Here in the UK, Sunday night saw the feature-length finale of the first season of Homeland. Ch4 had been trailing the bejeezus out of it, so I almost wore out my TV mute button last week, trying to avoid any potential spoilers!
For those who don’t know, this American political drama/thriller series starred Claire Danes as ‘Carrie Mathison’, a CIA operations officer who received a tip-off that an American prisoner of war had been turned by Al-Qaeda, shortly before the ever-so-convenient discovery of an MIA Marine, named ‘Nicholas Brody’, who had been captured by enemy forces almost eight years earlier. When Brody returns to the US, he’s feted as a war hero by the top brass, but Carrie becomes obsessed with exposing him as a sleeper agent, even if she has to trash her career and her sanity to do it!
I wanted to reserve judgement on the season as a whole until I saw where it was going, and overall I think it held together very well. I’m sure you could pick out plot holes along the way if you wanted to be pedantic… and some of the faked locations apparently left American residents a little bemused (not that I’d know Gettysburg from a hole in the ground, myself)… but overall I thought the writing was very strong, and the performances were fantastic. I haven’t really seen Danes in anything since Romeo + Juliet, but she was going like gangbusters here… apparently she did a lot of research into her character’s condition, and diagnosed Carrie as having a “bipolar disorder” (or manic depression), which is what finally caught up with her in the end. And it was heartbreaking to watch, because of course we knew that she was right all along… but she went about trying to prove it in such a reckless and ranty way that nobody else believes a word she says anymore! Except for ‘Virgil’, maybe… bless him.
Meanwhile, Brody was played by Damian Lewis, who might very well be my favourite Brit actor at the moment, even if his best shows (and the characters he plays in them) are actually American! He was just incredible here though… and the scene where Brody’s daughter ‘Dana’ (Morgan Saylor) inadvertently saved the day simply by asking him to come home… well, it’s making me tear up a little, just thinking about it now! Absolutely incredible bit of acting from both of them. Bizarrely, according to an interview I just read at the AV Club site with series co-creator Alex Gansa, in the pilot the role of Brody’s wife was originally played by fellow Brit Laura Fraser… but it was decided that she was too “soulful” and “wounded”, so they replaced her with Morena Baccarin instead, because she had a “more vibrant, sexual personality”! Then again, Gansa also describes Fraser as “English”, so I’m not sure how much stock we should put into his assessment of her…
It was great to see Mandy Patinkin back in a “fatherly mentor” role as Carrie’s old boss, ‘Saul Berenson’… although I was rather disappointed he didn’t call her “peanut” at any point. Still, Saul was absolutely adorable, in a gruff, grizzled sort of way, and a thoroughly decent and upstanding chap… which made the break-up with his wife, ‘Mira’ (Sarita Choudhury) all the more unfortunate… even if you could totally see where she was coming from with the “married to his job” accusation.
In the comments section for his review of the final episode, AV Club critic Todd VanDerWerff claimed that the showrunners have “a very rough five season plan” for the series, which could be pretty interesting… although part of me was sort of hoping that Brody would blow himself up already, just to vindicate Carrie. I found the ambiguous “going-under-anaesthetic” cliff-hanger a little irritating, actually… and having been burned by other long-running American shows before, I’m not sure how optimistic I am about their five year plan… but I’m too hooked to quit on them just yet!