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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Why I Am Desperately Trying To Catch Up In Homeland As Quickly As I Can.


As many of you know, Homeland is the new hit show that pretty much swept every big Emmy Award this past year including Best Drama. For those who don’t know, the plot is as follows: Volatile CIA agent Carrie Mathison (Emmy® winner Claire Danes) investigates and ultimately becomes obsessed with returned POW marine Nicholas Brody (Emmy® winner Damian Lewis), who she believes to be an al-Qaeda-turned terrorist after 8 years of torture and imprisonment; Brody struggles to resume his domestic life with his wife and two children whom he barely knows; and Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin) tries his best to support his bipolar protégé while pursuing leads of his own and trying to hold his crumbling marriage together.
I am currently on Season 1 Episode 9, but to say I am hooked is an understatement. As my wife can attest, I awoke dramatically from my sleep screaming something about Homeland. I’d like to share my favorite elements about the show and why by tonight I will be done with Season 1 and on my way into Season 2.

It’s an Improvement on 24
Homeland is an adaptation of the Israeli show Hatufim (Prisoners of War), and developed by two of the writers and producers of 24. Homeland is like watching “24 – Behind the scenes”. Homeland is the days, weeks, months and years that build up to that shrieking moment – that singular terrorist attack or assassination attempt.  24 was just that one day, that single moment.  Homeland is all the rich complexity that builds up to it; and it’s a frightfully entertaining. There’s certainly that familiar feeling of a ticking clock and a time bomb about to go off - but it’s the countless emotional explosions in the lives of the people involved that make the show.  In many ways 24 was all action, while Homeland is all suspense because you hold out hope that Carrie can prevent this from reaching that point where it becomes a 24-style disaster scenario.  All hell could break loose – but not yet…and that’s the genius of Homeland.

Simply It’s Unpredictable
I’m only 9 episodes in --- heading to I am sure the big final 3 episode finish and I have no idea how this is going to end. I don’t think I have felt this way since Season 1 of Damages. [See my brother’s post on Best All Time TV Seasons.] There’s mystery and suspense and carefully placed revelations about characters and motivations. The show has guts and isn’t afraid to show its cards early – but never all the cards, right?  One of my main problems with shows is the added twists, just for adding twists sake that make no sense in the story.  Homeland has somehow conquered that.  In 9 episodes, they have turned how you view Brody too many times to count ---- but yet it all makes sense. The character is so deep with motivations so intriguing that all the possibilities are so believable.  If the show proves anything…it’s that there’s no so such thing as the whole truth, motivations are a tricky thing, you can be made to feel empathy for anyone and there is always one level deeper.

“The Weekend”
Coming at just over halfway through the season, Homeland’s seventh episode, ‘The Weekend’, is simply one of the strongest single episodes in television history [clearly topic for another post]. This is the episode that made me a complete believer. This episode could easily have been a Season Finale and still been great --- but being in the middle it’s all the more powerful. If there was only this single episode, Claire Danes and Damian Lewis would still deserve to have won Best Actress and Actor, respectively.  After every episode I watch, I then read Grantland’s recap of the episode which is normally written by Andy Greenwald.  Though I enjoy his commentary --- at his loss but our gain he was on vacation the week this episode aired and Bill Simmons took over writing that episodes entry. I really don’t want to give much away --- but if you catch up and watch episode 7 then go and enjoy Simmons’ recap that provided a moment by moment commentary that matched the level and greatness of this episode.

Claire Danes / Carrie Mathison
My first encounter with Claire Danes was as Alice Marano in Brokedown Palace and I was sold.  To be honest though, sadly she hasn’t lived up to my hopes or expectations in anything else I have seen her do.  However, then came Homeland. This is truly a masterpiece --- the only similar transformation I have seen in a female character is Charlize Theron in Monster. The similarities between these two characters are actually quite strong. Most crucially, both these women are not “classic women”.  They are broken, sick, troubled, and crazy.  It isn’t often that women actors are given the ability to play such interesting and deep personalities.

To be clear --- Carrie Mathison is the most interesting character on TV, she’s amazing at her job while at the same time is absolutely crazy. She gets mood stabilizers from her sympathetic nurse sister for her personality disorder that is a secret from the CIA. She disproves the idea that female characters have to be either an icy controlled domineering woman or an emotionally unstable disaster.  Carrie Mathis is both --- she wouldn’t be as driven to stop the next horrific terrorist attack on American soil if she wasn’t both of these things.  They are what make her smart enough to follow her gut-instincts but also reckless enough to do things no sane person in her position would do to get the truth.  Here are some of Simmons’ comments on her: “She’s so crazy. I love Claire Danes on this show — one of my favorite TV characters ever. All bets are off with Claire in every scene. She’s a man-stealing, crazy-eyed, flirty, boozy, pill-popping, inappropriate drunk who also happens to be excellent at her job and our best chance to prevent the next major terrorist incident.” And on hearing that Claire forgot her psych meds, “Ohhhhhhhhhh boy. Drunk Claire is spending the weekend with Brody and she’s off her meds? I’m prepared for anything right now. They might have a threesome with a bear.”

Her quizzical stares, her girlish laugh, her tantalizing smile, her blonde hair, and that look of determination mixed with “I might have missed my meds today.”  She’s a thing of beauty. She’s scary as hell. And Claire Danes plays her to perfection.

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