Saturday, September 8, 2012

"HOMELAND" IS HOLLYWOOD'S BEST TAKE ON THE 9-11 TRAGEDY


History needs perspective. And Hollywood, despite wanting to stay forever on the cutting edge, seldom rushes to tell stories based on the more horrific events in history. Thus, the tragedy of 9-11 hasn’t wielded a ton from the entertainment world. (Perhaps the terms entertainment and 9-11 are too obviously at odds.) However, one TV show not only daringly puts the tragedy into its narrative every week, it also has the audacity to comment on how the nation is still reeling from it. That program is HOMELAND on premium cable’s Showtime network. (Find out about the show at their site: http://bit.ly/HgrDcl)
My original caricature of the cast of HOMELAND, from left to right, Claire Danes, Morena Baccarin,
Mandy Patinkin and Damian Lewis. (copyright 2012 Jeff York)
The premise of the show revolves around a cat & mouse game between its two lead characters. Marine sergeant Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis) is an Iraq POW who’s returned to the States after being imprisoned by Al-Qaeda for almost a decade. Everyone greets him as a hero except for CIA operative Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes). She’s been tipped off that the terrorists have turned an American soldier and she believes that Brody is the traitor in our midst. The show is essentially THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE for modern times. (If you haven’t seen HOMELAND you can catch the first season on DVD. And its second season starts Sunday, September 30th.)

Carrie’s character motivation is guilt. She missed crucial intelligence that foreshadowed the terrorist attacks on America that fateful autumn day a decade ago and now she’s bent on retribution. She’ll bend the rules and illegally bug Brody’s home if it means she might gleam some insight from spying on his secret self. She blithely watches him make love to his estranged wife Jessica (Morena Baccarin, doing more with her soulful eyes than most actors do with pages of dialogue). And Carrie cuts corners left and right, never clueing in her by-the-book boss David Estes (David Harewood, the personification of a stuffed shirt) or her mentor/colleague Saul Berenson (a gruff and wily Mandy Patinkin).


It’s not by accident that Carrie’s desperation matches a lot of the overt protection measures, illegal though some may be, that the US government has put into place since 9-11. She is nothing if not a symbol of our very nation and its overreach and overreaction to the tragedy. Yes, we were caught with our pants down that day, and now because of it, Carrie/America will do anything to prevent it from happening again. And ugly terms like rendition and acceptable torture are perfectly viable words in her vocabulary and ours today.

Carrie has all sorts of boundary issues, not just with how she approaches cracking down on terrorism, but also in how she handles her personal life. She’s had a past sexual relationship with her boss David. She’s promiscuous, even missing crucial staff meetings because of her late night peccadilloes. And she’s bipolar but doesn’t stay on her meds. Still, we root for her despite all of those flaws because she’s trying to save us. And Claire Danes’ vivid portrayal not only draws us to the flame, but makes us root for her to succeed even if it means we’re watching her lose her soul or her mind to do so.
Morena Baccarin as Jessica, Sgt. Brody's long-suffering wife, in HOMELAND.




Carrie literally represents the bipolarity of America post 9-11, with our morality so often at odds with our need for safety. And the Brody character is a perfect mirror of that conflict too. For the first half of the season last year, we were kept in the dark as to Brody’s true motivations. Was he an Al-Qaeda operative turned by torture, or was the real torturing being done at home, by a zealous CIA hounding him to hell? One of the brilliant things about the show is how it kept us guessing from scene to scene what Brody’s true motivations were, and empathizing with him the whole way.

(SPOILER WARNING: This next paragraph will address the truth of Brody, so if you have yet to see the series, buy the DVD or rent it, but skip the next paragraph to avoid narrative spoilers.)
Mandy Patinkin is the wily and gruff Saul, mentor to Carrie at the CIA in HOMELAND.

The truth about Brody was that he was both. Not only was Brody turned by Al-Qaeda, but he was also a victim of a CIA doing whatever it took to get him, even if it meant hurting his family and friends. In Iraq, he was tortured, brainwashed, and made to do horrible things to survive. And here in America, he was deceived, lied to and hounded by a CIA agent that presumed his guilt from the get-go. Oh, and did I mention that Carrie ended up having an affair with him too? Like I said, she has boundary issues!

Damian Lewis deserves an Emmy when they’re handed out on September 23rd for his riveting and nuanced work as Brody, a very tricky role to play as he has to be enigmatic yet remain sympathetic even when at his worst. (Lewis and the show are up for 9 Emmy’s, which you can read about here: http://bit.ly/nakgzU) His character is no longer at home even in his own country, or skin for that matter.

The most amazing thing about this show is that it gets us pulling for both these tragically flawed characters. Both Carrie and Brody are sides of post 9-11 America. We too have become overtly paranoid, partisan and reactionary. And yet, we are also trying to move on from those events, find peace and stave off the demons that have haunted us since.
Claire Danes has won many awards for her complex portrayal of Carrie in HOMELAND.



 It's not often that I write about TV here on my movie blog, but this series deserves merit, particularly in lieu of the 9-11 anniversary this coming week. It's one of Hollywood's best entertainments, on any screen. And as a scary movie buff, I can tell you that I've written about few films with as many horrors portrayed as in this sublime TV series. It shows, week in and week out, that man is always the greatest monster. And 9-11 and terrorism have wielded more villainy than humanly imaginable. The brilliant HOMELAND proves that point. It’s television at its best, showing a nation and a world, so often at its very worst. 

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