Homeland, season 1 (Showtime, 2011).
Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) is a determined, hardly deterred by rules CIA agent who also happens to be taking treatment for a psychiatric disorder. While involved in the War on Terror, one of her sources tells her that an American prisoner of war has been turned. Ten months later U.S. Marine Sergeant Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis) is rescued after he had been held hostage for eight years and left for dead. Following her gut, Carrie decides to put Brody under illegal surveillance as she’s convinced he’s a terrorist preparing an attack on U.S. soil.
If I have to say one thing about Homeland is that it’s cleverly written. The cliffhangers are well placed, the dialogue is natural (especially good in negotiation scenes) and mostly avoids exposition. The pace is almost perfect, never stopping, not giving away too much, not waiting too long to resolve foreshadowing, not spelling out everything for the viewer but not being unnecessarily cryptic or confusing. The good guys are flawed and make mistakes, but at the same time they’re mostly quite likable. The bad guys are human and their motivations are nuanced to go further than “we’re terrorists because we hate freedom, har har”. There are even a few instances of characters that look like stereotypes who are turned on their heads and presented as something more complicated than a sad commonplace (e.g. Prince Farid, Aileen Morgan). Despite being mostly a thriller, some run-time is devoted to the characters’ personal lives and their backgrounds. I know the show has been criticized for its portrayal of Islam and though I’m quite ignorant of it, it seemed to me that Homeland approached the topic quite carefully, both by presenting good and bad characters from different religions and backgrounds and by giving evil Muslim characters some character development, humanity and understandable motivations.
The main attraction of season one is whether Brody is a terrorist or not. And the tension is kept masterfully. For every hint that Brody is indeed a terrorist we’re given two that he actually isn’t. For every hint that Carrie is just delusional, we’re given two that she’s really on to something. Even when something looks crystal clear, you keep thinking: “but there must be more to this… the correct explanation cannot be the simplest one.” The last three episodes or so kept me jumping in my chair and fist bumping the air. I haven’t been so excited watching a TV show since Breaking Bad.
Technical aspects are okay, the only thing I hated in this area was the nauseating shaky handheld cameras that made no sense in almost every scene they happened. Everyone’s acting is natural and credible, but Claire Danes has everyone for breakfast every episode.
All in all, great experience and worth watching. Let’s see how long they keep it up, as it is very exceptional that any team of writers can keep writing this well for more than four seasons.