Less than a year ago, HuffPostUK spoke to Damian Lewis about a small French-funded film he was about to appear in. As an afterthought, he added, “I’ve just done a pilot for a TV series about a war veteran coming back from Afghanistan – who you don’t know if he’s been turned or not – so we’ll see what happens with that.”
What happened with that was two Golden Globes – one for Best TV Series, one for Best Actress – and a further nomination for Lewis himself, as Best Actor. And reports that it was the President’s favourite bit of telly, and an invitation for the British actor and his wife to dinner at the White House during our Prime Minister’s own state visit. So, it’s probably not overstating it to say that Homeland has become a phenomenon.
And we’ll have to learn to do without on Sunday nights, after it reaches its crashing finale this weekend. (Until the next time, the good, if baffling plot-wise, news is that it’s been commissioned for a second series already, due to be aired in the States from this September).
Why do we love it? So many reasons. Here are five off the top of my head…
Brody – If he wasn’t so complex, he’d just be a straight baddy that we want to get busted. Instead, through the power of Lewis’s enigmatic performance, the layers of the onion get slowly peeled back, and we see glimpses of the dilemma inside – a man whose patriotism is rocked by the bloodshed he witnesses, and then overturned completely by the loss of the only person he’s been close to for years. Brody’s uniformed glamour is the perfect counterpoint to the violence and desperation that occasionally triumph over the well-behaved soldier.
Carrie – Claire Danes’ intelligence shines through in her portrayal of CIA agent Carrie – whose instincts for Brody’s guilt may be the only thing to save her country’s security. And of course they don’t know it. In her fleeting affair with Brody, her need for a friendly touch finally appeared, and it’s been bubbling away ever since. Our hearts bled when she calmly told Saul, “I’ve realised I’m always going to be alone”, which does lead to the question – does working for the CIA turn people into relationship car wrecks, or does it attract those who can’t handle normal life? And her depiction of bipolar disorder has done much to bring this much-undiscussed condition into the mainstream.
And these hardly minor characters…
The almost unshockable Saul – in Mandy Patinkin’s assured hands, the compassionate Saul has his own problems, but is the person always ready to give Carrie a hug, even when she disappoints him greatly. And his epic car ride across the country, with a terrorist for a passenger, stopping at diners and all, could have had a spin-off tele-movie all of its own.
The audacity of the initial premise – you can’t get more American than a US marine, he sits at the heart of the country’s self-identity, and yet the writers have managed to take an original Israeli TV idea, and make it absolutely American, turning this betrayer of all his national ideals into a sympathetic character whom, despite ourselves, we root for – even when he’s carrying out acts as unseemly as chatting to his daughter while putting on a suicide bomber’s garb – which is just bizarre.
Its power to surprise – in lesser hands, something as remarkable as Brody’s conversion to Islam, Carrie’s bipolar condition, their mutual attraction, would all have been saved as a final ‘big reveal’, here, the writers have so much to explore they can afford to let us have all these much earlier on. This means they have more scope to explore context and cause over simple content, leading to villains we understand, heroes whose flaws we notice, and values such as patriotism, family and honour we will no longer accept as simple givens in other dramas.
Because Homeland has raised the bar.
Sunday 9pm, Channel 4