Over the last month, many critics and even its creators have been citing Showtime’s new series Homeland as the first “post-post-9/11 program” as it deals with the issue of what to do now that the biggest threats of the last decade have been eliminated. It’s hard to say if that’s truly the case, but for now it would be fair to say that Homeland is the first legit espionage show to appear on the small screen in years. Legitimate in that this is a very realistic portrayal of what the word ‘espionage’ means.
Webster defines it as “the practice of spying or using spies to obtain information about the plans and activities especially of a foreign government or a competing company.”
It doesn’t make mention of aggressive tactical operations, shootouts, explosions, fist fights or kick boxing matches. The verbal form of spying, no matter the definition one uses, refers to the basic act of observing, not fighting.
So much of what’s portrayed in television and film of the spy world is focused on offensive measures, often times meant to be interpreted as defensive counter-measures. But, in Homeland that concept is reversed, and to great effectiveness. Rarely do we get to see the truly defensive measures that are taken on U.S. soil and what our intelligence community’s response is when we are the foreign entity being infiltrated.
Homeland follows CIA analyst Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) who, after receiving intelligence that “an American prisoner of war has been turned,” questions the true nature of the rescue and safe return of U.S. Marine Sergeant Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis) who has been M.I.A. and presumed K.I.A. for the last eight years.
As far as what can be figured from the pilot, Homeland is choosing to avoid the political game until absolutely necessary and get down to brass tacks.
Once all the character set-up is completed, there’s a scene where Brody is being debriefed by a round-table full of major players in the intelligence community, but none of them are asking the questions that need to be asked because of the aforementioned “politics game.” However, Mathison uses the opportunity to gather real intelligence, treating the situation as if she was an American operative in a foreign land. It’s a cold, heartless scene for a character who just returned from hell, but it’s the type of scene that the audience can look at and say “that’s the kind of defensive measure I’d want to see taken.”
The show also boasts a well-rounded supporting cast, the standout of which is Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin). There are a surprising amount of similarities between Saul and another one of Patinkin’s character’s, Jason Gideon from Criminal Minds. Both Gideon and Berenson are master analyzers of human behavior. The difference is that, in Homeland, the humans being analyzed aren’t unsubs killing people in a small town, it’s the people who work within the CIA and the people they’re tracking.
This show is one of the few that’s willing to admit that there can be and are major flaws with the people who populate the intelligence community. The writers do anything but hide the fact that Mathison is an extremely broken individual who is willing to use illegal methods and even her own body to get the answers she needs.
Homeland is a very serious take on a very serious issue. Arguably, it’s the first show to tackle the topic of espionage in a realistically compelling way. This time around there’s no Jack Bauer packing a SIG P226, no Annie Walker waiting to take you out when you poke your head out of the window and no Michael Weston with a sniper rifle one thousand yards away and you in his cross-hairs. Instead there’s only a man, a woman and a giant game of who will blink first.
To listen to the latest episode of Merrill’s TV Podcast, The Idiot Boxers with Kevin Carr, head over to Fat Guys at the Movies.