I just finished watching the first season of Showtime’s “Homeland” and the show easily lives up to the hype generated by its sweep of this year’s Emmys. Powered by strong performances by Clare Danes, Damian Lewis, and Mandy Patinkin, it provides another interesting commentary on America as the nation moves into our second decade of the post 9/11 era. (HUGE SPOILERS TO FOLLOW)
Developed by “24” writers Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa, “Homeland” replicates the tension of that ground-breaking program, but is dramatically different in its approach to terrorism. The show’s protagonist, Carrie Mathison (Danes), is not a field agent but a CIA analyst who is more Jack Ryan than Jack Bauer. Like Bauer, though, she is relentless in her desire to keep American safe at all costs, breaking protocol and laws to do so, even if she does not engage in torture in every other episode.
Echoing the original “Manchurian Candidate” (1962), the pilot begins with the return of Sgt. Nicholas Brody (Lewis), a presumed dead American soldier who was captured in the early stages of the Iraq War in 2003. Having been told by a source that the other side has turned an American POW, Mathison begins a relentless pursuit of Brody, believing that he has become an agent for Al Qaeda.
Like many recent programs such as CBS’s “Person of Interest,” “Homeland” focuses on the psychological costs of the decade-plus war on terror on those fighting it as well as the threats posed by terrorism. Haunted by her failure to foresee the 9/11 attacks, Mathison is obsessed with preventing another domestic strike. In the pilot and then again in each week’s opening credits, she tells her boss and friend Saul Berenson, “I missed something once before. I won’t…I can’t let that happen again.” He replies that it was ten years ago and that “everybody missed something that day.” Played by Patinkin, Berenson himself is so fixated on his job that it has destroyed his marriage.
“Homeland” also shows the strain the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have put on military families, who have been carrying the burden of multiple deployments in the dual conflicts over the last ten years. Like many Iraq/Afghan veterans, Brody comes home with a serious case of post-traumatic stress syndrome. Upon his return, the government tries to make Brody a popular symbol of the increasingly unpopular wars.
“Homeland,” like the latter seasons of “24,” also explores the critiques of the war on terror that have emerged as the nation has gotten further away from the attack on the World Trade Center. Brody’s disaffection with the government is crystallized by a drone attack in Iraq that results in the death of a terrorist’s son he is teaching to learn English. Now allied with the Bin Laden-like Abu Nazir, Brody wants to take revenge on the Cheneyesque vice president who ordered the attack when he was head of the CIA.
While “Homeland” offers an extreme take on the anger over the drone attacks, many have questioned their wisdom. As the US has withdrawn ground troops from the Middle East in recent years, drones have become our primary weapon in the battle against Al Qaeda and its affiliates. Still, some have questioned if the civilian casualties caused by these attacks are offsetting the gains the U.S. has made by killing terrorist leaders such as Anwar al-Awlaki, the leader of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
Season one concludes with Brody unable to follow through on a suicide bombing that would have killed the vice president as well as much of the cabinet. Nevertheless, he remains a candidate for Congress with close access to national leaders. Perhaps the arc of the show will now follow the plot of the remake of the “Manchurian Candidate” (2004), with Brody eventually running for high national office.