In Review: Showtime's Homeland Spies a Stirring New Take on the War Hero

Beginning immediately yet coincidentally in the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks, 24 for years played with the idea of new atrocities being committed on U.S. soil. And while that Fox thriller at times put an American (if not downright presidential) face on the architects of such treason, Showtime’s Homeland compellingly boils the drama down to this: What if a celebrated American war hero was in fact our country’s next big threat? What if a jihad was led by one of us?

Showtime Boss: Homeland Hits ‘Hot-Button Issues’ Others Can’t Get Away With

Premiering this Sunday at 10/9c (following Dexter‘s Season 6 opener), Homeland in fact features two 24 alumni — Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa — among its executive producers, and their propensity to inject tension into cat-and-mouse games and even something as passive as video surveillance shines through. The drama stars Damian Lewis (of NBC’s promising yet short-lived Life) as Sgt. Nicholas Brody, a U.S. Marine who is rescued from captivity in Iraq eight years after he was presumed dead, and then receives a hero’s welcome upon his return to the States.

Emmy and Golden Globe winner Claire Danes (Temple Grandin) plays Carrie Mathison, a CIA officer who upon hearing the Brody news cannot forget the intel supplied months prior by an Iraqi man she visited abroad in prison: “An American prisoner of war has been turned.”

Is Brody that POW? Has he returned home with the most insidious of agendas? Homeland is in no rush to offer a crystal clear answer but instead confides in viewers the occasional clue that could be interpreted as damning, while Carrie is vexed by vagaries as she pours all of her resolve into proving her theory. That steely determination is undermined by the brilliant operative’s Jack Bauer-style inclination to skirt the occasional law and even fib to superiors, including longtime mentor Saul Berenson (Emmy winner Mandy Patinkin).

There’s also the none-too-small matter of Carrie secretly treating a condition not specifically identified as bipolar disorder with antipsychotic drugs she acquires on the sly — an Achilles heel that someone within her small circle soon discovers and questions.

Brody meanwhile comes home to his wife Jessica (Firefly‘s Morena Baccarin), who in the years since his “passing” found solace in the arms of his best friend and superior, Capt. Mike Faber (Men in Trees‘ Diego Klattenhoff) — and yet not with quite enough discretion to keep at least one critical person in the dark. The marrieds have two children who get pulled into the “war hero” spotlight with varying degrees of enthusiasm.

In a fall TV season that has delivered many a freshman drama saddled with an “asterisk” — Terra Nova‘s characters are too stock, Pan Am is too glossy, Person of Interest too stonefaced — Homeland quickly establishes itself to be the best of the bunch. The gravity and tension of the situation with Brody (if there is one) comes off as palpably real and never over-the-top, while the performances are nearly across-the-board aces. Danes is superb as a top-of-her-class CIA officer compromised only by her personal weaknesses, coming across at the same time whip-smart and borderline manic. Whatever Carrie’s psych issues may be, they’re dealt with deftly, such as the way she watches surveillance video of the Brodys’ more intimate moments a few seconds (OK, minutes) longer than she perhaps should. And she seems to recognize that.

As Brody, Lewis wisely plays it right down the middle, neither giving us a chest-thumping, publicity grabbing poster boy for the War on Terror nor telegraphing any of the character’s more questionable moments. He is given some very hard scenes to play — both in flashback as a tortured POW and in the present day as a man profoundly scarred by his experiences — and there’s not a false moment to be found.

Among the supporting cast, Patinkin’s Saul is sage and gruffly suffers no fools, especially when it comes to his longtime padwan Carrie, while Baccarin communicates the confused feelings of a woman who is overjoyed to have her husband home yet soon realizes — especially in an unsettling Episode 3 scene — that he perhaps has never felt so far away.

Fall TV Poll: What Will You Be Watching Sundays at 10pm?

