After American troops raid a terrorist compound in the Middle East, they discover Sergeant Nicholas Brody (Lewis), a marine who has been missing and presumed dead for eight years. Though returning home to his loving family and a national hero’s welcome, obsessive CIA agent Carrie Mathison (Danes) isn’t so sure. Having previously received intelligence which suggested that an American prisoner of war had been turned, Carrie believes Brody is a traitor secretly working for Al-Qaeda, and together with her mentor, veteran CIA officer Saul Berenson (Patinkin), she sets out to prove it…
Despite being developed by writers known for their work on 24, Homeland isn’t another fast-paced action ride full of explosions, shootouts and interrogation torture. Okay, so some of these ingredients are present, but Showtime’s conspiracy-flavoured terrorism series is actually a superior psychological thriller, more concerned with secrets, lies and surveillance. Based on Israeli show Prisoners Of War, it’s an addictive and refreshingly intelligent story which has become a deservedly huge hit, thanks to its morish blend of tense spy thrills, compelling human drama and a riveting central concept.
Yes, for all Homeland’s numerous qualities, it’s the ambiguous mystery surrounding whether Brody has turned or not which drives and informs the series. Persuading us back and forth each episode via a number of brilliantly executed red herrings, one week we’re convinced he’s a sleeper agent and the next we’re sure he’s merely suffering post-traumatic stress disorder. It’s a fantastic core premise, and one which is explored in a number of interesting and exciting (yet utterly plausible) ways. Sure, it’s hard to see the concept stretching beyond one season (surely there’s no show once we know if he’s been turned?), yet the terrific finale simultaneously provides us with a great climax while setting up the already eagerly-awaited second season in a surprisingly credible manner.
Elevating the drama even higher is a couple of magnificent central performances. As the man at the centre of the mystery, the always-impressive Damian Lewis offers some incredible acting throughout (see him in the bunker during the finale), at once unsettling, sympathetic and – rather crucially – impossible to pin down. Likewise, Claire Danes is outstanding as the committed CIA officer (who, in a nice twist, keeps a debilitating mental illness concealed by medication), providing further proof of her absolute quality (this writer cannot think of a better screen actress) and more puzzlement as to why her career never sky-rocketed after Romeo & Juliet. Elsewhere, the support is great from Morena Baccarin (as Brody’s wife), British actor David Harewood (doing a convincing American accent) and, especially, Mandy Patinkin (as a veteran spook), whilst it’s also great to see David Marciano (Ray from Due South!) back on a prime-time show.
A superior conspiracy thriller, Homeland is a compelling blend of tense spy thrills, moving human drama and a riveting central mystery. Now bring on season two…