I’ve been watching the Showtime series Homeland in fits and starts, and knocked out the most recent episodes last night. If you haven’t seen the show, the story is that CIA officer Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) is told by a captured terrorist in Iraq that an American POW has been “turned.” The terrorist is murdered shortly, and an American POW who had been held for eight years is freed in Iraq shortly after that. The POW, Marine Sgt. Nick Brody (Damian Lewis) returns to a hero’s welcome, only to find that his family situation has changed a bit. His wife, Jess (Morena Baccarin) held out hope that he was alive for six years before falling into romance with her missing husband’s commanding officer and best friend. The Brody kids regard him as their sort-of dad. Family tension ensues, while the CIA officer spies on and closes in on Brody.
Spoilers coming, so if you haven’t seen all 10 episodes, look away or don’t blame me.
Homeland mostly follows CIA agent Mathison, whom Danes plays well as a brilliant but somewhat crazy patriotic CIA officer devoting her life to stopping the next 9-11. The acting and writing have been solid up to the 8th episode, in which we find that not one but maybe two American POWs have been turned to work for Abu Nazir, the series’ stand-in for Osama bin Laden. We get confirmation in the 9th episode that Brody has been turned, as has a fellow POW that Brody thinks he killed during their captivity. The second POW, Tom Walker (Chris Chalk), is back in the US and laying low awaiting orders to strike. He’s also an expert Marine sniper.
The series’ realism is mostly to be commended. Most recent Hollywood treatments of terrorism supplant some other source, Russians or Irishmen, instead of having the courage to deal with the real thing. The terrorists in Homeland are radical Muslims. A Washington area imam appears to mean well but knows more about the rogue Marines than he’s letting on. US inter-agency cooperation is pitiful. A Saudi ambassador is working with the terrorists. Being stuck in terrorist hands for eight years would mess you up, and toss chaos onto the family left behind. Democrats grasp to make politicians out of war heroes as quickly as possible to burnish their own national security cred. There’s even a “Congressman Dick Johnson” who gets himself into an Anthony Weiner-style scandal, paving the way for Brody to get political.
But Homeland swerved into fantasy territory in the 8th episode when Mathison decided to get very very close to Brody, and put both feet in fantasy in the 10th episode, when we find out how the terrorists turned Brody. Abu Nazir ended Brody’s grueling torture, moved him to relative luxury somewhere in northern Iraq, and allowed Brody to teach his son, Isa, English. How many Islamic terrorist masterminds would entrust their own children to an American Marine for any length of time? Over the course of a year, Brody and Isa develop a father-son bond that apparently Nazir didn’t enjoy with the boy, who tended to show fear anytime Nazir was in the room. It’s possible that Isa isn’t Nazir’s son, but so far that’s how he has been played. We find out at the end of the episode that the Democratic vice president, during his military career, had ordered a drone strike on the compound in which Brody was held, and the strike killed Isa. Isa’s death is apparently Brody’s turning point. A drone strike on a terrorist enclave in a war zone therefore eclipses 9-11 and intentional mass murder on one’s countrymen, to Marine Sgt. Nick Brody.
That’s the first major problem with Homeland’s story line. A proud US Marine who held out against extreme terrorist torture gets turned by the death of a boy, to the point that he would attack his own country, in which live his own wife, daughter and son? Brody hasn’t been depicted as psychologically broken; he’s a convert to Islam who has switched sides. At least that’s how he has been played. It’s difficult to buy as a turning point for a focal character.
The second problem comes when Brody is back in DC, tells the duplicitous Saudi ambassador that he’s no longer willing to participate in Nazir’s plans, and then gets a virtual visit from Abu Nazir himself, the most wanted man in the world. Nazir has some men jump Brody and take him to a safe house, which appears to be the Saudi ambassador’s residence, and then holds what amounts to a Skype video chat with Brody. Nazir Skypes Brody back onto Team Terror by showing Brody a clip of the vice president discussing that drone strike that killed Isa.
Doesn’t the NSA sniff for this sort of communications pretty much all the time? Osama bin Laden took himself off the electronic communications grid for years, but we’re led to believe that Nazir can video chat at will. In a previous episode, we glimpsed him meeting with a Saudi playboy on a yacht. For a wanted man, Abu Nazir manages to get around.
Fringe lost me when the writers decided to have Agent Olivia Dunnam spend a season imitating Leonard Nemoy. Anna Torv is a good actress, but even she’s not that good. I’m still giving Homeland a chance, but it’s starting to look like it is being written into some very fringey story lines.