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.
"Beirut Is Back"
Carrie meets with a source outside a Beirut mosque and learns that Abu Nazir will be meeting with the source's husband soon (whom the source wants dead). Carrie believes her, but Carrie's psychological problems hurt her credibility, and some CIA officials wonder whether it could be a trap. (Saul eventually accepts her analysis.)
Meanwhile, when Brody is called into a war room watching the operation to capture or kill Nazir, he texts a quick warning to the al-Qaeda official, spoiling the CIA's chance to nab him. Two al-Qaeda members are gunned down. (We see a quick splash of blood.) Angry Beirut residents pound on a vehicle (breaking its windshield), chase Carrie and fire guns. Carrie smashes a pursuer over the head with a brick.
Characters say the f-word nearly 20 times—one of those instances coming from Brody's teenage daughter, Dana, while she and her mother drive to a politician's house. ("Please don't talk like that in there," her mother chides.) We hear the s-word a half-dozen times, along with "h‑‑‑," "a‑‑," "b‑‑ch" and "d‑‑n." God's name is abused four or five times, and we see an obscene gesture. Whiskey and other alcoholic beverages are consumed.