'Homeland' Asks: After 9/11, Who Has the Right to Privacy?

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The second episode of Claire Danes's new show ponders the tension between personal freedom and national security

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Showtime

"Do you really think you still have a right to privacy with all this?"

Saul Berenson

Homeland is about law enforcement, but even more so, it's about law circumvention. "Grace," the second episode of Homeland, makes it clear that the rights used to protect American citizens are, in the right circumstances, nothing more than minor annoyances—easily brushed aside when the right string can be pulled. Homeland is perhaps the most politically-engaged drama on television, and it picks up an argument that has dominated politics since 9/11: How many rights are we willing to sacrifice for the security of the nation?

At the very least, there's no privacy left for Nicholas Brody, the Marine Sergeant recovered after eight years of captivity in last week's premiere. From the moment Brody arrived back in the United States, he was paraded in front of reporters and coerced into smiling and waving, even as the story of imprisonment and torture was broadcast to the nation. Brody's very existence is a P.R. coup for the United States government, which faces ever-waning support for the "war on terror," and he's too valuable an asset for both the government and the media to let him go.

Given the media circus surrounding Brody's recovery—and his severe post-traumatic stress disorder—it's unsurprising that Brody has decided to retreat into the relative peace of his home. Whether or not Brody has betrayed his country, his eight years of solitary confinement have taken a serious toll. Brody was truly alone, for weeks (and probably months) at a time, and with no other options left to him, he retreated into himself. In a strange way, his house is merely a larger prison, and Brody chooses the option he's grown accustomed to—the solitude of a dark, narrow corner.

But even then, he's not alone. Carrie's surveillance cameras monitor all of the Brody family's actions, and she watches their most private, intimate moments with an uncomfortably clinical detachment. Brody's family is struggling, from his rebellious daughter to wife's love affair with Brody's closest friend, but the only people who have the whole story are the callous, indifferent people behind the cameras.

But it's not just Carrie and her cameras that are invading the privacy of Homeland's central characters; it's a fact of life in the hyper-political climate that the show's characters live in. CIA bigwig Saul secures Carrie a FISA warrant simply because he has dirt on an important judge. And as a means of manipulation, CIA Deputy Director David Estes makes a pointed reference to Mike's romantic relationship with Brody's wife Jessica—a relationship that Mike was certain was private. It's not clear where Estes is getting his information, but the message can't be mistaken: They know exactly what Mike's been doing, and they'll use that information if he won't conform to their expectations.

With all the violations of privacy in this episode, it's fitting that the one truly private moment in "Grace"—away from the press, the government, Carrie's surveillance, and the pressure of family—is between Brody and his God. For all of Carrie's suspicion about what Brody is doing in his garage, the actual answer is simple: at some point during Brody's capture, he converted to Islam, and he's turned his garage into a kind of one-man mosque. In the end, Brody's private worship is what he needs; he changes into his uniform and goes out to meet the press.

Given what we've seen so far, are Carrie's doubts about Brody at all justified? It's tough to say. But whether Brody is guilty or innocent, Homeland has made the bold choice of centering its narrative on a character with almost no redeeming qualities. Carrie's obsessive, single-minded pursuit of Al-Qaeda leader Abu Nazir takes precedence over every aspect of her life, from her relationship with her sister to the life of Lynne, the source that's her sole link to Nazir. Carrie's increasingly destructive actions—toward both herself and others—have already grown difficult to justify.

And given her single-mindedness, can Carrie's judgment actually be trusted? It's more than just her schizophrenic tendencies, which are already more than enough to render her actions questionable. It's her also strange, almost emotional desperation to prove that Brody is plotting an attack against the United States. With evidence as vague as a single source reporting that "an American prisoner has been turned," Carrie is convinced beyond any doubt that Brody is guilty of treason. She could be right or wrong, but either way, she's the last person who should be watching him.

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Scott Meslow is entertainment editor at TheWeek.com.

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