Homeland first aired on US cable channel Showtime in October 2011 with a storyline based on an American spy thriller developed by Howard Gordon – executive producer of one of my all-time favourite shows The X-Files – and Alex Gansa. The show is based on the Israeli series Prisoners of War, which was created by Gideon Raff in 2010.
The series won several awards, including the 2011 Golden Globe Award for Best Television Series – Drama and the 2012 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Drama Series for its first season. Homeland is in production for their eighth and final season. But for those who have yet to see the series, Netflix is now offering seasons 1 to 7 for your streaming pleasure.
This review is focused on the first three seasons which revolved around a unifying plot. The succeeding seasons have some surprising twists and new characters that are somehow less relevant to this current write-up. Hopefully, a second Binge Worthy piece will cover more seasons.
Homeland starts off in Iraq, where an extremist insurgent is about to be executed. Except that he apparently has vital information on a planned attack on America. CIA operations officer Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) breaks into the jail – against the orders of her superiors – to do a last-minute deal, promising to protect the insurgent’s family. As the guards arrive to drag her away, he whispers something in her ear.
“An American prisoner of war has been turned,” which meant nothing at the time, because nobody believed there were any POWs left in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Ten months later, Carrie is back in Washington, D.C. The walls of her apartment are plastered with surveillance photos from Iraq, photos of various al-Qaeda agents arranged in accordance to their roles in the organisation. She is clearly fully invested in her job, to the point of being manic, obsessed – but as the saying goes, “the line between brilliant and insane is but a line”. Much of the show centers around the aspect of her uncanny ability to see and analyse things differently, while also dealing with some clear mental instability.
Right off the bat, the viewer knows that she does a lot of her work out of her bosses and colleagues’ radar, causing her to often miss briefings or show up late in the office. Typical CIA supervisors clearly don’t like her and only barely tolerate her because of her proven performance in the field.
In the first episode, Carrie and her fellow agents are told that they have a reason to celebrate. After eight years of being MIA, Marine Sgt. Nicholas “Nick” Brody (Damian Lewis) has been recovered in Iraq alive and, apparently, well. Held as a prisoner by the enemy all this time, he is returning home for what is sure to be a hero’s welcome.
His being alive allows the current White House administration to use Nick as propaganda to show how America is not only gaining efforts in the war but is on track to winning and ending it. But Carrie doesn’t see it that way. She has reasons to believe he’s a plant, a mole that she was warned about at an Iraqi prison months ago. But nobody is in the mood to think a returning war hero could be a traitor, so Carrie is forced to keep her suspicions to herself.
Far from being a natural hero, she is obsessed and scrupulous to prove Nick is not who people perceive him to be. Without Saul Berenson’s (Mandy Patinkin) protection, her career might have stalled a long time ago. She immediately and illegally taps Nick’s phones and sticks cameras into his home. She is now able to observe him 24/7, which naturally drives her to become entirely obsessed with him.
Despite her perseverance to know the real reason of Nick’s resurgence, circumstances make him look innocent. Where things get a little bit more complicated and set the stage for the shows series at least in seasons 1 to 3 is the moment when Carrie starts to develop a sexual relationship with the person she spies on. At first, it seems like she is merely trying to gather intelligence on him but it eventually turns into something much deeper than one could have predicted.
It only took a matter of time when her secret surveillance gets caught by Nick when she accidentally says she knows the type of tea he likes to drink. Saul, her mentor, also suspects that she is hiding something, so he goes to her house and uncovers her surveillance operation.
Now that she is forced to look at other possible moles besides Nick, pieces of evidence start to mount that it is possible that the flipped POW Carrie was warned about could be Tom Walker (Chris Chalk), who was in the same unit as Nick. The reason no one in the CIA though this is possible is because Nick said that Tom was beaten to death by his captors at gunpoint when they were caught near the Syrian border by the terrorists.
There is now reason to believe that Tom is alive and is working for the al-Qaeda. Who really is the flipped POW? I’ll leave for you to watch. But each episode will have you doubting who you can believe and who you can’t. But keep in mind that there may be more than one traitor and the plans to take down the American government are possibly far and wide.
The viewer soon learns that Carrie, our genius protagonist, is on anti-psychotic drugs due to her bipolar disorder, and that the incident in Iraq caused major problems to the CIA and her current boss. She has hidden her condition from most people, including Saul, but this dimension of the character’s backstory is one of the big reasons Homeland is binge worthy.
Each season, we see Carrie go through extreme erratic behaviours, where she often suffers psychiatric breakdown. While this condition is used against her by the people who want to stop her investigations, viewers will understand this as part of her ability to gather new intelligence sources in the field.
If you love political espionage thrillers, then this week’s Binge Worthy is definitely for you. Stream Homeland while getting a first-seat view of what it is like to be a modern day spy.