Homeland stuns with themes, characters

Politics and television have a long history together.

M.A.S.H. was one of the first political shows, focusing in its later seasons on the dark horrors of war and the necessity (or lack thereof) of the United States’ occupation of Korea. The West Wing brought its audience into both the White House and the conflicted minds of the fictional politicians that roamed its hallways. And The Wire all-too-realistically transposed the corruption of government with the police and schoolteachers suffering the consequences of cutbacks.

Homeland, recently in the news for ending the three-year reign of Breaking Bad and Mad Mens Emmy domination, is next in line to continue this legacy of outstanding political television.

Airing new episodes of its second season Sunday nights on Showtime, the show definitely deserves viewers’ attentions. Homeland is special for many reasons, but mainly the stellar performances from the two leads: Claire Danes and Damian Lewis’ portrayals of the dynamic characters result in consistently engaging storytelling that doesn’t rely on gimmicks or cliffhangers, but pure substance.

The two lead actors carry Homeland: Both won an Emmy for their performances as the two compelling main characters of the show’s groundbreaking first season.

Danes plays Carrie Mathison, a CIA operative with some issues, to say the least. Carrie is composed of equal parts mania, charisma and intelligence, which makes for a combustible combination in her line of work. As many of this generation’s most celebrated programs have centered on a flawed male character — Don Draper, Walter White and Tony Soprano, to name a few — it is refreshing to see a female lead with such complexities and imperfections.

Lewis plays Nicholas Brody, a U.S. Marine that was captured by terrorist forces in the Middle East and held as a prisoner of war for eight years. After finally being rescued, Brody returns home to his family and his country — both of which have changed dramatically during his absence. The CIA wants to use him as a poster boy for the continuation of the war, but Carrie sees him as a threat. From here, a cat-and-mouse game of secrets and surveillance ensues with captivating onscreen results.

Both characters are emotionally damaged and deeply troubled — Carrie eats nothing but unflavored yogurt and Chinese take-out and seemingly cares about nothing more than protecting the nation from another terrorist attack. The show depicts her as woman who will go to any lengths to find out the truth. She uses her brain as a tool for manipulation and her sexuality as a tool for stress release. Carrie definitely isn’t the prototypical female character an audience is supposed to unequivocally like and relate to. This complexity creates a multi-layered character that, thanks in large part because of Danes’ consistently remarkable performances, is simultaneously a hero and a head case.

Brody is also severely damaged because of many years living inside an al-Qaida hole. Lewis, best known from HBO’s Band of Brothers, exhibits a performance that is subtle and enthralling. His character, in particular, develops increasingly and only becomes more captivating from episode to episode.

Homeland has established itself as one of the best shows on television because, in conjunction with great acting, it consistently surprises its audience with its timing. Whereas most programs tend to save their main conflict resolutions for the season’s end, Homeland has remained unpredictable throughout, creating an environment where the viewer doesn’t know what to expect or when to expect it. Through the first two episodes of the new season, it’s safe to say that the show has not lost its touch or its ability to drop your jaw directly to the floor.

The second season continues the show’s established penchant for extremely tense and thrilling drama along with intelligent humor and serious political overtones. The season premiere, for one, deals with political themes including foreign affairs policies and CIA operations in the Middle East.

Intelligent political television is especially important in 2012, as the nation will be electing a president in the coming weeks. Though Homeland does not openly deal with election-prevalent political subjects like party dynamics, it does force its audience to question the motivations behind administrative decisions and the truth (or, again, the lack thereof) of statements issued by the government. And asking those questions is never a bad thing.

Homeland continuously impresses and surprises. Its characters are complex and thought-provoking, and its political content is especially important during this election year. Viewers should definitely pay attention to this intense and thought-provoking drama — they don’t want to risk missing out on something truly special.


Catch Homeland on Showtime on Sundays at 10 p.m.