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Homeland (Channel 4) - Pilot episode reviewed

Homeland

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

HERO or traitor? That is the question underpinning Channel 4’s Homeland, the latest hit to arrive from America that boasts a hot button topic, a delicious ambiguity and two cracking central performances.

The question of guilt has seldom seemed so convoluted as evidenced during the opening hour of this cracking US drama. Is US Marine Sergeant Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis) a returning hero or has he been turned into an al-Qaeda terrorist.

Or has CIA agent Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) become so obsessed with the capture of one of al-Qaeda’s top brass that she has resorted to desperate tactics?

It’s a dilemma worthy of Jack Bauer and it’s little wonder that Homeland comes to us from the same producers of 24. Whereas that was frequently an adrenalin-driven race-against-the-clock, this is far more slow-burning…. more deliberately psychological.

In the first hour alone, there was evidence to give credence to both schools of thought.

Brody looked troubled. But then he had just spent eight years in al-Qaeda captivity, during which he had been extensively tortured (mentally and physically, as the scars on his body showed) and – apparently – asked to beat a comrade-in-arms to death.

Is his difficulty connecting with the world down to guilt? Fear? An inability to come to terms with the enormity of what has just happened?

Why, then, has he chosen to hide the fact he did make contact with the man at the top of Carrie’s hit-list?

Carrie, though, is no saint. A desperate, driven woman, prone to picking up men for meaningless one-night stands and operating outside of the box, she’s also taking anti-psychotic medication and has a tarnished reputation to restore.

In the opening moments of the episode, we saw how she took her life into her own hands to extract information from another suspect in Iraq, creating an international incident, and only barely escaping with the nugget of intelligence that drives the premise: that an American prisoner of war had been turned.

But how reliable is the information? And how stable is Carrie?

Both Danes and Lewis give intense, captivating performances. Danes, especially, treads a fascinating line between determined brilliance and inappropriate risk-taking.

You can sense her desperation to be proven right no matter what it takes… even if that means uncomfortably watching as Brody is first seduced and then almost rapes his wife. And yet there was almost a sense of relief when she ‘uncovered’ the vital piece of a clue that might provide her salvation – the nervous finger tick, or code-sending, that Brody was captured doing at both of his press appearances.

Lewis, too, walks a fine line between wounded hero and sleeping wolf. He is continually suspicious, yet openly genial. He sees everything too, having already sensed his wife’s infidelity with a former best friend, and picked up on the overly aggressive questioning of Carrie’s bullish agent.

But is his behaviour symptomatic of a man who should, by all rights, be dead? Whose existence came at the expense of being asked to kill a former colleague? And a nagging suspicion that he no longer fits into a world that had all but buried him eight years ago?

It’s a wonderful dilemma and one that – perhaps even more pertinently – has a scary contemporary resonance in our post-9/11 world (albeit one that has also been visited in The Manchurian Candidate in both its forms).

So, the question remains… guilty or innocent? It should be one hell of a ride finding out because as first episodes go this was a corker.