Homeland

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TV Series Review

When we hear the word terrorism, we tend to think of 9/11 and roadside bombs, of Middle Eastern extremism or Baltic upheaval, of explosions in downtown London or New Dehli.

But terror—that word is something different, something far more carnal. We get jittery walking dark streets, we wring our hands over imagined dangers. We're scared of what's under our beds or around the corner or what might happen years from now. We can become terrified of the unknown: The dangers we suspect but can't see, the hidden threats that might be across the street, or in our house, or even lurking in our very own minds and souls.

Homeland is a show about both the terrorism we know and the terror we fear. And it pulls no punches along the way.

Two characters lie at the center of this show's deceptively simple premise: Nicholas Brody, a lauded American war hero and secret al-Qaeda operative, and Carrie Mathison, the one-time CIA operative who, for most of Season One, tracked Brody's every move and gesture.

The show has a 24-like feel, at least on the surface. And much of the plotting feels straight out of Fox's long-running serial thriller: a secret terrorist operating in the government's highest stratum; an obsessed counterterrorist expert bent on bringing the guy to justice; a complex, sometimes convoluted storyline that probes deeper questions about safety and law while keeping viewers on the edge of their seats. Indeed, The Atlantic describes Carrie as "'the thinking person's' Jack Bauer."

But this cat-and-mouse story often is more restrained, violence-wise, than 24 was, and it goes quite a bit deeper than Jack ever got, particularly in its treatment of the main characters. Brody's not just a terrorist, but a family guy who in the midst of his duplicity tries to protect and care for his wife and kids. Carrie's undeniably driven and occasionally brilliant—but she's dealing with a bipolar disorder that makes her actions erratic and her judgments suspect. She's an exasperating hero, as Brody's a pretty likable villain at times. And we get a sense that the greatest terror either of them faces is buried deep inside their own psyches.

Spiritually, Homeland explores Brody's conversion to Islam, his devotion to the Quran, and his family's reaction to it all. We're shown how his newfound beliefs put him in perilous predicaments, both politically and personally. But judgment one way or the other about them isn't really the onscreen point. Faith seems to appear here as "merely" a plot point, not something of deep spiritual substance.

As for its politics, I'll leave that discussion to the likes of The Washington Times, which reports, "Agent Mathison has no qualms about bending the rules, and at times confirms everything a cynic might assume the intelligence community is capable of justifying in the name of national security. Any naiveté about the ends justifying the means is surrendered early in the first season when Agent Mathison sets up unauthorized round the clock surveillance on Sergeant Brody."

An instant staple on the premium cable channel Showtime, Homeland is one of television's most critically acclaimed shows. It rode off from the 2012 Emmys with a boatload of statuettes—including ones for Best Actress (Claire Danes as Carrie), Best Actor (Damian Lewis as Brody) and Best Drama. I can see why.

But the show's quality doesn't mitigate its explicit Showtime sensibilities. Almost every episode of this TV-MA series would be rated R if it trundled out to theaters—sometimes for graphic sex scenes, sometimes for torture and violence, and almost always for its really raw language. And while you can sometimes find edited versions on YouTube, Homeland never cleans up to anything better than a TV-14.

Terror, Homeland tells us, can take many forms. It tells us we should be ever vigilant about guarding our hearts and hearths from bad, destructive influences. At times it suggests we can never be too careful.

Perhaps we should apply that lesson to Homeland itself.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

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Crude or Profane Language

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Christian Beliefs

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Episode Reviews

Homeland: 10-7-2012

Credits

Rating

Readability Age Range

Genre

Drama, Crime

Author

Cast

Claire Danes as Carrie Mathison; Damian Lewis as Nicholas Brody; Morena Baccarin as Jessica Brody; David Harewood as David Estes; Diego Klattenhoff as Mike Faber; Jackson Pace as Chris Brody; Morgan Saylor as Dana Brody; Mandy Patinkin as Saul Berenson

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Distributor

Network

Showtime

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Reviewer

Paul Asay Paul AsaySteven Isaac Steven Isaac