Shocking, thought-provoking and genuinely gripping television - this is one of the best things to have been beamed across the airwaves in years.
What's It All About Then?
One of the biggest series on television at the moment - Homeland follows an American prisoner of war, Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis), who has been held by Al-Qaeda for eight years. During his capture, Brody is tortured, beaten and isolated for long periods of time - so when a rescue operation frees him, he is obviously quite seriously traumatised.
The American people see the freed marine as a hero and begin to lay out celebratory parades for him. One CIA agent believes differently - Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) - who has received reliable intelligence that an American POW has been turned by Al-Qaeda.
Mathison has to go against the CIA to secretly spy on Brody when he returns, looking for that vital evidence that Brody is planning to carry out a terrorist attack on US soil. She lets her feelings get caught up in the moment though, and ends up becoming closely involved with Brody. This does not help Carrie's existing mental health problems - and as she gets sucked into the case she neglects her mental health more and more.
Slowly, the details of what is really going on here come to light - and the revelations in store are truly shocking.
So Is It Any Good?
+++ Big, Tense Plot +++
Outlined briefly above, the plot is very tense and hugely controversial. As you get drawn into the story by the big and gripping concepts (the possibility of a turned US marine carrying out a terrorist attack is always fun) but then you start to get caught up in the sub-plots.
Brody's family life is a complex and difficult affair - his wife and children believed him to be dead for the eight years he was captured. Although not admitting it publicly, Brody's wife and his best friend - another marine - have been sleeping with each other for several years. His friend, Mike Faber, has almost started to take over the "father" role for Brody's son - then in walks Brody again.
On finding out about this, Brody's inhibition about his behaviour seems to slip - he drinks, messes around with Carrie and ends up punching Faber in the face while they are at a house party.
This is just an overview of this thread running through Brody's life - he has already been brought back in for questioning by the CIA about his knowledge and seems to know that Carrie is suspicious of him.
Then we also look at things from Carrie's perspective - through the use of secret video cameras around his house and tracking him down at both social and professional meetings. Her absolute insistence that Brody has defected is her only motivator - there is nothing to suspect that Brody has been corrupted, he has just come back from years of abuse and so will need some time to re-adjust. But she keeps at it.
Finally we have the lives of the secondary characters - other CIA agents and members of Brody's family - and their actions play a key part in goings on and have motivations that take some time to understand.
+++ Perfect Performances +++
So the crucial thing if you have something that needs to be moving, gripping and believable if you are trying to write something so controversial is to have perfect acting. This is spot on.
Really, really good - mainly Lewis and Danes - who are present in most scenes and whose fluctuating mood, state of mental health and anxiety come across in the acting absolutely perfectly - right up to the nail-biting finale. The twitches in their face, gritting of teeth, hands, sweaty brow, neat appearance or lax appearance - all performed beautifully.
These just have to be seen to be appreciated - never overplayed, always intense but realistic - truly sensational. The whole series was an absolute joy to watch - I was desperate for the next instalment right after the last one aired. The way the details are played out as the series progresses onwards to the mind-blowing climax is just extraordinary. You make guesses about what is going on - but then by the next episode you start to believe that someone's not telling the truth and that we're being made to think something else.
It's gripping, amazing television and some of the best I've seen in years.
-+- The End? -+-
Then I just want to add a little bit about the finale - which does not disappoint - but I'll avoid any spoilers so everyone else can try it out.
It didn't pan out how I thought - at all. Not just that I thought the characters would have done something different - and moreover that I thought the series was being geared up to end in a much different way. The last half an hour was radically different from what I expected - and I suppose it was very good all the same - but it was a bit odd, and not how I thought the characters would have ended things. Particularly what Carrie agrees to have done - still very real and I know people who have done that - but it was harsh and unsettling to watch. It does set up the next series well though - so maybe it is just that it shocked me quite a lot rather than being in any way "bad".
It's just shocking, OK?
I'm a sensitive soul.
It's just shocking, OK?
I'm a sensitive soul.
Top-quality entertainment that has enough depth to captivate for many hours at a time. The 12 part series was a thrilling ride from start to finish - I loved it.
On top of that, the performances delivered by Lewis and Danes are some of the best I have seen on television - complex, confused, emotional and utterly absorbing.
Really stands out above most other TV out there - and I may even enjoy the second series.
Any images in this review are subject to relevant copyrights and are kindly provided by: http://www.channel4.com/programmes/homeland