Homeland is not perfect. Three episodes in, Klattenhoff’s Capt. Farber is given little to do besides cradle the hat of his dress greens as he covets his suddenly estranged lover. There’s an early subplot involving a Saudi prince’s (gorgeous) girlfriend-for-hire that telegraphs its punches a bit. And as with fellow newbies Terra Nova and FX’s American Horror Story, the cast of characters includes one of “those” teenage kids who seemingly exist only to bring everyone down, though Brody’s daughter Dana is not without her surprises.

But as I said earlier, in a fall season rife with new dramas that come with (sometimes crippling) caveats, Homeland is the one to make a point to check out, even on these very busy Sunday nights.

Watch the extended trailer for Homeland here, then tell us if you plan to tune in!

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25 Comments
  1. Alex says:

    A premiere I am looking forward to with a quiver in my heart. I cannot begin to say how much I adore Damian Lewis and have been waiting for his next great onslaught on our TV screens since Life was so savagely killed.

    • ESLKid75 says:

      I was a fan of Life, mostly because Lewis was so good in it… I have seen Homeland’s pilot, and I can just say: he’s even better in this!

    • Ellen in NYC says:

      I concur, I loved Life and was heartbroken when it was cancelled. I’m so glad that the powers that be were able to find a quality adult drama for Damian Lewis to return to television. (Though they seem to be pushing Claire Danes as the star; for me, it’s all about Damian Lewis. And pretty happy that Mandy Patinkin is on board too; I still miss his character on Criminal Minds.)

  2. Lisa says:

    This sounds like a really well done show so far, but haven’t you sort of just described the plot of Apocalypse Now? (Besides the whole taking place in Vietnam bit.)

  3. mdaily says:

    I caught the early advance premiere online to which Showtime treated fans and I was instantly drawn into the action, and hooked to the series. The only flaw was Baccarin’s unfortunate hair do! (*said tongue in cheek*). I plan to watch the full episode again this evening when Showtime broadcasts it in its regular timeslot. It will be a wonderful companion piece to follow the ever delightful Dexter.

  4. Phil says:

    The show’s first episode was released online for free. It’s on iTunes. The premere was very very good.

  5. maayan says:

    i’ve just finished to watch the original israeli version and the homeland premiere and i wonder how different the 2 versions are going to be, already noticed major differences. any ways the original was exelent so hopefully the american version will be as good and i’me really looking forward to this show

  6. Thom says:

    I am so looking forward to this

  7. Christina says:

    Heard this is the best of the new fall shows. Too bad I can’t watch this anywhere in Canada.

    • Plum says:

      The sneak peak of the entire pilot was on Showtime’s website; actually I got there through a link for Homeland on Hulu that linked to the pilot posted on Crackle, hope that helps.

  8. Plum says:

    Here, here, this is the best new show of the season and just so twisty good, plus it has a sterling cast in Claire Danes, Damian Lewis and Mandy Patinkin. I caught it on Showtime’s sneak peak and it was well worth watching, looking forward to seeing how this twisty little story unfolds.

    My only asterisk to the show would be that Claire Danes’ eyelashes are fierce and are giving me lash envy. I’m actully thinking a little Latisse might do me good.

  9. Christa says:

    the first episode is on showtime it was awesome! i was starting to think how are they going to make this show into more then one season then i remembered the show that is on the air before this one, Dexter, and i thought that idea would not last for 6 seasons so i leave teh shows destiny in the hands of the writers :)

  10. Ten says:

    I am so excited for this show! Honestly, I don’t know how one can put together a more pedigreed cast. Claire Danes AND Damian Lewis? Okay, if you insist…I have a feeling this show is going to hit all the right notes. Espionage, thriller, military. Finally something on my television that can fill the void BSG left.

    My personal asterisk would be that this is the fourth role I’ve seen Damian Lewis in, and in none of them does the poor guy get to use his native accent. BoB – American. Stormbreaker (possibly the most ridonk movie ever) – Russian. Life (how I adored that show…the first season anyway) – American. And now…American.

  11. Aaron F says:

    Plenty of potential if it moves fast like 24 did. I don’t know which network will screen it down here in Australia – I think it is Network 10 – but I dont think we will see it here until February.

