The “Pilot” of Showtime’s new drama Homeland premiered two days ago. The premise is this: Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis, Life, Band of Brothers), a U.S. Marine missing for eight years, is found in Iraq. Returning home, he is hailed as a hero, and his family, including wife Jessica (Morena Baccarin, V, Firefly), who has been trying to move on, rally around him. But a CIA analyst named Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes, Temple Grandin, My So-Called Life) thinks that newly-minted hero Brody might be a hidden terrorist, based on a snippet of information she gets from an imprisoned terrorist about to be executed. So it becomes her obsession to prove it. Oh, and Carrie might just be crazy.
Homeland is a fascinating character study. But of which character? Jessica, ready to move in with Nicholas’s best friend, Mike (Diego Klattenhoff, Mercy, Men in Trees), before she finds out that her husband is still alive, drops everything to support him and pretend he never left? Nicholas, who has spent years being tortured, even forced to kill his partner (Chris Chalk) with his bare hands, but then lies about it, either because he’s a bad guy, or because he just wants to forget the terrible experience? Or Carrie, who is on antipsychotics, and is illegally bugging Nicholas because of one piece of intel that may or may not be true. And even if it is, it may or may not be about him, risking her entire career and that of her mentor, Saul (Mandy Patinkin, Criminal Minds, Dead Like Me), on a hunch? All are pretty much equally intriguing.
The big question of the series? “Is Carrie right?” In the Homeland pilot episode, it appears that she is. Nicholas acts a bit funny, and she catches him in a lie. This proves nothing, and some things turn out to be coincidences. But then she discovers Nicholas’s hand ticks in a repeating pattern every time he’s on camera, as if sending a secret message. It’s enough of a straw to grasp for Saul to let her pursue it, keeping her on the job, for now, and possibly saving both of their jobs, but only if she’s right. However, could it just be a tick? Might it mean something entirely different than what Carrie thinks?
Yes, and that’s how Homeland seeks to keep viewers guessing. If the series made things so simple, few would be interested in watching it. Carrie is delusional and obsessive; there’s no arguing that. She also operates with very narrow blinders on, not really considering other possibilities once her mind is made up, which it very quickly is. This is not the makings of an intelligent, smart operative. She must once have been one, considering that, while her job is scaled back, she is not fired, and the way that Saul, a seemingly intelligent man, has trust in her. But now she is teetering on the edge of instability, and it won’t take much to push her over that cliff.
What Nicholas has been through would be a nightmare for any sane person. He lived in a hole, cut off from everything that he knows, for eight years. Whether he remains loyal to his country and profession, or whether he is turned, one can hardly blame him. The horrors he still faces through haunting memories are unimaginable. But now, not only is he away from Iraq, but he’s home. He has to readjust to family. He appears to be doing so in front of the cameras, but a tense and somewhat angry bedroom scene with Jessica shows very clearly that he does not have it all together. There are any number of reasons this could be, but, thankfully, Homeland doesn’t reveal why quite yet.
Equally jarring is Jessica’s experience. True, she lives much more comfortably these eight years. There was likely a period of deep grief, but she came out the other end intact. Now she has to reopen old wounds. She is glad to see him, but she has moved on. She tries to backtrack, putting herself back in the mindset of his wife. Not only that, but she has just as little chance of understanding what Nicholas goes through as the viewers. Less, because she doesn’t get to see the flashbacks. It’s a complicated situation under the best of circumstances, and with Carrie sure to make their lives even more difficult, these are not the best of circumstances.
Homeland is extremely gripping, and is off to an incredible start! It feels like an action show, but with little action. You won’t want to miss it, airing Sundays at 10 p.m. ET on Showtime.