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Marcia G. Yerman

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Homeland Probes Terrorism and the Existential Threat

Posted: 10/01/2012 10:14 am

Homeland is back. Season 2 begins on September 30, and yes, you will be biting your nails. You will be stunned at how prescient the first episode is. Yet most importantly, you will be challenged to engage with questions gnawing at America's psyche. The scab of 9/11 may have fallen away, but the scar which remains has in no way faded with time.

Interweaving issues and concerns that are now a permanent part of the national consciousness and political landscape, Homeland combines top dialogue and complex character portraits with edgy action sequences. There is a satisfying mix of the cerebral and the physical. The opening montage sets the tone with the images and voices of presidents Reagan and Clinton. There are references to Lockerbie, Kuwait, and the USS Cole. A fragmented quote from Obama, "Vigilance at home and abroad," completes the cycle.

Nothing is black or white. Just consider the backwards E in the title.

Beyond functioning as riveting television (garnering six Emmy Awards including Outstanding Drama Series, Writing, Actress and Actor), Homeland weaves a rich tapestry that pinpoints the malaise at the spot between what constitutes an ethical path and what is pragmatic. Not unlike episodes of the television dramas MI-5 and Rubicon, precursors in staking out this territory, we are left with the uneasy dilemma of, "Does the ends justify the means?"

Observations can veer from overt to subtle. Can terrorism be considered a "justifiable act of retaliation?" Why can't returning wounded veterans get their stories covered and recognized by the media? The teenage children of Washington bigwigs serve as mouthpieces for various viewpoints as they exchange ideas during a speak-out at an elite Quaker school. In the second episode, a casual introductory aside from the vice president's wife announces, "Meet the junta that runs D.C."

Three main characters drive the plot and they all have backstories filled with pain, alienation and conflict. Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) is the bipolar CIA officer who was undergoing ElectroConvulsive Therapy at the end of the first season. She has since been relieved of her post at the Agency. Marine Sgt. Nicholas Brody (Damien Lewis), confined and tortured for eight years, has reneged on his vow to be a suicide bomber and now fills a vacated seat in Congress secured by appointment. Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin), Carrie's mentor, is back in the field. He understands the CIA system thoroughly -- enough to play it. His character has been revealed through a narrative that drilled down on his dysfunctional marriage -- and childhood isolation as an outsider Jew growing up in America's heartland.

After previewing two episodes, I had the opportunity to speak by telephone with Alex Gansa, Homeland's co-creator, showrunner, and executive producer. We began the interview with a question about how jarringly close to current news the first episode was. Gansa acknowledged, "We find ourselves depicting events that are happening in the world right now and question -- are we doing this in a sensitive enough light?"

We spoke briefly about how both Carrie and Brody were "battling damage and demons," before we moved into some of the themes raised by the show. "We're trying to be politically agnostic," Gansa told me. "We ask questions rather than answer them. We are not polemic."

One of the primary points that Gansa wanted to explore was, "What faces a soldier coming home?" He wanted to illustrate the "rage, flashbacks, and intimacy issues" encountered by all returning veterans. In Brody's case, whether he is a hero or a prisoner of war turned by al Qaeda is "ambiguous." Gansa pointed out, "The country is intentionally blind and uninterested in these two wars [Iraq and Afghanistan] because we have a volunteer army. This carries over to when our soldiers return."

Gansa discussed how the writing has endeavored to "question policy." How does using drones compare to using torture? The drone program may have "degraded al Qaeda," but did it create new terrorists? There are a series of subjects that the team explores. In the geopolitical sphere Gansa referenced, "How does America project overseas? How safe are we? Is the threat existential? What is the nature of our foreign adventures?" Domestically, the subtext is the struggle between national security and civil liberties and the real versus the imaginary threats that stem from a fear-based mindset. Leaders, who under the rubric of national security rationalize covert activities undertaken by the government, must be held accountable.

So far, Brody's strongest motivations and reactions have come from his emotional bonds with two children. His deep connection to the son of al Qaeda leader Abu Nazir, who was killed by an American drone attack; his evolving relationship with his daughter, Dana (Morgan Saylor). Brody's reality threshold can be as skewed or as on target as Carrie's, albeit for different reasons. His mental instability was induced by captivity and torture. In the second season, his actions are no more predictable than those of Carrie's, as he finds himself in a tug of war between opposing forces and ideologies. Look for the scene where his right leg goes into uncontrollable nervous spasms.

Brody's adaption of the Islamic faith can be understood as what saved him during his imprisonment, yielding healing and spiritual nourishment. It can also be viewed as the underpinnings of what is driving him to his most destructive behavior -- even as he maintains, "I am not a terrorist."

Homeland is riveting and intelligent drama. In choosing to reflect back to the audience the challenges facing those in positions of power, it makes the viewer examine their own moral codes in a complicated world.

This article originally appeared on the website cultureID

 

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