EXILE & HOMELAND

Published: Thu, 03/07/2013 - 08:11

The slick thriller tries to look at terrorism from both viewpoints — that of the patriot-fighter and patriot-terrorist. In every episode, your notions of the myth of heroism keep taking a 360 degree turn 

Sonali Ghosh Sen Kolkata 

A country still reeling from the 9/11 attack, a CIA agent obsessed with a terrorist, CIA operatives chasing terrorists from Iraq and Beirut to Washington, D.C. You could be forgiven for thinking that you were watching Kathryn Bigelow’s new thriller, Zero Dark Thirty. The truth is, you would be watching an equally thrilling but more long-drawn version of the same, but with a lot more drama, angst and twists thrown in — in the TV series Homeland.

Based on the Israeli TV production — Hatufim, or Prisoners of WarHomeland follows the lives of its protagonists, Carrie (Claire Danes), a CIA agent high on courage and intuition but trying desperately to hide her medical condition (she is bipolar), and Sergeant Nicholas Brody (Damien Lewis), a Marine who has been rescued after eight years of captivity in Iraq and who might or might not have been turned into a terrorist by the dreaded Al Qaeda terrorist, Abu Nazir (Navid Neghaban).

Channelling the Manchurian Candidate, The Lives of Others, The Conversation and even current news footage, Homeland plays on the fear and paranoia of a world post-9/11. It also tries to look at terrorism from both viewpoints — that of the patriot and that of the patriot-terrorist. If that sounds contradictory, that’s where Homeland’s strength seems to be. In every episode, your notions of the myth of heroism keep taking a 360 Degree turn. The Reagan era and its improbable hero — Rambo — the indestructible, one-man army who will fight for his country and will never be broken by the enemy, takes a beating in Homeland.

Its protagonists are flawed and fallible and carry scars, both physical and emotional. Carrie’s  moral core is identifiable — she is the idealist, never losing sight of what she is doing for the cause and the country, but that is also her raison d’être and she actually enjoys the whole cat and mouse game, and would go adrift if there wasn’t a covert war, a conspiracy, to bank on.

llegal surveillance, drone strikes, CIA cover-ups are important plot catalysts and the politics of war is played out against the more microscopic focus of the politics of a disintegrating American family

Brody’s character is more complex — the patriot-fighter or the patriot-villain? The shades of grey in his character can layer an entire Asian Paints catalogue, but it’s a credit to the show’s producers that they balance it out in a fast-paced and slickly-edited narrative which keeps you guessing and coming back for more.

For a show where action is key, the action is much more than just bomb blasts, suicide bombers and illegal detention. It’s more about the psychological effects of a long-drawn out war, both at the political and personal level. Brody’s struggle with post-traumatic stress, his wife’s struggle at his reappearance when she was about to move on and a rebellious teenage daughter, are problems that are handled sensitively as is his struggle between the man he was and the man he has become.

The Gettysburg episode with Brody, standing with his family at the position which the Army of Northern Virginia held for most of the battle, musing about the Battle of the Little Round Top, religious faith and fighting for what one believes, almost seems like a plaintive cry for help, from his family, from himself, from the audience. And to show a United States Marine wearing a suicide vest is almost as shocking for Indian audiences as it might have been for a US one.

In fact, the US government and realpolitik seem as much a part of the series as the shadowy terrorist squads in more exotic Beirut or Lebanon. Illegal surveillance, drone strikes, CIA cover-ups are important plot catalysts and the politics of war is played out against the more microscopic focus of the politics of a disintegrating American family.

The show’s producers have also produced the hit series 24, so they are no strangers to political assassination and runaway daughters; but here, unlike 24, they have taken a more rational, even if by TV standards, risky look at religion.

One of the key issues in the series is that Brody has converted to Islam. When Brody admits this to Carrie, he says, “Well, they didn’t have many Bibles over there. Don’t you think you’d turn to religion if you had to face what I faced?” So, Islam becomes the face of faith, and not the main trigger of terrorism.

However, Brody’s life as a closet Muslim is not totally “outed” in the serial, even though his daughter, Dana, bursts out in her vehement defence against her conservative classmates in school, “What if I told you my dad’s a Muslim?”

This makes for a spirited episode, but the creators of the show could have taken it further. Islam’s tenets and rituals are also depicted vaguely in the serial, but then just the visual of a blond, white American kneeling to pray to Allah for succour is arresting TV imagery in itself.

The same can be said about Carrie’s bipolar disorder. The show takes an unflinching look at what she is going through, including the Season 1 finale where she undergoes electric shock therapy in a final attempt to get rid of her demons and even makes a wry joke about One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Carrie is a character who, if we went by sane logic, one wouldn’t put in charge of investigating the disappearance of a pet dog, let alone saving a nation; but, episode after episode, you are rooting for her.

She undergoes electric shock therapy to get rid of her demons and makes a wry joke about One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Carrie is a character who one wouldn’t put in charge of investigating the disappearance of a pet dog, let alone saving a nation; but, episode after episode, you are rooting for her

The beauty of Homeland is despite logical loopholes, erratic character arcs and actors disappearing mid-way; the serial moves at such a thrilling pace, cramming so much into an episode that it creates an evolutionary narrative for almost several episodes. The creators never tire of subverting the conventional storytelling style and this gives rise to absolutely unconventional protagonists like Carrie and Brody who almost mirror each other in their secrets and conflicted persona.

Never has a series been in the hands of such mentally fragile protagonists, but it makes for a welcome break from the super spy we have been so accustomed to, and that’s what makes Homeland worth viewing. Even though Season 2’s political shenanigans dilute a lot from the core plot of the serial and move into the safer black and white zone of good vs bad, it is the tangible chemistry between its so damaged, so politically incorrect yet such compelling protagonists that makes it tick and has earned it its
cult following.

The slick thriller tries to look at terrorism from both viewpoints — that of the patriot-fighter and patriot-terrorist. In every episode, your notions of the myth of heroism keep taking a 360 degree turn
Sonali Ghosh Sen Kolkata 

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This story is from print issue of HardNews