Imagine The Manchurian Candidate as a television series, and you have a pretty good idea of what you're in for with Showtime's paranoid thriller Homeland, adapted from the Israeli drama Hatufim (a.k.a. Prisoners of War). Co-creators Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa both contributed extensively to the Fox network's 24, but Homeland takes advantage of cable's greater creative freedoms to exploit post-9/11 neuroses in (relatively) subtler and more unsettling ways.
Claire Danes plays CIA officer Carrie Mathison, recently reassigned from Iraq to Langley. Even viewed charitably, Carrie can be fairly described as both brilliant and a mess: she's got a steel-trap mind for intelligence analysis, but compounds her struggle with mental illness with poor personal and professional choices. The flare-ups of Carrie's bipolar disorder have career consequences, and threaten to obscure her correct hunch that war hero Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis of Band of Brothers)—a U.S. Marine recently returned from Iraq—constitutes a massive threat to national security. Al-Qaeda held Brody captive for eight years and, according to an informant of Carrie's, "turned" him, making him a sleeper agent with access to top government officials that is both unprecedented and growing by the day. Over the course of its first season, Homeland endeavors to keep the audience guessing about where Brody's true allegiances lie, and to what degree Brody and Mathison's psychological weaknesses compromise their ability to achieve their respective goals.
These are juicy roles for actors, and both stars deliver wrenching performances that contribute mightily to the show's considerable suspense. Danes collected a well-deserved Golden Globe (and is well-positioned to take home the Emmy) for her work at making Carrie an open wound so emotionally vulnerable one almost wants to look away, but also searingly intelligent and—most of the time she's on the clock—fierce and steely. Though Brody isn't as flashy a character, he fascinatingly mirrors Carrie in his private mental struggles, kept carefully out of view, and Lewis ably walks that thin line in scenes of POW nightmares, domestic strife, and potential domestic terror. Somehow, Gordon and Gansa lured back to series television the great Mandy Patinkin (after his conspicuous, unscheduled defections from not one but two CBS dramas), perhaps encouraged by the show's twelve-episode order and the supporting nature of his role as CIA Middle-East Division Chief Saul Berenson. Morena Baccarin (Firefly), Jackson Pace, and Morgan Saylor also do fine work as Brody's uneasy family.
It's a testament to the strong writing and acting on Homeland that they so skillfully breathe life into clichéd notions like the possible-double-agent scenario and the military wife carrying on a discreet affair who discovers her presumed-dead husband is still alive. While delivering a satisfying hour of television every week, Homeland doesn't allow itself to be beholden to common television rhythms and arcs; instead it emulates its hero by embracing the mess and plunging ahead; it's anyone's guess how long Gordon and Gansa can sustain the series, but for now they have a captive audience eager to watch them try.
Fox delivers a typically top-notch TV-on-Blu-ray package with Homeland: The Complete First Season. Image quality excels, with digital-to-digital transfers that retain every gradation of the show's moody lighting scheme and dark, rich hues. Detail and textures satisfy as well, with only the darkest of scenes breaking up a bit in the shadows. The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround mixes prioritize clear dialogue, but they convincingly engage LFE when action breaks out, and rear channels provide substantial ambience when given the opportunity.
Bonus features emphasize quality over quantity, beginning with a commentary on "Pilot" with actors Claire Danes and Damian Lewis, and showrunners Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa. It's a good mix of participants that keeps the track active and informative about the choices made in adapting the original Israeli series and crafting the core characters.
Each of the three discs in the set includes a selection of "Deleted Scenes" (4:56, 3:16, and 4:29, HD), and though the bite-sized "Week Ten - Prologue to Season Two" (3:53, HD) is basically a non-event, the documentary "Homeland Season One: Under Surveillance" (33:46, HD) provides a well-constructed, fairly meaty overview of the makiing of the first season, with set footage and comments from cast and crew.
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