'Homeland' premiere review: Claire Danes was terrific in a CIA agent's so-called-life

In a fall season whose biggest stories have been an expensive dinosaur show and the resurrection of the sitcom, one of the best new shows snuck onto our screens with all the stealth of the espionage world it depicts. Homeland, which premiered last night after Dexter on Showtime, is probably the most serious yet entertaining, subtle yet gut-level entertaining, sly yet not “cool” drama to premiere thus far. As a Showtime series, it’s not a splattery-splashy as Dexter, but… well, thank goodness.

At the center of Homeland’s appeal is the fact that it is at once timely and escapist. The series takes seriously the notion that America is still very much a terrorism target, that the killing of Osama bin Laden may have driven our enemies both deeper underground and into a deeper rage. At the same time, unlike AMC’s admirable but cancelled after a season Rubicon, Homeland doesn’t lock itself away in musty rooms, shuffling papers looking for anagrams of “al Qaeda.” No, when Claire Danes’ CIA agent Carrie Mathison hears that a Marine prisoner of war (Life’s Damian Lewis), held overseas and tortured for eight years, is being released, she leaped out of her office, did an end-run around her superiors (including an excellently restrained Mandy Patinkin as Carrie’s mentor), and bugged the guy’s house. She had a tip that “an American prisoner of war has been turned,” and thinks Lewis’ Sgt. Nicholas Brody may now be that broken traitor in our midst.

We watched as Carrie did, as Brody tries to reinsert himself into the lives of his wife, Jessica (V’s Morena Baccarin), and two children (Morgan Saylor and Jackson Pace). We and Carrie know that Jessica has been having an affair with Brody’s old service buddy; unlike Carrie, we’ll also soon know that Brody prays to Allah. Does a devotion to Islam equal suspicious behavior? Does a nervous tic Brody displays while being filmed for TV betray a code to new masters? Homeland presents Carrie and Brody as equals – you don’t know who’s right or wrong, do you?

Since she became an enduring TV icon (a word I do not to throw around idly) as Angela Chase in My So-Called Life, Claire Danes has spent a lot of time in ensemble-cast movies (from Little Women to The Mod Squad to The Hours), but she still finds her best work in television. Her Temple Grandin, for which she won an Emmy, was a striking example of the way Danes can burrow into a character without giving herself an I’m-glammier-than-the-person-I’m-playing exit strategy. The woman commits.

In Homeland, Danes is an exceptionally committed agent who might qualify to be committed. Her Carrie us a brilliant, rebellious data analyst whose professional standing is compromised by the fact that she’s bipolar. Danes’ performance here is every bit as fully inhabited as her Angela Chase and her Temple Grandin. Lewis is equally good, rendering Brody guarded and shut-down in a manner that nonetheless is exciting to witness. Executive producers Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa, who used to help Jack Bauer avert national disasters on 24, now take a more measured, thoughtful look at terrorism. But that doesn’t make what they show us any less frightening, or less exciting as drama.

What did you think of Homeland?

Twitter: @kentucker

Comments (72 total) Add your comment
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  • Roger C.

    Terrible show. It’s not going to last.

    • ??

      what show did you watch?

      • quan

        i love what people said here ,I am a 28-years lady ,beautiful and mature . Now I am seeking a good man who can give me real love , my friends told me a nice place …
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        Yes, haven’t they already revealed the secret? It’s a good show but I can’t see how it goes beyond one season. So now what? Maybe she just chases him around for a few months.

    • Tanya

      Yeah, what show did you watch? This was a great show!!

      • Lily

        LOVED IT! I was on the edge of my seat. So many intriguing plots and twists. I will tune in every week for sure!

  • HJ

    Great show! Great cast!

  • Laura

    I liked it but I just dont see how this goes forward as a series. Unless each season, Carrie investigates someone new?

    • dave

      Yep, I like it and I love Damian Lewis (RIP Life) but this is my biggest concern

    • Darth Vader

      Yes, haven’t they already revealed the secret? It’s a good show but I can’t see how it goes beyond one season. So now what? Maybe she just chases him around for a few months.

      • AM

        They haven’t revealed anything. Right now it could go either way. He is either a sleeper OR just a guy who was held captive for eight years and is really messed up. Or both.

