Homeland – Season 1 Review

From 24 writers Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa comes a new drama that is more brooding and psychological than anything we’ve seen from them before.  While you can see their influence in the project, Gordon and Dansa have crafted a smarter, crazier, slower paced show.  Sure, Carrie Mathison is no Jack Bauer in terms of badassness, but she is one of the most compelling, unique and realistic female television characters out there.

Slight spoilers will follow, but significant story related ones will be marked.

Homeland follows Carrie Mathison’s investigation of Abu Nazir, a prominent member of Al-Qaeda, after she is told that “an American prisoner of war has been turned”.  When United States armed forces rescue Nicholas Brody, a soldier who was missing for over eight years, Carrie believes he is the Al-Qaeda spy, and is a danger to the country.

Because so much of the plot revolves around the speculation about whether or not Brody really a terrorist, and the fact that Carrie has a mental disorder, a lot of the episodes focus on how mentally unstable the two are.  That makes the show much more psychological and slightly more interesting from a character standpoint (sadly, no Chloe-esque character), even though there is a significant pacing difference between Homeland and 24.

Image Courtesy of Showtime

As I’ve already mentioned, Carrie is bipolar, and because of that, her story is so interesting and fresh compared to that of other post-9/11 television and movies.  In the pilot, we learn Carrie lost someone on 9/11, a fiancee or husband, and ever since, she has been a wreck.  She hides her mental condition to be able to work at the CIA.  Scenes that involve her bipolar disorder are just amazing.  There are many reasons people love Homeland, the name of one of those reasons is Claire Danes.

Nicholas Brody’s story is mostly composed of flashbacks to the Al-Qaeda prison and his adjustment to life back home.  Brody doesn’t have as interesting a story until later episodes, but Damian Lewis does a great job acting as an Iraq war veteran.  Firefly and V’s Morena Baccarin stars as his wife, Jessica Brody.  On her own, Jessica seems like a trite example of an awful, bitter mother, but when Brody returns, Baccarin does manage to stay mostly original and comes off as less of a cliché.  Brody’s two children, Chris and Dana, played by Jackson Pace and Morgan Saylor respectively, are surprisingly great and bring a lot of emotion and nuance to their parts.  Sure, Dana is a druggie and Chris tries to impress his emotionally distant father, but they do a great job conveying complex emotion.  Also of note in the cast is Mandy Patinkin, who plays Carrie’s mentor Saul Berenson.  The show pays close attention to his friendship with Carrie, and it’s interesting to see where they end up because of what happens in the show.

Image Courtesy of Showtime

The reason Homeland is so successful as a psychological drama is that you never really know who’s right until the end.  Because of Carrie’s bipolar disorder, people don’t believe her theories.  Sometimes the audience doesn’t believe her either.  There’s a lot of empathy and suspense that comes from a show like this.  While there is misdirection, it’s well done, and keeps the audience on the edge of their seats.

Major spoilers below.

While the entire season is great, the finale, “Marine One”, is the standout episode.  Not only does it wrap up the entire season, but it reveals who the terrorist really was and why they became a terrorist.  The last scene with Carrie is probably the best of the season, where she figures out everything right before being put through electroshock therapy.

Spoilers end here.

Homeland isn’t the perfect drama, but the characters are so amazingly written and acted, and it succeeds in creating just the right amount of tension to keep you interested.  If you’re a fan of 24, or complex deeply psychological dramas, I’d recommend this to you.  In fact, anyone who likes drama at all should love it.

I’m giving the first season of Homeland 9.5/10.

Disagree?  Have your own opinion?  Sound off in the comments section below!

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