Homeland Series Premiere Recap

If you've been missing "24" lately, you're in luck. It may not have any Jack Bauers or Chloes or ticking clocks, but Showtime's new drama "Homeland" is as close as we're going to get.

Homeland, starring the Emmy and Golden Globe-winning Claire Danes, as well as the incredibly underrated Damian Lewis in a political thriller that plays thoroughly on pretenses of 9/11, the Iraq war, wiretapping, terrorism, and everything else that has Americans freaked out in general these days.

The plot is as simple as you could possibly get with something like this. Nicholas Brody (Lewis) is found alive during a raid of a terrorist camp in Iraq, after having gone missing in 2003, long after he was presumed dead. He receives a hero's welcome upon his arrival in the US, the source of obvious joy among many Americans. But one CIA analyst, Carrie Mathison (Danes), isn't exactly convinced that Brody is such a hero.

Early in the episode, an informant tells her that an American POW has been turned. While the news is troubling, Mathison brushes it off as she isn't even aware of any POWs in Iraq or even Afghanistan left alive. That obviously changes when soldiers discover Brody living in a hole, which alarms Mathison and forces her into illegally wiretapping Brody's home and surveying him when he returns to American soil, against the wishes of her bosses.

Naturally, Mathison gets caught, but right as her friend and Middle-East CIA Director boss Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin) is about to give her up, Mathison notices a signal that Brody is sending every time he's on camera. As Berenson and Mathison prepare to investigate further, Brody is seen on a morning run through the streets of Washington, before he ends up right in front of the Capitol building.

But it's not all political intrigue. Beyond the wiretapping and terrorism, there are several very compelling human stories in Homeland. There is, of course, that of Sergeant Brody. Damian Lewis delivers a great performance -- something that should be expected of the English actor by now -- as a man likely torn between his allegiance to his family and the results of what happened to him while he was held hostage. While it is implied, the show never outwardly reveals whether Brody is a terrorist, and Lewis gives a subtle-enough performance to cast doubt on it.

Lewis obviously shares the screen with Claire Danes as Agent Mathison, who more than measures up to her co-star. The Emmy and Golden Globe winner knows what she's doing here, and she delivers an equally compelling performance as a tough CIA operative, who's married to her job, sticks to her guns and struggles with bipolar disorder. While she's a competent agent, her temperament is clearly a problem and begins to show to the people around her.

Beyond that, there's Morena Baccarin (Firefly, V) as Nicholas' wife Jessica. Beyond the facts that she's insanely beautiful and that I'm personally in love with her, her role in Homeland may be a breakout role for the young actress. Like Mathison and her husband, Jessica has something to hind in her relationship with Nicholas' best friend Mike (David Harewood) and the fact that after eight years, she's basically just in it for Nicholas. Baccarin's first scene is a sensual sex scene between her and Harewood. The two characters are clearly in love and exhibit passion for one another. Later on when she has sex with Nicholas for the first time, it's different. Almost as if Brody is with a prostitute and not his long lost wife.

It's nuances like that that separate Homeland from other shows like it. While there are severe political undertones that are definitely the reason anyone would be hooked into the show, what allows you to stay are the actors, the characters, the writing.

There have already been questions on how long a show like this could be sustained and remain interesting, but there are enough compelling characters and competent actors behind them to string it along for at least a little while.

We started off this review comparing Homeland to its spiritual predecessor, 24. In part, it's because two of the show's producers, Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon, worked on 24 and also because of the subject matter. But 24 was almost always about racing forward on six cylinders, about action, about twists and turns and high octane drama. While Homeland shares a lot of those elements, it does it at a pace that's much more meticulous and thought-out. The show has a point, and it's going to get there. But in order to make it through that journey, Homeland is going to make certain that we understand the characters motivations, their strengths, their flaws, and that's something rarely seen on TV anymore.

We're going to give the series premiere for "Homeland" a 9 out of 10. It's rare that a pilot is this good, this intriguing, this consuming and mesmerizing, and it truly is the result of the sum of its parts, from acting, to directing, and especially writing and pacing. But it has the potential to fall quickly if the story goes from 24 to Lost, if a hungry cable network decides to forego great storytelling and string it along further than it needs to go. The writers already have another 11 episodes to cover, so it's going to be interesting to see how they're going to handle that, and frankly, where it goes from there even. But the fact that we're already looking forward to episodes 11 and 12 and even a potential season 2 is a testament to how good of a job was done in the pilot.

Homeland is a must watch, and so far, the best new show of the season.

Comment 1
Phil T's picture

Great, great pilot.

I'm unsure as to where they're going to go with this; at first glance it seems far-fetched that they'd be able to stretch this concept into multiple seasons.