Last Friday I bought the DVD of the first season of the TV series HOMELAND having heard about it several months ago on NPR but totally unaware of all its Emmy nominations. Since we don’t have TV, the only way we watch shows is on DVD and usually view the episodes back to back--so far I’ve seen the pilot through 8 and am hooked.
The elevator pitch? Marine Sergeant Nicholas Brody is rescued from captivity in Iraq and returns home eight years after going missing. Carrie Mathison, a driven CIA officer, suspects he might have been “turned” by a notorious terrorist leader and is plotting an attack on America.
An intriguing premise, huh? What’s fascinated me about this series is the writing—more specifically the characters. As writers we’re told “If the reader believes the motivation, they’ll believe anything the character does.” We’re also taught that the reader needs to empathize in some way with the protagonists or they’ll put the book down. The writers of Homeland have created seriously flawed and ambiguous characters—not just Carrie and Brody, but most of the cast—and given them motivations that make even some crazy behavior believable if not acceptable. For example, Carrie has an undefined mental illness that she’s self-treating with meds she gets from her sister. Her sister pleads with her to go for medical help and she refuses because the diagnosis would end her career as a CIA agent. Not a good reason, but an understandable motivation.
Nick is a fascinating character because it’s nearly impossible to get a valid read on him. Clearly he’s not a good guy, but is he a terrorist? Would he destroy his family, his country in the name of Islam? As the story progresses, it takes turns and twists that startle the viewer and mislead Carrie, maintaining suspense and tension with character shifts and revelation rather than the heart-stopping action of a series like 24.
Even the secondary characters are three-dimensional. Brody’s best friend and wife had fallen in love a couple of years before Brody’s return and the friend was the only father figure his children knew. This makes the family dynamics and relationships very complicated. Carrie’s boss is struggling with the disintegration of his marriage because of his career and yet can’t let go of his involvement in national security. There are no heroes in this series—only all too flawed human beings who are either trying to do good or bent on destruction. The fun is we aren’t quite sure which is which until the writers show their hand.
Has anyone else seen HOMELAND? Is there a series you especially like or find fascinating that you would recommend?