October 10, 2011


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Written by: Mitch Salem
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A lot can happen between the creation of a TV pilot in the spring and production of episodes for the regular season:  a writing/producing team is hired, audience focus groups weigh in, networks and studios (which may have had their own turnover in the off-season) give plenty of notes, both helpful and otherwise, and critics begin to rear their ugly heads.  The results can include changes to tone, pace, casting and even story.  Here at THE SKED, we’re going to look past the pilots and present reviews of the first regular episodes of this year’s new series as well.
Previously… on HOMELAND: In a raid on an Afghan terrorist camp, US soldiers find and rescue Sgt. Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis), who was captured 8 years earlier and given up for dead.  Brody is flown back home and celebrated as a hero, but CIA analyst Carrie Anderson (Claire Danes), who had been tipped off by a source that terrorists had turned an American soldier, believes that Brody is the sleeper agent.  She undertakes an intensive surveillance on Brody, planting cameras and microphones all over his house, initially without a warrant or even the knowledge of her mentor Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin).  Carrie is already distrusted by her CIA superiors as a loose cannon, but it’s more than than they know:  she’s secretly bipolar.  Meanwhile, Brody has no idea that during the long years of his imprisonment, his wife Jessica (Morena Baccarin) has been having an affair with his best friend and comrade Mike (Diego Klattenhoff).  We know that Brody underwent awful torture during his time as a prisoner, and that he hasn’t told anyone the whole truth–he may have killed his own friend and fellow prisoner at the orders of his captors–but not whether Carrie is actually right about his loyalties.

Episode 2:  The one significant difference from the original version of the Homeland pilot and the series is the recasting of Brody’s wife Jessica with Baccarin.  She’s a very strong actress, who elevates what could easily be a relatively soapy part of the overall story into an aspect that deserves attention.  (This being pay-cable, her first scene also fulfilled the fanboy fantasies of some diehard Firefly and V viewers.)  

The second episode of the series, written by Alexander Cary and directed by pilot director Miguel Cuesta, continues to be exceptionally well-acted and tautly written, but it also underscores how tricky this show is going to be to pull off.  The central issue is, well, the central issue:  for just how long can the series put off telling us whether Brody actually is or isn’t a terrorist?  At some point–and that point can’t be years from now–the story has to go past being hinty and suggestive (at the end of tonight’s episode, we discovered that Brody is comforted by secretly saying Muslim prayers on a prayer rug, naturally in the one place where Carrie was unable to place a camera), and definitively answer that question.  Whatever that answer is, it will change the nature of the series.  

There are other difficulties as well.  The show, by its nature, is a somewhat static experience:  we spend a lot of time looking at Carrie sitting on her couch, intently watching Brody and his family on her video screens, even though the writers have been inventive about getting the story up and about.  Tonight a new subplot was introduced involving another intelligence asset of Carrie’s, a mistress of a Saudi sheik who’s seen her employer with terrorist mastermind Abu Nazir; we also learned more about how Carrie manages her illness (badly, with illegal medications obtained from her doctor sister).  There’s less cat and mouse to the Carrie/Brody story than you’d expect, because the two have virtually no contact–in the first 2 hours of the series, they’ve shared only one scene together.

The measured pace of Homeland make it Showtime’s most HBO-like drama, and as with a series like Boardwalk Empire, the satisfactions are in the nuances of character and performance, here marked especially by the superb work of Lewis, Danes and Patinkin.  Whether the series will be able to sustain itself on that basis for an entire season and beyond is something we’ll all find out over time.

Original Verdict:  Potential DVR Alert

Pilot + 1:  A High-Wire Act Without Much Net

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."