Homeland: TV Review

 Kent Smith/Showtime

It's unlikely that any other new scripted series has these words in it: "Bin Laden is dead." Homeland, an intriguing and thrilling drama entry from Showtime, makes use of those words in a sentence that clearly puts the show on modern ground: It's not just a post-9/11 series; it's a post-Saddam, post-bin Laden look at terrorism that could have been shot last week.

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The series, easily one of the fall's best, centers on Marine Sgt. Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis), missing for eight years and presumed dead. He turns up in the rubble of an al-Qaida compound just lit up by U.S. bombs after a tip that one of the most wanted terrorists was going to be there. Brody is pulled out and returned home as a national hero. CIA agent Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes), an expert in Middle East terrorism, has immediate suspicions, but she's being marginalized at the agency because one of her recent missions in Iraq went sideways — and, besides, nobody wants to ruin the feel-good story that's making the agency look so good. Carrie's intel is that Brody had actually "been turned" and could be plotting an attack on America from the inside.

It's a compelling premise and one the writers quickly move to gray areas. Carrie's rogue actions run afoul of her biggest supporter at the CIA, Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin in a grounded, nuanced performance). She's a top-notch agent but also reckless, and what the audience is shown pretty quickly is that Carrie is taking pills for a mental condition the agency doesn't know about. (She's getting them from her sister, a psychiatrist, who becomes just another person, like Saul, helping Carrie while she in turn puts their lives at risk.)

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Who do we believe? Brody has definitely changed. Is Carrie stressed out and possibly mentally incapacitated? Is there a little bit of truth in each story?

Both Lewis and Danes are excellent in Homeland. His coiled intensity — and mystery — contrast nicely with her manic need to be right. The cast also includes David Harewood as David Estes, head of the CIA's counterterrorism center and a rising star in the agency. His future basically rides on Brody being the hero everyone believes him to be, thus he's antagonistic to Carrie's suspicions. Morena Baccarin plays Jessica Brody, whose life is turned upside down when she finds out her husband is still alive after all these years.

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Showtime really has something in this show because there's a lot of intrigue in the spy-and-terrorist angle, especially as it clashes with privacy rights, suspicion of our own troops and how a hero might think the eight lost years weren't worth it in a war he might not believe in.

The only worry going forward with Homeland is how long does it play the is-he-or-isn't-he card? And if he is, how long will it be interesting waiting for him to make a move against his country? Or is the whole point watching Carrie come unraveled?

But those are questions to be answered at a later time. Right now, Homeland is the timeliest drama on television and one that could really use that "ripped from the headlines" currency in a political fashion, which makes it worth keeping an eye on.

Airdate 10 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 2 (Showtime)
Cast Claire Danes, Damian Lewis, Mandy Patinkin
Executive producers/writers Howard Gordon, Alex Gansa

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