I am going to give some big spoilers for Season 1 of “Homeland” so skip the rest of this post if you haven’t seen it.
A few weeks ago I ordered Season 1 of “Homeland” on Blu-ray. Finally finished watching it last night. I see why the show is a hit. The acting is very good for TV. Damian Lewis, the main character, is a soldier who was captured, held
and tortured in Iraq for 8 years. The show revolves around the question
of whether or not he has been turned by his captors and plans to commit a terrorist act. Claire Danes does an impressive job portraying an obsessed CIA investigator who is both gifted and also mentally unbalanced. Mandy Patinkin is outstanding as her mentor Saul. I also love Morena Baccarin who has what could be a thankless role as the wife of the hero/terrorist soldier. She somehow gives it a touch of naivete that makes her character sympathetic without becoming a cypher. It also doesn’t hurt that she’s probably the most attractive woman on TV these days.
The first problem with Homeland (and I’m told this gets worse in Season 2) is that the story really pushes the boundaries of credulity week after week. [Spoilers ahead] Would a Marine really decide to murder the Vice President because of his connection to a terrorists’ 10 year old son? Would his desire for justice be offset once he returned home to his own two kids or would he go through with it and abandon his own family? Would an investigator, even a troubled one, have sex with the suspect she believes is a terrorist? The actors give it there all but ultimately it’s a tough sell to make this material seem remotely realistic. That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it but don’t expect the plausibility of something like Argo or Zero Dark Thirty. This is closer to “24”, which makes sense given that the same writers/show-runners are behind both shows.
Okay, that takes me to the thing I really did not like about Homeland. After watching Season 1 it becomes clear that the basic plot outline–the pitch which got the show rolling–was something like: Let’s kill Dick Cheney. That’s not what happens but that’s the most basic outline of the first season. A more nuanced take might be: Let’s see if we can get the audience to agree that killing Dick Cheney with a bomb full of ball bearings is an understandable choice. In other words, it’s part and parcel of the left-wing assassination fetish that was all the rage during the Bush years.
Naturally, the left-wingers at the New Yorker think this is long overdue. They describe it as “not a preachy show. But in nearly every episode, it buries a narrative riposte to the Bush-era ideology of ’24’.” To be fair, that assessment was written mid-season before the full plot to kill the Vice-President for his war crimes against school children was revealed. I suspect the author wouldn’t have been dissuaded much had she known.
Don’t get me wrong, Homeland is a solid, entertaining show. I’ll probably get Season 2. But at its core season 1 is an ugly, left-wing fever dream which has a lot in common with the strain of “left-wing populism” that is currently toying with the idea of proclaiming Christopher Dorner a folk hero. It’s a fun ride but a real turn off if you think about the politics behind it for more than a few seconds.