Wednesday, 12 October 2011

HOMELAND, 1.2 - "Grace"

Wednesday, 12 October 2011
What's already appealing about Homeland is how it portrays a different attitude and veracity to espionage, which is a world away from the explosive nature of shows like 24 and Spooks. It's more attuned to AMC's defunct Rubicon, only nowhere near as wheel-spinning and restrictive. CIA protagonist Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) has spent most of these two episodes sprawled on her sofa, watching suspected traitor Nick Brody's (Damian Lewis) every move around his house on monitors. Yet it's enormously compelling stuff, as we're just as interested in finding proof that Nick's become a terrorist as Carrie, yet hoping in some ways he'll instead be vindicated...

As some suspected, last week's "gotcha!" moment when Carrie noticed Brody giving hand signals on live TV didn't bear much fruit, as the CIA's code-breakers couldn't make sense of what's more likely a nervous twitch. The show appears to have a problem I'm interested to see it solve: how long can they toy with our uncertainties over Nick's allegiance, as there's assumedly no show if he's proven innocent. Or is there a grey area to be exploited down the line? It remains to be seen just how instrumental Nick will be in any attack on US soil, but also very hard to see how Carrie's going to have difficulty preventing Nick from carrying out any atrocity. I suppose the Brody home's secret surveillance may be nixed after four weeks (which is now the semi-legal timespan Carrie has to work with with a FISA warrant) and thus make her job tougher, or Nick may come to realize he's being watched and somehow evade the CIA in clever ways (as he unwittingly did in "Grace" by hiding items in a garage blind spot), but I'm yet to be convinced. But that's actually a good thing, because these are issues the writers must have realized will become an issue, and I'm very intrigued to see how they develop the story.

A few more flashbacks to Nick's captivity helped give us a clearer sense of what the man suffered as a POW, which in turn makes the show's "villain" a sympathetic figure. It wasn't hard to feel some compassion for Nick as he struggled to get back to normality amongst his family, too; left alone in his home all day, he just retreated to a dark corner not dissimilar to the cell he spent 8 years in; losing his temper with an intrusive reporter and attacking with a throat jab, witnessed by his impressionable son; or badly bruising his wife Jessica's (Morena Baccarin) arm while having nightmares and babbling Arabic.

"Grace" also widened the scope of Homeland somewhat, with the unexpected introduction of an "asset" called Lynne (Brianna Brown) that Carrie has undercover in a Saudi Prince's harem (where one of her duties is helping expand the lucratively-paid harem, with naked inspections and blunt sexual questioning of female candidates). Former-beauty queen Lynne reports back to Carrie via coded message to a "beauty parlour", and is on the edge of quitting because she realizes her position's getting her closer than ever to some dangerous men (being the only person to have seen terrorist leader Abu Nazir in years, managing to capture the moment on her phone). What was particularly great about this is seeing how such these vital "assets" are treated by the CIA: Carrie's a protective person and doesn't want any harm to come to Lynne, but there's the underlying sense that it's worth lying to an asset about the measures taken to ensure their safety than have them quit because they're scared of exposure. I wasn't expecting this subplot to open up, but it's a fascinating one that really adds another angle on events with Nazir's plan for Brody.

Carrie herself was given some depth, as we met her sister Maggie (Amy Hargreaves) and two nieces, who appear to enjoy a more normal and suburban existence. Carrie's sibling is nevertheless the person who steals anti-psychotic drugs for her, to treat an "illness" that she apparently shared with her unseen father. It's too early to tell if this branch of the series is going to tie into the main story in any way, of it's purely there to give us a breather from the Brody investigation and build Carrie's character, but I'm interested to see where they take it. Just how "ill" is her father? Is he schizophrenic?

Like the pilot, the episode ended on a note that appears to confirm something about Brody: he's converted to Islam since being away from his family. We see that he's gathered materials to aide his worship of the morning sunrise from his garage, which he opens to let in rays of light. Of course, perhaps finding Islam was something that genuinely helped get him through his incarceration, and he's just too unsure how his friends and family would take the news if he told them he's a Muslim now? Again, there are alternative explanations, and it's perhaps wrong to immediately decide Brody's been "flipped" because of a change of faith, but it also doesn't look great from an outsider's perspective. (Unfortunately for Carrie, she doesn't have eyes on his secret place of prayer.) Perhaps more compelling is how Brody starts his second day home by following Saul's (Mandy Patinkin) prediction of what a "turned" US soldier would do if he wanted to return home and get into a position where he could carryout a terrorist act: start giving interviews and embracing the celebrity status.

Overall, Homeland's off to a brilliant start and is already my favourite new show of this fledgling season. Great concept, brilliant actors, a story that's developed in an interesting manner, and plenty of mystery and intrigue about just how a show like this can play out.


  • So far, I'm loving Virgil (David Marciano), Carrie's friend and tech guru who installed all the Brody surveillance equipment at short notice. I hope they keep using him, if only because he also provided a welcome jolt of comic relief (like his expression when tasting Carrie's expired yoghurt she left him to eat).
  • British actor David Harewood's doing a good American accent (well, to my ears), but it's a pity his character is the most cartoonish of the lot. I hope he's given more facets to play soon, as it's a little tiresome to have another annoying boss on a show like this.
  • Fantastic opening scene, where it appeared to show Brody have a dream of digging his own grave before waking up, but it was actually Carrie's dream. Or was it, because she was woken up by the sound of Brody waking up from a nightmare on her monitors! Whatever happened, I love the connection this immediate put in our heads between the characters: watcher and the watched.
written by Alexander Cary (story by Alex Gansa) · directed by Michael Cuesta · 9 October 2011 · Showtime