
Homeland is loosely based on the Israeli television series Hatufim (English: Prisoners of War) created by Gideon Raff . The first season follows Carrie Mathison, a CIA operations officer who has come to believe that Nicholas Brody, an U.S. Marine Sergeant, who was held captive by al-Qaeda as a prisoner of war, was turned by the enemy and now poses a significant threat to national security.
Homeland deals with complex psychological, political and moral issues. At the heart of the programme is the question of loyalty and betrayal. What is going on in the mind of Nicholas Brody? Has he turned against his government and people and if so why? Is he a hero, or a traitor?
Homeland doesn’t whitewash the US government. An important part of the story shows a cover-up of the deaths of scores of Arab children as a result of a drone attack gone wrong. The mistaken killing of Muslim worshipers and attempts at an FBI cover-up is also depicted. Homeland forces us to question the motivations behind decisions and the truth of statements issued by the US government. No one watching Homeland would draw the conclusion that the US government was to be trusted when propagandising about the ‘war on terror’.
It’s not entirely clear who the ‘good guys’ are in Homeland. Both sides use torture and psychological manipulation to advance their aims. In general, however, it is the CIA operatives, Carrie and Saul who we are invited to identify with. Homeland starts from an understanding of issues from a US viewpoint (however critical). It never escapes that mindset by really seeking to understand the conflict from an Arab or Muslim perspective.
Like the plot the characters are subtle and complex. The central characters of Brodiy and Carrie are damaged people. Carrie suffers from bipolar disorder and eats nothing but unflavoured yogurt and Chinese take-out. She engages in high-risk behaviour and seems to have no life outside of her job. Brody behaves erratically and seems unable to relate to his family and friends anymore after years imprisoned in a hole. It seems that they are drawn to one another. Their relationship is unpredictable and it always seems as if at any point they might become allies rather than enemies. This is just one of the many layers of tension that makes Homeland so gripping.
It’s small wonder that this season received almost universal acclaim, scoring a Metacritic rating of 91 out of 100 from 28 critics. The series won both the Golden Globe Award for Best Television Series – Drama and the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Drama Series for this season. The finale episode of season one received 1.7 million viewers, making it the most-watched season finale of any first-year Showtime series.The series also performed well in the UK, where it aired on Channel 4, with the pilot episode drawing 3.10 million viewers, and the finale drawing 4.01 million viewers.
Homeland is watched in high circles too. President Obama lists it as one of his favourite shows. He invited British actor Damian Lewis, who plays Brody, to The White House. Lewis was polite to Obama, but in a Rolling Stone interview he said, “And by the way, for all the conventional wisdom that Bush was a warmonger and hawkish and that Obama is not, that he’s more dovish — you know, he has ordered more drone strikes in his first term than Bush did in his two terms. I think by a ratio of something like every one in four days, he orders a drone strike to Bush’s every one in 10 days when he was in office. It’s obviously his preferred method of attack, you know.”
This brings home the necessity of confronting the issues raised in Homeland. If we view Homeland as passive observers deriving only entertainment we miss an opportunity and continue to drift. Only by thinking deeply about the issues raised and using this and other representations in popular culture (for example Argo) as the starting point for discussion and debate can we hope to raise consciousness. If we don’t do this the conflict will become ever more bitter and we will be condemned to generations of fear and insecurity.
• Claire Danes as Carrie Mathison, a CIA operations officer
• Damian Lewis as Nicholas Brody, a U.S. Marine platoon sergeant held by al-Qaeda as a prisoner of war for eight years.
• Morena Baccarin as Jessica Brody, Nicholas Brody’s wife.
• David Harewood as David Estes, the Director of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center. Diego Klattenhoff as Mike Faber, a U.S. Marine Captain.
• Jackson Pace as Chris Brody, Nicholas Brody’s son.
• Morgan Saylor as Dana Brody, Nicholas Brody’s daughter.
• Mandy Patinkin as Saul Berenson, the CIA’s Middle-East Division Chief. Plot
• Actors: Damian Lewis, Claire Danes, Morena Baccarin, Mandy Patinkin, David Harewood
• Format: Box set, Full Screen, PAL
• Language: English
• Subtitles: English
• Dubbed: None
• Subtitles For The Hearing Impaired: English
• Audio Description: None
• Region: Region 2 (This DVD may not be viewable outside Europe. Read more about DVD formats.)
• Aspect Ratio: 16:9 – 1.78:1
• Number of discs: 4
• Classification: 15
• Studio: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
• DVD Release Date: 10 Sep 2012
• Run Time: 651 minutes
• Clean Skin
• Semper I
• Blind Spot
• The Good Soldier
• The Weekend
• Achilles Heel
• Representative Brody
• The Vest
• Marine One