Homeland, Damian Lewis, Claire Danes PREVIEW

Brody (Damian Leiws) is damaged by his time in captivity. Pics: C4

Rating: ★★

Channel 4 Week starting 18 Feb day and time to be announced

Story: Sgt Nicholas Brody has been released after eight years of captivity in a terrorist cellar in Afghanistan. He arrives home traumatised but to a hero’s welcome. However, CIA operative Carrie Mathison is suspicious. She has information that a US prisoner has been ‘turned’, and despite not having the authority, she wants to keep Brody under surveillance.

Homeland arrives on a wave of good reviews and awards from the US, where it recently picked up best drama at the Golden Globes.

Starring Damian Lewis and Claire Danes, and made by the Emmy-winning executive producers of 24 (Howard Gordon, Alex Gansa), the opening episode certainly succeeds in delivering a thriller with ambiguous characters and intriguing twists.

Danes plays CIA agent Carrie Mathison, a driven woman whose job it is to uncover terrorist plots in the Middle East. As we meet her she is causing an international incident by bribing her way into an Iraqi prison to contact a man who is about to executed.

Damian Lewis and Claire Danes

Subsequently stripped of her role in the field, we next see her 10 months later when she has a desk job. Called into a briefing from her boss, David Estes, Carrie learns that Navy Seals raiding an Al-Qaeda safehouse in Afghanistan have rescued Sergeant Nicholas Brody (Lewis), who has been a prisoner for eight years.

Is Brody a hero or terrorist?
As Brody is welcomed home by a Vice President he can’t even name, so long has he been gone, Mathison recalls what her doomed contact Iraq told her – that an American PoW had been ‘turned’.

She suspects Brody, but doesn’t have the credibility or authority to have him bugged and followed. So is Brody a war hero or is he a traitor who is about to trigger a terrorist attack in the US? Over 12 episodes we should find out, though a second series has already been commissioned.

Homeland is skilfully set up in the opening episode, Lewis’s prisoner looks like Robinson Crusoe when he is discovered, but he is physically and mentally scarred by torture. He is a virtual stranger to his son and daughter and even his wife has moved on by sleeping with Brody’s Marine buddy.

Found – the Navy Seals discover Brody

But there is plenty of ambiguity about the hero to make the audience wonder. What happened to his sniping partner after they were captured? Why does he lie to his wife at one point? And do his flashbacks contradict his statements during his CIA debriefing?

Best actress Golden Globe
On the other hand, Claire Danes, who picked up the Golden Globe for best actress, plays a woman who has plenty of her own issues. ‘Will you behave yourself?’ asks her mentor at the CIA, Saul Berenson. A reasonable question because she is unpopular and discredited. We don’t know whether her instincts are sharper than everyone else’s, or if she’s unbalanced.

The story, loosely based on an Israeli television series called Prisoners of War, plays with some engrossing themes. How will Brody reintegrate into civilian life while dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (on his first night home he has violent sex with his wife, suggesting he has become desensitised to normal relationships). And why is Mathison’s personal life so apparently reckless?

Lewis, who like fellow old-Etonian Dominic West, seems to have convinced the Americans he is one of them, walks the tightrope between hero and villain with skill. And Danes powers between vulnerability and ruthlessness to make a suitably disconcerting protagonist.

Cast: Claire Danes Carrie Mathison, Damian Lewis Nicholas ‘Nick’ Brody, Morena Baccarin Jessica Brody, David Harewood David Estes, Diego Klattenhoff Captain Mike Faber, Jackson Pace Chris Brody,  Morgan Saylor Dana Brody, Mandy Patinkin Saul Berenson

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  1. “We don’t know whether her instincts are sharper than everyone else’s, or if she’s unbalanced.” I’m quite surprised you wrote that as that question is very clearly answered in the first episode.

    I was quite disappointed in this series and find it difficult to understand the excitement about it. I expect a thriller/drama to at least be somewhat logical, certainly within the framework of its own story. The first episode failed soundly on this point.

    How could a psychologically unbalanced person not only qualify to join the CIA, but attain a fairly responsible position? On one of her assignments, she is given “information” by someone in a desparate situation and immediately and without question believes it. How and why did she make a connection between this “information” and Brody?

    And finally, after deciding, without the approval of her employer, to spy on Brody at home, the only evidence she can find to support her bizarre theory is that Brody’s fingers twitch during a ceremony?

    This is a bloody waste of time.

  2. OK, I hold my hand up. A lot of it is far-fetched.

    I too was a bit non-plussed that the CIA is portrayed as omnipotent, but no one realises she’s on anti-psychotic medication. Oops, bit of a plot hole.

    But I quite enjoyed it. He is, of course, tapping his fingers in sequence in two video clips from his appearances on news broadcasts, and these suggest a code in the eyes of the CIA duo – who, let’s face it, probably have ‘finely honed instincts for paranoia’ written into their contracts.

    It is always hard to judge a drama on one episode. Plenty have a decent start and then descend into laughable implausibilities and plot contortions. I haven’t given up on Homeland yet.

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