A scintillating return to Homeland

At last, an American drama that has escaped the clutching talons of Murdoch. Homeland has returned to Channel 4 for a second series, and, by all accounts, we’re in for a treat.

For those new to Homeland (catch up on Season 1 or you’ll end up uncomfortably disorientated), here’s some background. Based upon the Israeli series Hatufim, Homeland follows dual “protagonists” CIA agent Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) and ex-US Marine Nicholas Brody (Damien Lewis) through the murky world of espionage, terrorism and US politics. Unsurprisingly, it’s not always entirely clear which is which.

When Brody appears after eight years as a POW, Carrie is unconvinced by his hero’s welcome and goes to extreme lengths to expose him. Her hunch is not unfounded – it transpires that Brody has a classic case of Stockholm syndrome. But clearly defined moralities are nonexistent in Homeland – sympathies are malleable creatures. I run the risk of spoilers by saying any more, so if you’re desperate to ruin the viewing experience, go away, try a sly Google and you’ll be up to speed. Then come back. Please. The first season ended with high-octane panache and many unanswered questions, and it’s these that need answering in Series 2.

We begin with Carrie, who is gardening. This is all part of her rehab; according to her sister, she’s in a “good place”. However, as we are tantalisingly reminded by Carrie’s father, that “depends on how you define good”, the philosophy that lies at the heart of Homeland. Brody, too, is living the high life as the reprehensible Veep Walden’s running partner for the upcoming presidential elections.

Ooh, Homeland, so very topical.

Just to prove the point, Carrie’s recuperation is set to a backdrop of news coverage of violent anti-American protests in Beirut. These scenes of stars-and-stripes desecration were shot prior to the recent protests against the anti-Islamic film (spooky), but the timing couldn’t be more apt. Homeland sets itself firmly within its context, and it works. From the dodgy presidential election campaigns to the frightening prevalence of Islamophobia, Homeland has its finger firmly on America’s pulse. One example features Brody’s daughter, Dana, who seems to be little more than a pawn in the morality game (frankly, she’s too irritating to be anything else). During a debate at her prep school, Dana confronts a tartan-clad tosser called Tad who exemplifies the bigoted attitudes of the brainwashed. He volunteers several illuminations:  “the Arab religion doesn’t value life the way we do”, for example – an all-American nuke or two would sort that right out.

In the words of Dana: “douche”.

Anyway, Carrie and Brody can run from their past, but they certainly can’t hide. Carrie is soon plucked from her ordered world (where her greatest thrill is homemade lasagne) and plunged back into the CIA. Brody is approached by a friend of a friend who convinces him to access the details of potential targets for a terrorist – sorry – retaliation attack upon civilians. However, neither is explicitly condemned nor praised. Homeland points out the similarities between two apparent gulfs; both lie, cheat and act in their own interests while soliciting our sympathies. Overt points of comparison are made between Carrie and Brody through structural parallels: both betray the worlds they are supposed to represent;  both have socially ‘unacceptable’ traits – Carrie the bipolar agent, Brody the Muslim congressman. Homeland succeeds at baiting internal prejudices and making its audience feel uncomfortable, not only with the world but with itself. Big things are promised for this series; let’s hope it delivers.