Commentary, TV

Showtime's Homeland – Smart, Brave, and Unrelenting

December 26, 2011

Showtime series Homeland wrapped up last Sunday, and as usual with me, I’m a little bit late with my commentary, but this was just a little too good to pass up.

In my earlier article on Sons of Anarchy, I remarked how television has dramatically improved over the last several years, in ways that easily match and sometimes eclipse what we get from Hollywood.

More and more, you see big name actors attached to television projects, or even big time producers and directors. One of the biggest examples of this is Boardwalk Empire, which has involvement from Martin Scorcese, and stars Steve Buscemi.

But I’m not talking about the merits of that show (as good as it is), but rather, the Claire Danes vehicle known as Homeland, about a CIA counterterrorism operative who finds herself in the middle of a terrorist plot in a post-9/11 world.

Her acting is brilliant. It is energetic, passionate, and sometimes heartbreaking. She is far above the norm from what one would expect from a leading lady, especially in television. But she not only nails this performance, but raises the bar considerably.

The acting, however, isn’t the only thing on display.

Homeland - Carrie and Saul

The story is a top notch psychological thriller. It creeps into the mind without the need to portray big action sequences or overwhelming situations (certain “torture” scenes are downplayed, for instance).

Series producers Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa are credited for the success of Fox series “24“, particularly the first 4 seasons, which are thought to be some of the better ones in the show.

And it’s not too far-fetched to compare Homeland to “24“. But that comparison is rather shallow. In Homeland, there’s no need for showmanship. There is no reliance on characters flip-flopping and impossible situations being introduced merely for dramatic effect.

The writing is smart and keeps the story intact. The suspense is continuously building. There is far less reliance on deus ex than you would find on most other shows, and the tension is hardly ever stretched toward implausibility. Oh, and I’d be hard pressed to find a series finale as ballsy as the one I had to endure. The whole final sequence left me gasping for air, even though “nothing” happened.

The writers of this series explore all angles. Heroes make mistakes. Villains are human. Fear, despair, confusion, and betrayal do not take sides.

Homeland - Wall

The series has been nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Drama Series; Danes has been nominated for Best Actress in a Drama Series; and Damian Lewis, who plays a POW veteran who has just returned home after 8 years of captivity, has also been nominated for Best Actor in a Drama Series.

I’ll refrain from giving a synopsis for those who haven’t caught it yet. Even though I’m sure it’s just a short wiki reference away, I’d recommend watching it fresh and uninhibited. Even if the subject matter doesn’t seem like it’s your kind of thing, it’s still worth trying it.

By the end of season, we’re left with more than just questions about what will happen next season, but with questions about our own ideas about loyalty, duty, loneliness, and freedom.

Footnote and spoiler alert: The season finale was hypnotic in all it offered, with seething questions about what’s to come. Yes, technically “nothing” happened, in the sense that there was no resolve. Carrie was not redeemed (to anyone but the viewer), Brody failed his mission, and things are probably going to get much worse before they get better.

Brody’s march into the bunker with vest intact was difficult to watch, and exhilarating at the same time, but his confrontation with Walker in the tunnel was quite surprising. What happened with the video SD card? Is there a mole, and who could it be? How will Brody’s relationship with his daughter develop? And WTF is up with Carrie’s shocking season denouement?  How very One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Damn!

Variety has a great interview with series creators Gordon and Gansa post-season finale. Lots of spoilers, but great info!

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  • Reply Andréa Balt December 26, 2011 at 9:32 pm

    I watched every season of 24. Sometimes for 24 hours straight. And I think Claire Danes is amazing. And I love every production that’s preceded by “psychological”. Mario, I don’t need to get hooked to a TV show right now. Why are you doing this to me?

  • Reply Mario Munoz December 26, 2011 at 9:36 pm

    Well, try to stave off watching the 1st episode as long as you can, because once you start, it’ll be nearly impossible to stop. I saw this whole series in 3-4 days or so… It is Danes’ best performance by far.

  • Reply John December 27, 2011 at 1:28 am

    Season five of 24 is generally considered its best. It’s the only season to win the Drama Series Emmy. And yes, Homeland had a pretty great first season.

  • Reply Mario Munoz December 27, 2011 at 1:36 am

    To be fair, I wasn’t much of a 24 fan, and haven’t seen all of the seasons. From what I’d heard from friends and internet perusing is that the series did fall off in the latter half (i.e., 6-7), with some citing seasons 2, 4, 5 as their favs… either way, I may actually go back to those early ones that I missed. But that’s only to hold me over for Homeland’s second… heh heh.

  • Reply Richard Sanchez December 27, 2011 at 7:09 pm

    Can’t wait for season 2 of Homeland. I for one never saw 24, but if it’s as good as this then I’m down. Clare Danes killed it in this first season.

  • Reply Spaska Gatzinska December 29, 2011 at 6:11 pm

    24 is nowhere near as good as Homeland, Richard. It’s just a blockbuster compared to Homeland.

  • Reply Spaska Gatzinska December 29, 2011 at 6:12 pm

    PS: Great job on the review, Mario! We miss you.

    • Reply Mario Munoz January 1, 2012 at 12:24 pm

      Miss you all too. But I don’t miss the weather, that’s for sure!

  • Reply Richard Sanchez December 30, 2011 at 3:28 pm

    Thanks Spaska; I guess I got that feeling from 24 in the past, and it never really drew my interest. Homeland is a lot more nuanced and tempered, it seems.

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