Homeland Review, Season 1, Episode 1: “Pilot”
Written by Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa and Gideon Raff
Directed by Michael Cuesta
Airs Sundays at 10pm (ET) on Showtime
The pilot of any new serialized drama is a tricky proposition. In only one hour you need to set up the characters, the premise and if, possible, the major story arc for the rest of the season or series. This can be a really difficult thing to do, but even more difficult is the hook. Homeland, the new series on Showtime, manages to do all of those important things, including the hook. In one fairly tight hour of television, Homeland establishes itself as a show with a lot of promise and even more potential.
Homeland is a conspiracy thriller about CIA agent Carrie Mathison, played by Claire Danes. When a missing Marine, Sgt. Nicholas Brody, is rescued after eight years in captivity in Afghanistan, Carrie begins to suspect that he might have been turned; that he is now a terrorist in disguise. She has very little to go on, except for a source she had who told her that a captured American had been turned at a time when America didn’t know there were any American POWs.
The main thrust of the episode is separated into two storylines. The first is Carrie’s suspicion and illegal surveillance of Brody’s home. She also has to go under the nose of her superior, Saul Berenson, played by that great (newly bearded) Mandy Patinkin. The other thread is that of Brody’s homecoming. This is where the real meat of the episode is, especially considering Carrie spends much of the episode watching it all play out on monitors. Brody is coming back to a wife who has secretly been in a relationship with one of his best friends, a daughter who’s getting into her wild tween years, and a son who has grown up never actually knowing his father. That’s a lot of potential drama for the rest of the season, and that’s not to mention any possible hints at a Manchurian Candidate-style plot afoot.
As the episode progresses we find out some things. Like the fact that Carrie is secretly taking anti-psychotic medication, for example. We also see quick flashbacks to Brody’s time in captivity, as well as him lying about the details to the people questioning him. Near the end of the episode we see him meeting with the wife of the other marine who was captured with him. She asks if Brody saw him killed, and Brody lies, telling her no. Later in the episode we see some longer versions of those flashbacks in which it’s reveal that Brody was somehow forced into beating the other marine to death. Brody also lied to Carrie in his debriefing about having seen Abu Nazir, one of the top terrorist operatives in the world. In fact, Nazir was there when Brody killed the other marine.
The danger with Homeland is that it will be 24. Now, I liked the first season of 24 quite a bit. Aside from a few missteps (coughamnesiacouch), it might be one of the best single seasons of TV ever produced. But as a whole, the series suffered from too much focus on ridiculous plotting, without much concern for the character dynamics that made that first season so excellent.
Luckily, if the first episode is any indication, Homeland is already on track to avoid this fate. The conspiracy plot might be the narrative hook for the show, but the best stuff comes from the time spent digging into the characters. Brody’s wife, Jessica, could have been a totally flat character with the simplistic affair drama carrying her, much like the wife character in The Walking Dead. Instead, Firefly’s Morena Baccarin, along with the writers, imbues Jessica with real character. There’s an emotional depth to her in each scene, and it comes through beautifully as we watch her come to terms with the return of her husband. The same goes for Damian Lewis. His performance as Brody walks a wonderful line. At the same time as we are watching him deal with returning to his old life, we are never sure if his discomfort is really because of that, or because he may be plotting something. Lewis never quite lets us in, but we can see how difficult all of it is either way.
Then, of course, there’s Claire Danes. She’s almost always great, and her performance in Homeland is no exception. She’s likeable in her desire to do her job well, but she’s also abrasive and deceitful when it’s to her advantage. Claire Danes brings life to what would otherwise be a fairly one-note and annoying character. And that’s really symbolic of Homeland overall. It ‘s a show with a fairly overdone conspiracy thriller type of story, and with characters we’ve seen before many times over, but the great care taken in putting the show together and breathing life into the characters makes it a very enjoyable watch, and extremely promising for the future.