A marine is found in Iraq where he’s been missing, presumed dead for eight years; he returns to his family and country a hero. Carrie Mathison is a CIA operative who has reason to believe that he’s been turned and is a massive security risk. The problem is that she’s her superiors think she is unstable and paranoid, so she doesn’t tell them her suspicions for fear that they won’t believe her.
Circumstances meant I watched this in two halves with a gap of a few days in the middle. It made quite a pointed separation, because after the first half hour I was not particularly impressed, but by the end of the second half I was completely hooked.
The first half felt clunky, rather too much cheesy political speak combined with oh-so-butch military back slapping and a fair amount of paranoid CIA posturing. Basically a whole collection of cliché and stereotypes. I don’t know whether there really was a marked improvement in the second half, or whether I was just in a better mood, but when I came back to it everything felt a lot smoother and more natural, it didn’t seem to be trying so hard.
Interestingly, what I didn’t care about was the central character of Carrie Mathison. It’s not a problem with the way Claire Danes is playing her, she’s just not a particularly likeable character, all cold and ruthless, using people as she feels she needs to with a righteousness that doesn’t appear particularly justified. I kind of wanted her to be wrong and found out just so that she’d see how messed up she was. Far more interesting for me were the marine and his family, while the CIA were dealing with massive issues of national security and international terrorism, the family are dealing with the day to day issues that arise from someone coming back from the dead. It helps of course that Morena Baccarin and Damian Lewis are immensely likeable actors who underplay all the moments, making the story seem somehow smaller and more intimate – much easier to engage with.
The key question of the pilot is whether the marine is in fact a security risk or not; is Carrie paranoid or right (or both)? I’m going to hold off on spoiling how, or even if, they answer that, because I think it’s part of the fun of the pilot. What is impressive is that by the end of the first episode it didn’t actually matter – any of the options were set up well enough that I’d be interested in watching more episodes to explore it.
As I say, I enjoyed the second half of the show a lot more than the first. The disconnect was at least partially due to me spending a lot of the first half going “Oh I didn’t know he/she was in it” as a number of familiar faces appeared, but after my initial surprise I could just enjoy the performances of some of my favourite character actors – Mandy Patinkin (Criminal Minds, Dead Like Me… Chicago Hope) and David Marciano (Due South) amongst those I haven’t already mentioned. I really was pretty solidly hooked by the end of the pilot, and while I’m a bit nervous that the central character of Carrie will eventually become too irritating, I’ll definitely be giving it a few more episodes.
Homeland will air on Channel 4, but no start date has been announced.
Other reviews (both giving away much more than I have)
TV Fanatic – Homeland is the best new show of the year, and its pilot was definitely one of the best season premieres of the fall. Anchored by stunning lead performances from Claire Danes and Damian Lewis, this CIA-based Showtime series has everything you could ask for and more in regards to interesting characters, intriguing story lines, and edge-of-your seat suspense.
CliqueClack – Homeland is not going to be an easy show to watch, but that is why I’m hooked. I’m looking forward to experiencing the complex journey of these intriguing characters.