  12. jml says:

    The first show was excellent…Claire Danes and Damian Lewis deserve Emmy’s from the first episode alone, brilliant taut fierce acting.

  13. Jamie says:

    Looking forward to Homeland and thanks, commenters, for letting me know the pilot is on Showtime. Going to go look for it now (even though I have a pile of work I was just getting ready to do staring me in the face).

  14. Keith says:

    Good show, glad that Damian Lewis is back on TV, interested to see where they go with this. That said, I can’t see this show having legs past a couple of seasons — how long can they drag it out for, and where can they go with it without a radical shift in plot (like getting rid of one of the main characters at some point)?

  15. Lauren says:

    DirecTV’s Audience network aired the pilot and I got so hooked I’m actually considering subscribing to Showtime. And I HATE paying for movie channels!

  16. Lauren says:

    AND I just realized via IMDB that Mandy Patinkin is Inigo Montoya from the Princess Bride. Whoa I didn’t recognize him at all!

    • Diane says:

      Lauren, I had to laugh at your comment because everytime he came on screen, I said, “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” LOL It never gets old to me, but based on the heavy sighs from my husband … maybe … :)

  17. Irishgirl says:

    I may have to go to a friend’s house on Sunday nights to watch it, since she has Showtime. I wanted to check it out being a big fan of Damien Lewis, Morena Baccarin, and Mandy Patinkin. I just didn’t realize that it was going to be not only so compelling, but also disturbing and uncomfortable. Damien Lewis was amazing and subtle and heartbreaking. Seeing those scenes where he’s quiet and pensive reminded me of Life and how much I miss it.

    I too wonder how long they can play out this plot without it becoming tedious. There’s only so many times we can see Carrie railing on everyone that disagrees with her after they all pack up and run after Sgt Brody only to find out he was going to the park to feed ducks or something. Oh, and speaking of Carrie, I’m wondering if we will find out that her ring was from a fiancé she had who died in 9/11, and this is why she’s so obsessive in her job now.

    Oh…and side note to Showtime…..we can do without another Claire Danes crotch washing scene. Yeesh….just sayin’…..

  18. Irishgirl says:

    Oh…I forgot to add…..since I’m a rather critical viewer…..I have issue with a few things. One, while I know it added drama to the scene, why did no one from the military inform Sgt Brody’s wife that he was alive before he cold called her from Germany? That didn’t seem right at all. And why aren’t they in therapy? Shouldn’t there have been a scene where the military was introducing them to a therapist….psychiatrist….counselor….who can help them with all the shock, transitions, and integration of Nick back into home life? Maybe these two issues were purposefully done to point out a lack of follow up with soldiers after they’ve returned from a tour? And I’m wondering how Carrie was able to hide her condition for so long, and her use of anti-psychotics? Wouldn’t there be random drug tests? Wouldn’t her medical records be available to the CIA…..especially after her stunt in Iraq which ’caused an international incident’? Granted we’ve only had one episode, so all three of these issues may be explained, but I have a hard time believing Carrie has been able to keep her condition a secret for so long. She had to have slipped up somewhere, sometime don’t you think?

    And I too am wondering if Klattenhoff’s Capt. Farber will just become the abandoned lover hovering in the background. I will admit I was annoyed with his character in the pilot and thought it ridiculously selfish of him to approach Jessica at the cookout and whine that she hadn’t called him. As someone in the military, you’d think he would realize that Jessica’s situation is rare, and she’s just trying to deal with everything. His character just bothered me a bit.

  19. Susan says:

    This so called SHOW should be BOYCOTTED! I will not be watching a show that makes us question a HERO. Bad timing and ugly idea.

    • B says:

      So you’re one of those people for whom everything is black and white? That there could never exist a situation where someone is believed to be a hero, but MIGHT (and let’s be clear, you cannot judge without watching how this is handled) have been brainwashed or turned in some way, through no fault of his own, possibly?

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