thu 23/10/2014

Homeland, Channel 4 | TV reviews, news & interviews

Homeland, Channel 4

Eight episodes in, the paranoid drama is still barely scratching the surface of its tortured protagonists

Rescued prisoner of war Nick Brody (Damien Lewis): hero or turncoat?

The opening credits of US television’s latest watercooler export Homeland have proved to be one of the critically lauded show’s few divisive elements, yet also encapsulate what could be most interesting about it. The sequence – a fragmented, arguably messy blend of real newsreel clips, stylised monochrome footage, anti-terrorism soundbites and the odd persecutory whisper – isn’t really about national security or post-9/11 America, but about psychological illness. Love it or loathe it, it evokes the troubled mind of our de facto heroine Carrie (Claire Danes) more effectively than any moment in the show itself has yet managed. 

Homeland had one of the most unequivocally promising pilots in recent memory. Its premise, with inflections of The Manchurian Candidate – American prisoner of war Nick Brody (Damien Lewis) returns home a hero having been presumed dead for eight years, but an obsessive CIA analyst (Danes) suspects he’s been brainwashed and “turned” by al-Qaeda – suggestedboth breathless thrills and nuanced character drama. The former has been borne out (unsurprisingly, given that creator Howard Gordon was also the brains behind 24), but the latter only partially so.

CIA analyst Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes)We learn in the first episode that Carrie (pictured right) is taking clozapine, an antipsychotic prescribed primarily for schizophrenia, though it’s unclear exactly what diagnosis it is that she’s concealing from her CIA employers. It was a standout moment of intrigue in an episode packed full of them, and put a far more interesting spin on the well-worn trope of the maverick agent who alone suspects the truth.

But episodes since have done little but pay increasingly vague lip service to the possibility that Carrie may be psychotic – there have been hints of her missing pills, and one intriguing conversation with her similarly afflicted father, but we’ve seen next to nothing of her illness presumably because the drugs do, in fact, work. It’s easy to see why the writers want to save up her big moment of psychological unravelling for later in the series, but eight episodes in the lack of resolution is beginning to wear thin.

Happily, this episode did see some resolution on other fronts. After the unsettling suggestion last week that Carrie’s suspicions about Brody were all wrong (unsettling because really, who's interested in watching if Walker’s the bad guy?), it’s finally confirmed that he’s been working in some capacity with al-Qaeda leader Abu Nazir. Meanwhile the interminable love triangle plotline surrounding his wife (Morena Baccarin) and best friend (Diego Klattenhoff) drags on – because of course, when she finally moved on from her presumed-dead husband, it had to be with his very closest pal. It’s this sort of stale plotting that prevents Homeland from being quite as fiercely, breathlessly brilliant as it could be, along with soapy sidelines like Saul’s (Mandy Patinkin) ongoing domestic troubles.

Some stale plotting prevents Homeland from being quite as fiercely, breathlessly brilliant as it could be

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