Claire Danes stars in a new series about terrorism that lacks the moral certitude of its predecessor
"Just keep listening."
Homeland—Showtime's latest original series, which premiered last night—is a gripping, intelligent thriller with a lot to say.
The plot hinges on Marine Sergeant Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis), a long-lost POW in Iraq, who is recovered by American soldiers after a strike on an enemy base. His unexpected rescue is touted as a major success for the US government, and Brody is lauded as a national hero. But CIA analyst Carrie (played with taut, nervy energy by Claire Danes) believes that Brody eventually turned against the United States during his captivity, and that his rescue was deliberately engineered by terrorist leader Abu Nazir (Navid Negahban) so that Brody can carry out the next major attack on US soil. It's a terrific, propulsive hook for a show, and Homeland's twisty pilot is guaranteed to keep you guessing.
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The most obvious predecessor to Homeland is Fox's 24, and not without reason; the series share executive producers Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon and soundtrack composer Sean Callery. 24—which premiered just weeks after 9/11—was perhaps the ultimate show for the Bush era. Main character Jack Bauer committed gruesome acts of violence throughout the 24's eight seasons, but Bauer's extreme actions were, in the end, always justified by the severe threat posed by his enemies, and through betrayal, torture, and murder, 24 always took his side.
Homeland, by contrast, is a series for the Obama era, and it pointedly lacks 24's moral certitude. There's no question that Carrie's actions are illegal, and she's betrayed the trust of her closest ally (Mandy Patinkin) before the pilot is over. 24 never slowed down enough to show us Jack Bauer at rest, but Homeland offers an intriguing snapshot of Carrie's personal life, which includes a heavy dose of antipsychotic medication and an unnatural obsession with Abu Nazir. In the end, Carrie may be right about Brody, but her instability makes each of her judgments questionable at best.