Episode 1 - Pilot
6 March 2012
Synopsis: After going missing for eight years Sgt. Nicholas Brody is found alive by Special Forces in Iraq. Everyone sees him as a hero except for CIA agent Carrie Mathison who was tipped off that an American soldier had been turned by Al Qaeda. Brody returns home to his family who have moved on without him and reunited awkwardly with them. Mathison illegally puts his home under surveillance and becomes obsessed with proving that he has been turned.
The Good: The fact that the synopsis is so succinct is one of the major strengths of Homeland. If you like your dramas straight and to the point then they don't come much better than this. It took literally four scenes to establish the entire show. Mathison (Clare Danes) gets an informant in an Iraqi prison to tell her an important piece of intelligence. Ten months later and her CIA boss shows footage of Brody being rescued by Special Forces. Mathison rushes to her mentor Saul and tells him that Brody might have been turned. We jump to Brody now getting a haircut and a shave and that's it.
We have everything we need to go on. Brody is naturally suffering from the trauma of being kidnapped for eight years and yet we know he is hiding something. Brody is a true blue white skinned American soldier. If he is now an Al Qaeda terrorist he will have access to targets that no one else could have. He is dangerous.
Mathison is the only one who even suspects him. Far from being a natural hero she is obsessed and intense. Without Saul's protection her career might have stalled more than it has. We soon learn that she is on anti-psychotics and that her incident in Iraq caused major problems for the CIA and her current boss.
Within four scenes we have an exciting taut thrilled in place. It's a wonderful economy of writing and direction. The plot then moves forward following the two of them. Brody throws up on his flight home. He is awkward around his children because they barely remember him. His wife had moved on and was sleeping with one of his friends. Their reunion is understandably tense and leads to a disturbingly aggressive sex scene. Damian Lewes is excellent as Brody giving away so much of his emotion with little twitches and facial expressions. We know Brody is lying and it seems 99% certain that he is now a terrorist in waiting.
Meanwhile Mathison immediately and illegally taps Brody's phones and sticks cameras in his home. She is now able to observe him 24\7 which naturally drives her to become entirely obsessed by him. Her own partners in crime question her behaviour and when Saul suspects that she is hiding something he goes to her house and uncovers her surveillance operation.
That was a moment that wouldn't happen on a network show. He is having none of this and makes it clear that he has to hand her over to the authorities. In the best moment of the episode she desperately tries to touch him in a sexual way to change his mind. He is much older than her and clearly a paternal figure. "What the fuck are you doing?" he asks in a voice of real surprise and concern. It was a wonderful character moment.
All credit to Clare Danes who does a great job with the role. Matthison is a mess and in a first for my TV viewing we see her washing her crotch before a meeting. It was a moment, along with a scene where she tried to choose a seductive outfit, which gave us an intimate insight into her life. Everything for her comes second to the job. She is still upset about not preventing 9\11 and clearly lives an unhealthy lifestyle where her work dominates everything else. Her response to the end of career is to hit a bar and get laid which tells you a lot about her state of mind. It's there that she discovers the clue she needs to stop Saul from telling on her and leaves us with the setup for next week's episode.
What else can I say? After only one hour of TV I feel I already know these characters better than some I have been watching on other shows for years. The stakes are clear and simple and the action moved at a great clip.
The Bad: Although it doesn't bother me too much it is a little difficult to imagine that Matthison could be on anti-psychotics and working for the CIA. She says she has been on them or other medication for ten years. But as a contributor to the Firewall and Iceberg podcast pointed out, the CIA does regular drug tests and psychological evaluations. It would be difficult for her to rise so high with such a condition. She also seems a little young to have been in any position to stop 9\11. But neither of these facts destroys the credibility of her character. I will keep an eye on it though.
The Unknown: The downside to a show like Homeland is that it is set up like The Killing or Twin Peaks around just one mystery. Will the characters around the two stars grow as they sort of did on Rubicon? Or will the show become too dependent on its main storyline and struggle to keep our attention? It's certainly possible that things could play out that way.
I wonder if it would have been more intriguing to keep us in the dark about whether Brody had been turned or not. It's possible that a twist is coming but it certainly seems like he has been. Perhaps discovering the truth could have provided more story for the writers to tell. Of course it's entirely possible that that too could have become a crutch and an annoying tease.
I will be very interested in the psychology of how he was turned (assuming he has been). We see a somewhat generic setup where it appears he has been brainwashed and is now willing to commit violent acts against the United States. I don't know much about the idea of brain washing and I hope they know how to handle it. It certainly doesn't seem like Brody was converted to Islam and sympathising with the plight of the oppressed.
Best Moment: I loved that moment between Mathison and Saul. It was such a simple and effective way to show us the desperation of her conviction.
Conclusion: The Homeland pilot is a great episode of television. I'm not going to make the mistake of assuming it will turn into a great show. My experience of one-plot mysteries is that they can become tedious. I hope that doesn't happen here as the performances and presentation were very promising.
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