Homeland: An Over(re)view

 

Homeland: An over-review

            Showtime’s National-Security thriller, “Homeland”, is a Monster.  It’s intense, cerebral, nerve-wracking, absorbing and addictive.  It’s just the kind of stuff we like.  Claire Danes is either a genius or the world’s most egregious over-actor since Adolph Hitler.  Her eyes bug out of her head.  She gives Bipolar Disorder a new public face.  Her gaze darts everywhere in fits of paranoia.  Claire is sensing the facts as they are: everyone is out to get her.  Playing CIA analyst Carrie Mathison, she’s in disgrace.  The agency to which she is devoted, the CIA, is also in disgrace, thanks to flubs, fumbles, the 9/11 disaster and political turf wars. Carrie’s the scapegoat.  Everyone in the Intelligence community knows she’s a nut case.  The thing is, she’s a nut case who is RIGHT.  It takes a crazy person to identify the deeper reality.  It takes a slobbering paranoid to fit all the pieces of the puzzle together in ways that no sane person would dare.  This is a new era, a new paradigm.  The Cold War is over.  Hawkish right-wingers have spent the last decade enhancing the power of the Presidency, ditching congressional oversight and accountability.  There is political and moral turmoil. A real President is never mentioned; there is just “The President” and he is kept out of the picture. How do we handle such issues as torture, assassination, domestic surveillance and murder-by-drone? The gloves are off.  We do the expedient thing.  If we have to kill people to save an intelligence operation, we do the killing.  The operation is all-important. 

            There isn’t much ideology in “Homeland”.  The characters are mostly driven by ambition, greed and ego.  Carrie has given up trusting anyone.  She’s fallen in love with Nick Brody (played by Damian Lewis).  She doesn’t trust Brody, she’s “playing” him, but still she loves him.  She suspects that he’s an agent of Iranian Intelligence, and she’s right. Nick Brody has endured eight years of torture by the Taliban.  Now he’s a secret Jihadist.  He’s been “turned” by his captors.  He prays to Allah in his garage, out of sight of his family.  He’s the Trojan Horse who’s going to wear a suicide vest.  He’s going to blow up the political leaders of the U.S.A. in a single fiendish blast.  He’s been elected as a Congressman on the basis of his heroic persona and is now being touted as the Vice Presidential nominee for the next general election.

            “Allahu Akbar” he mutters reverently, bowing into his garage-floor prayer rug.  His sixteen year old daughter, Dana, catches him in the act.

Oops. 

She doesn’t say or do anything.  She’s confused.  She’s scared.   She wants to love her father, the father who’s been gone since she was eight, who was declared dead before his dramatic recovery from the Taliban. 

What do I know? Mandy Patinkin shrugs.

.

            Shouldn’t everyone be suspicious of Nick Brody?  But..but…he was a Marine, he survived eight years of captivity and didn’t break! He looks damn good in that uniform!  Why shouldn’t he run for Congress?  CIA sub-chief Saul Berenson is plenty suspicious.  He’s played by a wooly faced Mandy Patinkin.  He looks like the rabbi who presided over my Bar Mitzvah.  I want him to embrace me in a bear hug, I want him to smell like cigars as his beard scratches my boyhood cheeks.  He seems to be the only CIA officer who believes in Carrie’s crazed perceptions.  He’s her mentor and protector.  We, the audience, want to believe in his integrity.  When he (apparently) succumbs to external pressure and betrays Carrie, it looks like he’s been lost as the story’s only honest character.   Well, Carrie’s honest to a fault but she’s loop-dee-loo manic when she’s off her medications, which is most of the time.  She’s a dedicated operative, her life and her family are the CIA.  She’s on/again off/again with the CIA because she kept her Bipolar Disease a secret.  Yet she’s so valuable, her results so palpable that she’s allowed to remain a kind of house pet with access to most of the deep secrets.  In time she herself becomes one of the CIA’s secrets.  She doesn’t know that she’s a secret, maybe the most important secret of them all.  Well, I told you, she’s crazy!

            Damian Lewis looks like Steve McQueen.  His pursy little mouth is so McQueen.  I know, it’s irrelevant, but it drives me crazy.  I don’t know if he’s that good an actor.  I just don’t know. The important thing is that he’s good enough.  If he’s confused as Nick Brody, he damn well ought to be confused.  He went to war as a gung-ho Marine and was taken prisoner and thrown into a hole.  He spent five years in the hole and then was let out to be manipulated by arch-terrorist Abu Nazir.  It was Stockholm Syndrome with full maple syrup.  Devil-faced Abu Nazir played Good Cop on Nicholas Brody and converted him to Islam.

            How confusing would it be if you came home to a wife, two kids and a nice suburban house, masquerading as a war hero while plotting to become a Martyr to the cause of global Jihad?  Pretty damned confusing.  Damian Lewis plays confused to the point of impenetrability.  We don’t know who he is.  His aberrations are written off to PTSD.  As Congressman Brody he has access to all kinds of people and places.  How lovely for terror chief Abu Nazir, who employs a full-time suicide vest maker: the little tailor who runs a small shop in Gettysburg with a sideline in explosives.

Nick Brody before cleaning up

            “Homeland” is scary because we live in a scary world.  An all-pervasive war is being fought everywhere, invisibly.  It’s a war of computer hackers, Special Ops raids, spies, spooks, moles, rats, safe houses, cover identities, drone strikes, satellite imagery, surveillance at every traffic light and Seven Eleven.  Nothing is too far fetched in today’s world.  By creating a lead character who suffers from Bipolar Disorder, Showtime has pulled the band-aid off the wound.  Ow!  That hurts!  It’s disturbing to contemplate Carrie Mathison running around, defying orders, blowing covers, making extremely risky decisions while her “handlers” in the communications van chew the ends of their fingers with anger and frustration.  “Carrie, stop!  Get back under cover!”  Carrie doesn’t stop.  She’s off her meds.  Her judgment is impaired.  This is the kind of spook in whom our trust resides, the spook who holds the safety of our nation in her agile but deeply warped mind.  

            I don’t recommend watching “Homeland” before bed time.  We do it anyway.  We dream freaky dreams.