Tuesday, 18 October 2011

HOMELAND, 1.3 - "Clean Skin"

Tuesday, 18 October 2011
Another brilliant episode of what's quickly become the best new US drama on television. Written by another of the show's 24 alumni, Chip Johannessen, "Clean Skin" continued to reap a healthy amount of drama from the Brody family trying to reconnect, although it was slightly overshadowed by the operation with CIA asset Lynne Reid (Brianna Brown) undercover as girlfriend to a wealthy Saudi Arabian prince who may be financing terrorist Abu Nazir.

There's such a lovely depth and subtlety to Homeland, after only three episodes, that I think it's accurate to call it "the thinking man's 24". The scenes with the Brody family adjusting were excellent this week, as daughter Dana (Morgan Saylor) started to behave in a manner that proved she isn't happy about the media's interest in the father she barely knows. And while Nick's (Damian Lewis) now doing his utmost to present a united front to the cameras and give interviews, it's becoming clearer  his wife Jessica (Morena Baccarin) is starting to resent what his return means for her. Nick's changed since he's been away (and not just in cute ways like not knowing what YouTube is), and Jessica's effectively mourned his "death", and was about to move on with her life until he was found and flown back home.

It's a tangle of emotions, and Baccarin plays it all perfectly (thank heavens there was no third season of V, right?) You can see Jessica still has feelings for her husband, but they're tied to the past and snarled with feelings of sympathy for the horror he's gone through. In one very unsettling moment, Jessica even realized their sex life may never be the same again, as she's asked to awkwardly pose topless for her husband as he masturbates in front of her. Has Nick's brainwashing by Islamic extremists resulting in him having a sexist attitude to women in general (seeing them now as objects), or has his eight-year incarceration led to him being unable to form a healthy sexual bond with women?

The situation with Lynne kicked into gear this week, as she managed to download the prince's cell phone data onto the data-chip that Carrie (Claire Danes) gave her. But she isn't convinced her boyfriend has any connection to terrorism, as he gives her an expensive necklace on a whim, and all she's seen him do for the past year is be ideal boyfriend material and have fun living a billionaire playboy lifestyle. Does Carrie have the wrong end of the stick about the prince's connection to Al-Qaeda? Sadly, it appears so. Lynne was shot dead behind a nightclub by a man who stole her jewelry, seconds before Carrie arrived on the scene as her promised protection, and it becomes clear that someone else in the prince's organization was meeting Abu Nazir aboard the prince's yacht, and in this instance Lynne's expensive necklace was just a means to transfer money quickly without leaving a paper trail. I wasn't expecting this storyline to end after a mere two episodes, so Lynne's death came as a real shock—and was especially memorable when it became clear Carrie can't even tell her parents their daughter was working for her country and died a hero, so they'll bury her thinking she was just the escort of a foreign billionaire.

As usual, the performances were uniformly excellent. I'm really enjoying Baccarin and Lewis' work, but Danes is also doing great as the plucky operative, and this week Mandy Patinkin's character Saul was given depth when it became his relationship with Carrie isn't rock solid. And it was good to see young Morgan Saylor get an opportunity to flex some acting muscle as the Brody's daughter Dana, when we learned she's far from happy about playing "happy family" to the media, and knows her mother's been seeing their "uncle" behind her dad's back. I'm guessing it won't be long until Dana drops a bombshell on live TV, encouraged by her friends, shattering the public's perception of the Brody's as a family every American should aspire to.

Overall, it's just great to delve into this world every week, as I'm genuinely unsure where the story's going. One week it seems certain that the prince is going to be an obvious henchman of Abu Nazir, the next week he's clearly a genuine guy everyone misunderstood. And by the end of this episode, another subplot opens up with a Muslim man and his American wife buying a house together that's under the flight path of a nearby airport. It makes you wonder what Nick's part in everything is. Has he agreed to facilitate a terrorist cell with his military connections, rather than actively mastermind or carry out an attack himself? It's still possible he may not even be "turned" against Western civilization (he just converted to Islam) but I just can't see the show taking us down that path because it feels like too much of a risk.

written by Chip Johannessen · directed by Dan Attias · 16 October 2011 · Showtime