Though often implausible and with holes in the substance of the messages it was sending out, ‘Homeland’ was an expertly executed thriller with hints of classic US Cinema.
On the 11th September 2001 the pictures broadcast around the World understandably had an immediate effect on American art, with Bruce Springsteen’s ‘The Rising’ the best example of a great album reflecting the bereavement New York City was recovering from, and both The Sopranos and The West Wing recognising the US’s new outlook on a lurking domestic threat that had taken on a new menace. Over ten years later it is the knock on effect of 9/11 that has now become a factor in contemporary drama, with Season Two of The Walking Dead giving us a clever parallel of a prisoner of war, and some the best drama from outside the US, The Killing II and The Bridge, incorporating their own angles on Terrorism and War.
Homeland is different though. It isn’t about subtle analogies that are part of a broader picture; 9/11, and the continuing War on Terror, are the centrepiece. Based loosely on an Israeli drama, Prisoners of War, Homeland is at times daft and annoyingly implausible, but it is compelling throughout. The messages it sends out are debatable, but it works because it is expertly executed as a Thriller.
The skilful development of the plot means it is hard to fully empathize with any of the characters, as the possibility of duplicity and suspicion hangs over many, threads are left dangling, and a particularly good red herring in episode five sows a seed in the viewer’s mind that is hard to shift. Even of those not in the frame, most of the characters are hardened but yet apparently hollow inside, having been beaten down by the way their lives have been shaped after years at the coalface. The lead, Claire Danes’ Carrie Mathison, still clearly has a fire left inside demonstrated by eyes that could have received an acting credit of their own, but is obsessive to the point of manic, driven on by a previous failure to prevent 9/11.
That characteristic is accentuated with the condition of her character’s bi-polar disorder, a storyline that shares the personal experience of one of the producers of the show, while cleverly becoming a central plot device in a drama that has an air of paranoia, where sanity is a lone voice in danger of fighting a losing battle against conspiring forces, which at its best has been displayed stylishly in American Cinema, from the first remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), to Arlington Road (1999), another take on domestic terror.
The first nod to Invasion of the Body Snatchers actually comes at the start, with an invasion of privacy of a family that begins with disguised removal men. The bugs and cameras are moving into a family home that leads on to the back of open land convenient for ensemble barbeques, deer hunting and mystery assignations and has a soundtrack of birdsong. The surveillance perfectly transfers the awkwardness of the agent’s voyeurism to the audience, making a strong and simple case against the idea of unjustified snooping. There are other nice touches too, such as the child of an ex-hostage playing computerized war games, that balance out some of the other less than realistic aspects the programme has to it.
It takes a stretch in the imagination to believe a supposed experience CIA interrogator would make it so easy for guards to capture her, as Carrie does in the show’s first scene, just as Damien Lewis’ Brody, who would surely have had great observation skills, can’t spot being followed by a man with a earpiece who sticks out like a sore thumb.
Lewis, like David Harewood’s David Estees, are this programme’s recipients of great parts in quality US Drama for British actors, and both have leading roles; Harewood’s Estees is recovering from a Carrie experience like other characters are recovering from War and Death, while Brody becomes the full focus of her attention further to intelligence she received while working in the field, that leads him to be the main object of her conscious after she watches him day and night.
And it is that presence in the mind that leads to a great finale, that is not diminished by other little niggles in a final episode, such as an apartment so sleek and polished it appears to have had a cleaner in despite a hostage strapped to a chair overnight, and a mobile phone signal that defies belief. Small gripes in an encompassing drama.
In under thirteen hours the story is superbly paced, and works up perfectly to a set-piece ending, using the outdoor parade just as Taxi Driver and The Godfather II, to name but two of many films, heightened the tension amongst the crowds and a carnival atmosphere.
Where Homeland struggles though is with the wider issues it tries to tackle. It comfortably blurs good and bad, highlights issues of redaction and cover-ups, and recognizes acts of war as recruiting sergeants for terror, but it never tackles Abu Nazir’ initial motive, and ignores that many of the real life Abu Nazirs are extremists of a warped ideology who exploit the poverty, ignorance and faith of the disenfranchised, just as the fascist dictators who came to power in Europe in the 1930s did in their own environment.
But ultimately Nazir, and his decision in the final episode, are just a plot device for an excellent ending which may even have had a greater impact if it were to end after one Season.
With echoes of Glory from American Cinema to Bruce Springsteen, and full of the flavour of Escape that European Travel brings, The Substantive TV Columnist Mel Gomes’ e-book ‘Glory Nights: From Wankdorf to Wembley‘ is available from Amazon and Smashwords. New, independent writing on popular culture, it is being backed by The Substantive.