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Homeland: The Complete First Season
Homeland is the latest series to become a home-run success for Showtime television. The series was created and is being produced by some of the writer's responsible for bringing to life Fox's massive hit series 24 as longtime series writers. With more than four million viewers tuning in every week during its first season, enormously positive critical recognition, award wins at the Golden Globes (where the show brought home two awards: the Best Drama Television Series award and a Best Actress award for Claire Danes), and a new season premiering soon, this is definitely a show that surpassed audience expectations and became one of the runaway hits discovered in the past year's television season.
The show begins by introducing us to our leading hero: Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes), a CIA operative who is incredibly gifted, intelligent, hardworking, and determined but who is divisive amongst the CIA operatives she works with. Just a few minutes into the show, we witness what was a devastating last attempt from Carrie to find out some information from an informant that she was working with outside of the United States and prior to his death sentence being carried out. The audience can hear whispers from the informant given to Carrie. Now the question has become what was told.
Flash things forward in the story and Carrie is attending a meeting in which she is told that a U.S. Marine was discovered alive after eight years of having gone missing and following the government's declaration of his death. Carrie remembers back to what was told to her by her informant, and we soon find out that she was told a U.S. officer had turned and was working with Al Qaeda as a terrorist working against the United States government.
Carrie immediately suspects Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis); the discovered-alive Marine previously thought dead. She tells others around her about her theory and is shot down and receives no official support of her theory regarding Brody. Upset over this situation, Carrie decides to take matters into her own hands.
Carrie enlists the help of a connected friend with the knowledge and skills needed to help her begin her own investigation into the newly-declared wartime hero, Marine Nicholas Brody. It becomes Carrie's full-time obsession to see to it that she stop Brody, who she is determined to believe is a terrorist despite the fact that no one around her seems to believe it. The question of the series then becomes this: is Brody a terrorist who was turned by Al Qaeda? And if so... then what happens next?
The story setup becomes even more complicated when Brody returns home to his wife Jessica (Morena Baccarin) and his two children, Dana (Morgan Saylor) and Chris (Jackson Pace). The three of them deliver their welcoming's to the family member they all believed to be dead. The son, who is only around 12 years old, extends his hand to his father and says "Nice to meet you."
Brody's wife had begun seeing his old Marine friend Mike Faber (Diego Klattenhoff) over a year before his return. Jessica and Mike both leave Brody in the dark about their relationship (one that extended to Mike being a father figure to the kids -- especially to Chris). The newspapers and the media seek out the attention of this family believed perfect but that could be crumbling apart just as things are getting back together. If Brody truly is a terrorist what would happen to the family? What will happen if Brody discovers that Jessica and his best friend were sleeping together? The United States? The World? These and many more questions are raised, and the show continues going down even more interesting directions on top of everything else.
Meanwhile, Carrie receives some long-term help from two people essential to her life and to her well-being: her sister Maggie (Amy Hargreaves) and her mentor and surrogate father-figure that works with her in the CIA, Saul (Mandy Patinkin). Maggie is a doctor and she helps give Carrie pills off the record. Carrie is bipolar and doesn't want anyone at the CIA to know this about her, including Saul. Saul is someone who is always looking out for Carrie. He is not the head of the CIA but he is the one person that Carrie most frequently works with and looks to for guidance (not that she always listens to him though).
Over the course of Season 1, audiences are asked many questions and none of them are easy to answer. The show is one part thriller, another part drama, and another part philosophical. It has enough ambition and craft to be a far more deep character analysis than most series would even consider to attempt regardless of the story being told. Homeland is also surprisingly thoughtful, with enough depth and knowledge from the writing staff to handle the complex characters and plotlines.
At the heart of this show is a story about damaged people in need of a serious help-line. It is a show with a beating heart, a fascinating mind, and a lot to say about people and not only with politics in mind. It is especially profound and compelling because of the performance by Claire Danes, who connects all of the various elements of the show by being the solid foundation that this remarkable series needed to thrive.
The best thing about the show? The acting and the characters trumps everything else Homeland offers. Which is saying something notable... especially considering how every single aspect of this show is intelligent and well done from every aspect of the series production and creation. Carrie is an undeniably compelling character that you can't help but become drawn to while watching the show. Claire Danes delivers an incredible performance: one of the best on TV. Nothing disappoints in her performance. However, for the show to truly excel in every way possible the dynamic character of Carrie needed a match of intrigue and compelling drama.
Damian Lewis also does incredible work as the war-vet who is believed as a possibly turned terrorist. His character is well-written, and he brings a lot of subtlety to the role. Few actors manage to bring so much emotion to their characterizations by saying so little. The writers clearly wanted to keep audiences guessing about him because the character was really hard pinpointing and the story made two possible scenarios seem possible: one exists in which a wartime victim and hero returns home but suffers: post-traumatic stress disorder. The other suggests that he did, in fact, become a terrorist who is working against the United States. It makes for compelling television in a way that few shows could ever manage.