    • Rob

      Easy. Already in my mind. What if it isn’t him but he knows someone is a spy and is also looking for him?
      What if he was a plant by the US to get into the cell? What better way then making them think they turned him
      That is why she is being told to leave it alone.

    • KwadGuy

      Although the flashback reveals in the first episode lead us to QUESTION the returning hero, you can’t be SURE he’s turned.

      I though this was a fine episode. I wish they hadn’t felt the need to push the boundaries just because they were on cable, however. We didn’t need to see the sex scenes, and the liberal use of the F-word was somewhat gratuitous…

      • Quandary

        How can you say that the sex scene between Brody and his wife wasn’t important to the story?

      • Melissa in CA

        If you don’t sex and vulgarity, watch network TV.

    • Kong

      Actually the longevity of the plot never even occurred to me; I was sucked into the show, and I can already see how the show would play out long term but I won’t spoil that. It’s terrific and considering it was created by the guys behind 24 I don’t think they’ll have any issues keeping it going.

      • Kong

        …and Damian and Morena are gorgeous; are you mad? I want MORE sex scenes, not less.

    • Ana170

      I felt that way about “24” but somehow it stuck around a lot longer than I would have thought possible.

  • Ryan

    I thought it was a good show, but exactly where did Brody have a prayer rug? Did you review the first 3 episodes or something?

    • ikedirector

      OK. So I wasn’t the only to miss the prayer rug. Exciting, well done show but after one scene involving how a marine was killed (trying to avoid any spoilers), are there still questions?

    • Fatima

      I think Showtime did send out 3 episodes to the press. I didn’t see a prayer rug either, so, ummmm.

    • Jill

      And when did Carrie find out about Jessica and Mike? Did I miss that in the first episode? We know, but when does Carrie find out? I’m guessing this must be somewhere in the 2nd and 3rd episodes like the prayer rug.

  • ken

    Great pilot !! I hope people will give it a chance and I hope Showtime doesnt screw us over like with Sleeper Cell. ….

  • jay

    Best new show of the (awful) fall

  • Fatima

    That’s probably one of the worst cast photos I’ve ever seen.

  • SaraS

    I love love love Claire Danes. She’s so good in everything she chooses.
    Anyone who hasn’t seen Temple Grandin, do yourself a favor and rent it – you’ll love it.

  • Melly

    Very nice call, Fatima! LOL and ITA. As for the show, I liked it and cannot wait to see how it unfolds.

  • Clare Danes rocks!!

    …but WHAT prayer rug?

  • Aubrey Price

    Damian Lewis should be a bigger star and I hope he does more American mainstream movies from now on.

  • a3vwyk

    I love Damian Lewis, and can’t wait until this shows in Australia. Life was such a good show and Charlie was such a good character I was really disappointed that it was canceled. I now have seen almost all of his work, and he is one sexy man too!

    • Lo

      ITA!! I’m so happy to see that there are other people that are still mourning the cancellation of Life. That was such a great show and Charlie Crews was one of the most compelling characters on network TV. I’m still bitter at NBC for that one

      • Ellen in NYC

        I’m glad to hear that I’m not the only one still mad that Life was cancelled (after they did a lousy job promoting it.) One of my favorite shows ever. I usually complain about too many imported actors, but I think Damian Lewis is a cut above the rest.

  • Kelley

    Loved Damian Lewis in Band of Brothers and Life. I thought it was a great premiere! The previews for future eps looked really good. Can’t wait to see more eps!

  • Handsome Smitty

    Paranoid America. Tainted ‘hero.’ this is new from liberal Holkywood?
    Get a grip on yourself.

    • Will

      There have been tainted hero plots for centuries, m’man. Why blame liberal Hollywood when you can blame Homer? And America IS paranoid. Look at your post; point proven.

      • John

        Will: Well-said! If you want to see paranoid America in all its glory, just tune to Fox News.

  • sashfan

    Interesting show. Claire Danes was great. I was going to cancel showtime after Weeds and The Big C wrapped up, but I may keep it another month to see if this takes off.

    … and WHAT prayer rug? I must have missed it.

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