Showtime’s Homeland: War Hero or Terrorist?

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It’s been almost a year and a half since the long-running Fox TV series 24 ended. The counterterrorism action show featured Kiefer Sutherland as the self-sacrificing super-patriot Jack Bauer, who took down terrorists by any means necessary, including torture – a tactic which created no end of controversy and earned the show scorn from the Left as “right-wing porn.” Now creative alumni from 24 have created a new show with a  compelling but decidedly more ambiguous take on what used to be called the “war on terror” (before the Obama administration changed it to “Overseas Contingency Operation” and then dropped a name for it altogether).

Homeland, which premiered two Sundays ago on Showtime, is based on Prisoners of War, an Israeli TV series about the reintegration of two soldiers held prisoner by the Syrians. It centers on a Marine named Brody (actor Damian Lewis) missing and presumed dead in Iraq since 2003, who is discovered alive and rescued during a CIA-driven operation. Brody is welcomed home to suburban Washington D.C. to a lot of CIA self-congratulation and media fanfare – “a poster boy for the war,” as skeptical counterterrorism analyst Carrie (actress Claire Danes) calls him. Unknown to her superiors, Carrie received a tip from a high-level informant that an American prisoner of war has been “turned” traitor; she suspects it is Brody, and that he is a sleeper agent involved in an imminent terrorist attack. (Warning: possible SPOILERS ahead)

Brody, tortured both physically and psychologically, struggles to re-acclimate himself to his family and freedom. Carrie herself suffers from what she dismisses as a mere “mood disorder,” but she’s barely holding herself together with the aid of clandestine medication, and has been treading on thin ice lately with the CIA brass, who want her to stop making waves. In her determination not to let another terror attack get past her, like the one that nearly derailed her career years before, Carrie decides to go with her instincts and run her own surveillance operation under the CIA’s radar. She wires Brody’s house with hidden cameras and microphones.  She sees a broken man engaging in bizarre behavior.  But is it just the residual effects of torture, or is she just paranoid after all?

Brody is all tightly-coiled anger and anxiety, and tight-lipped about the darker details of his horrific experience, suggesting hidden layers beneath his crisp uniform and impenetrable public face. Not to mention the fact that he is chanting in Arabic on a makeshift prayer rug in the privacy of his garage – but is that evidence that he has turned, or is it residual Stockholm Syndrome? Carrie believes she has caught him giving off subtle coded messages by twitching fingers to his partners-in-terror – or is it merely a nervous tic? Is he a traitor or an innocent target of her obsession with national security? The tension in these questions may be difficult to sustain over the course of an entire season, much less subsequent seasons, but so far – two episodes in – it is so successful that the viewer is left wanting more.

The exploration of this uncertainty seems to be the show’s point about a new era ten years after the 9/11 attacks. Howard Gordon, an executive producer of both 24 and Homeland, says that the former show reflected “an urgent, post-9/11 ethos,” but now?

Should we be afraid of the same things we were afraid of 10 years ago? The world is more complex, and our understanding of it is more nuanced. And there’s a gray space of not knowing who the good guys and bad guys are.

Such comments send up a giant red flag for anyone concerned that yet another Hollywood treatment of the Clash of Civilizations will be a disappointing exercise in moral equivalence. “Should we be afraid of the same things we were afraid of 10 years ago?” An odd question, considering that 1) the Islamic militants at war with us have not declared a cease-fire or surrender, 2) more terror attacks and plots have occurred or been thwarted on American soil during Obama’s presidency than in all the previous time since 2001, 3) we are still embroiled in two wars abroad, and 4) Iran is not only accelerating toward the acquisition of nuclear weapons, but also potentially planning to devastate America’s infrastructure with an EMP attack. Not a good time to relax our guard and pretend that the Islamic threat has subsided, as Gordon seems to be suggesting.

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  • mrbean

    Looks like a jarhead sgt that got really tortured over period of 8 years and now is really screwed up (walk in his shoes first before you judge) being pursued by bipolar schitzo female nutcase that should be really be suspended for that and for breaking several laws. Be kind of interesting where it goes with the subtle anti-Americanism now baring its teeth. As of now, the last scene has the sgt on his prayer rug and facing Mecca and praying in Arabic.

  • tagalog

    We Americans have always been fascinated by stories about "Manchurian Candidates" who have been turned by our enemies, and who are in a postion to do the nation great harm. Such stories are often well told and entertaining. For myself, I don't have a big problem with the premise of the show. A lot depends on what the producers and writers want to do with the story.

  • HALOMan

    If you are facinated by "Manchurian Candidate" stories, read the history of the US Presidency, 2008-current.

    • tagalog

      Maybe you couild provide me with a bit of a taste of what exactly it is you're driving at by posting a summary of the problem with the U.S. presidency since 2008. A problem with interesting fictional theses often arises when people like them so well they try to make them be real.

      See, I agree that Obama has to go. I also agree that his childhood and youth were spent in radical settings. I don't agree that he was subverted into a juggernaut for hostile forces because of that. Nobody has called him up and suggested that he pass the time by playing a game of solitaire. President Obama is just a product of his time in that he believes that government MUST be the solution for economic problems.

      • HALOMan


        While I have no concrete evidence to support my supposition, it is interesting that a young man born of a muslim father and an agnostic mother, who spent much of his youth in a predominately muslim country (Indonesia), educated in a muslim school (which required Indonesian citizenship) and claims of travel to Pakistan (travel which was banned for US citizens during the time period claimed) is now the US president.

        It is also interesting that upon being elected president of the US, his first actions were to do interviews on Al Jazeera, travel to muslim countries, bow before their leaders, and apologize for the US's primacy in the world.

        While I doubt that our president was "barin-washed" or asked to be a "sleeper agent" for over 30 years (our president hasn't shown that kind of patience), the scenario I reflected has similarities to the plot line of "The Manchurian Candidate".

  • joe D

    I watched the first 2 episodes and I find the show engaging. While American military perverts to islam are rare, numerous Russians changed sides during the Chechen War. I would like to know why the self-proclaimed "Christian" – Hussein Obama – is obsessed with sanctifying his child abandoner muslim father. If you believe that the President is self-brainwashed, then it isn't a stretch to accept "Homeland" scenarios.