I was also impressed by the performance by Mandy Patinkin. Most viewers probably remember Patinkin best for his role in The Princess Bride ("Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.") At least that is the number one role I always remembered a young Patinkin for bringing to life. This part is unlike anything else I have seen him in. Sal's a complex character. He has his own crisis with his falling apart marriage and he has taken on a role of responsibility in making sure to take care of Carrie when she needs him. He has such a likeable character. He is gentle and sweet-natured in a way almost no one does on this series.
The writing on Homeland is so good. So very, very good. If the plot doesn't draw you in (and something tells me there's a good chance the plot will draw audiences in) the characters will. Something about this show is synching together perfectly in the debut season that it's easily become one of the best series I have seen in quite some time. You will be wondering about exactly what is going on with this show every single episode. You will wonder about these characters. It is so dramatically compelling that it is easily one of the best for-adults series currently airing on television.
To make matters even better for this show's success, Homeland has the benefit of some excellent direction, including the outstanding work of director Michael Cuesta (Dexter), who I am willing to proclaim as one of television's best. He has an interesting way of directing the series and the series feels so polished in terms of camera-work (framing), performances, and pacing. This is a series with a grace pace and it works because of how well everyone in the production crew has gelled together in the process so well.
The music by composer Sean Callery (24, Medium) is jazz infused and unlike anything that is expected. Yet it works. It seems perfectly suited for these kinds of characters and themes that become explored on the show. The cinematography by Nelson Cragg is remarkable and yet it doesn't draw anything away from the focus of the show: the characters. As I said, I am quite impressed by the entire team that works on this show.
Homeland is one of the most ambitious and engaging series to premiere in the past television season. It is going to be difficult for the series to actually live up to the expectations that the audience likely has. I would image that most fans of the series would say they have massive expectations for season two. At least, I know that I do and that I am now looking forward to seeing where this show heads to next along its course. Homeland is brilliant television. It is unlike anything else on TV right now. It is a show that deserves to win the Emmy, and that deserves the attention of viewers everywhere. We are truly in a golden age of television as creative and diverse televisions series like Homeland arrive on the airwaves.
Homeland is presented in its broadcast aspect ratio of 1.78:1. This is the standard widescreen ratio given to most modern productions. While the series may not have a 2.35:1 scope, it has apparently done nothing to affect the cinematic and expansive nature of the series visual eye, cinematography, and elaborate production aspects. The sets on this show are incredible and having the Blu-ray presentation is preferred to seeing the show in the best resolution that is possible. While Homeland may not have the kind of flawless picture quality a Hollywood motion-picture might have it can certainly be pleased to know that it joins the ranks of the absolute best presentations given to any television series.
Matching the impressive picture quality is the dynamic and crystal clear 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio presentation. The series is presented in English (but occasionally other languages are spoken, and these moments may or may not be subtitled depending upon whether or not the writers want us to have a good idea of what is going on in those scenes).
The show isn't an action series. It has moments of intensity but it never becomes an action show. Don't expect a lot of scenes with dramatic bass levels or huge action pieces. However, the audio is great as preserving not only the jazz-infused score, but all of the surrounding environmentally based sounds and the occasional action element. Homeland has an amazing lossless presentation in the audio department.
Subtitles are presented in English SDH (for the deaf and hard of hearing), Spanish, and French.
While the release does not contain a plethora of supplemental features, the bonus features would be worth checking out for dedicated series fans interesting in learning more about the making of this series. Here is a breakdown on what is included: Commentary on the Pilot Episode, Week Ten: A Prologue to Season Two; a brief scene that takes place after the events the finale, and deleted scenes spanned across the discs and for various episodes. For the most part though it seemed pretty clear they were deleted because they impacted the stories in a way the writers decided not to have happen or they simply weren't as interesting.
There is one more inclusion: Homeland Season One: Under Surveillance is easily the best supplement included on this release. Clocking in at a little over 30 minutes long, this is an engaging making-of documentary with information on how the show was pitched, created, scored, filmed, and more. There are interviews with several of the writers, producers, cast, directors, the composer, cinematographer, etc. and each aspect of the making-of manages successfully to give more information on the show's creation. It was fascinating to learn specifically what brought on the idea to make Carrie a bipolar character and to have the performance background information on how Claire Danes prepared for the part. If any complaint can be made about this supplement it's that it was so fascinating to hear the individuals responsible for making Homeland talk about it, that I wished it was longer.
Homeland won big at the Golden Globes and it deserves to win at the Emmys. This show is unlike anything else currently airing on television. It is ambitious, it is intelligent, and it is thought provoking. You will be fascinated by these characters and by where the plotline is heading every episode. This is television that is not to be missed by anyone interested in a compelling thriller and a well-told drama. Homeland is one of the best new series. Period.
Neil Lumbard is a lifelong fan of cinema. He aspires to make movies and has written two screenplays on spec. He loves writing, and currently does in Texas.