HOMELAND 1.01 ‘Pilot’

CIA Agent Carrie Mathison believes returning POW Nicholas Brody has been turned by Al-Qaeda. Unfortunately, she may be crazy...

Blair Marnellby Blair Marnell

Episode Title: "Pilot"

Writers: Howard Gordon & Alex Gansa & Gideon Raff

Director: Michael Cuesta

Premise:

A driven CIA agent named Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) risks her career and her freedom to prove that U.S. Marine Sergeant Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis) has been turned by Al-Qaeda after nearly a decade as their prisoner. And despite Carrie's tenuous grasp on her sanity, she may be the only operative standing in the way of the next big terror attack on American soil.

Story:

In Iraq, CIA Agent Carrie Mathison races to a prison were she bribes one of the workers to give her access to one of the high value prisoners, whom she believes can lead her to the terrorist known as Abu Nazir (Navid Negahban). As she bargains with the prisoner for his info, her presence is discovered by the prison guards and they begin dragging her away. The prisoner is able to whisper something in her ear before she is forcibly removed. 10 months later, Carrie arrives late to a CIA briefing, where her boss David Estes (David Harewood) singles her out before giving the assembled agents some good news: thanks to their intelligence work, U.S. forces have discovered Nicholas Brody alive in an Al-Qaeda safe house where he was apparently kept prisoner for most of his eight years as a POW.

The news startles Carrie, and she slips out of the room while her colleagues applaud Brody's return. She meets with her mentor, Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin) and relates that her contact in Iraq told her that the American POW has been turned; which she now believes refers to Brody. She asks for help setting up surveillance on Brody and Saul tells her that the agency wouldn't go for it. Overseas, Brody is cleaned up and shaved, but he asks to speak with his wife before his debriefing. In the U.S., Brody's wife Jessica (Morena Baccarin) is in bed with Mike Faber (Diego Klattenhoff) when she gets the call from the husband she believed to be dead.

Jessica hurries home to tell her children Chris (Jackson Pace) and Dana (Morgan Saylor), but she catches Dana and a young boy using a bong and momentarily forgets her good news. In the coming days, David uses Brody's return to ingratiate himself with the Vice President for a photo op. Brody himself is overcome by nerves on the plane, but he ultimately reunites with his family and gives a brief speech thanking everyone for saving him. Meanwhile, Carrie breaks into Brody's home with a two man team: Virgil (David Marciano) and his brother, Max (Maury Sterling) as they hook up hidden cameras and mics in every room.

While in Carrie's house to set up her monitoring station, Max finds some suspicious pills hidden in her aspirin which he shows to Virgil. Arriving back at his home, Brody seems overwhelmed when a crowd of supporters and reporters are camped outside. Regardless, he agrees to a photo op with his family for the media. Hours later, Carrie watches as Brody gets intimate with Jessica for the first time in eight years. At first she is horrified at his physical scars, but they both seem desperate for the encounter even if Jessica loses her enthusiasm for Brody's indelicate thrusts. Carrie also notes that the Brodys have gotten two hang up phone calls, which she assumes came from Brody's Al-Qaeda handlers. 

Carrie convinces Saul to let her sit in on Brody's CIA debriefing. However, the next morning she oversleeps and she is woken by Virgil, who confronts her about the anti-psychotic medications that she's been taking. He's obviously upset about being performing highly illegal actions for someone who may be crazy, but she warns him not to cross her. At the briefing, Carrie grills Brody over Abu Nazir and the fate of Brody's partner, Walker who was also taken prisoner by Al-Qaeda. Afterwards, an angered David confronts Saul and reminds him that Carrie already cost David his marriage. And he won't let her harm his career.

Virgil alerts Carrie that Brody lied to his wife over the phone about being stuck in the CIA briefings. She and Max join Virgil in a surveillance van expecting to see Brody meet his handler, but instead it is Helen, Walker's wife. She admits to making the two calls to his home and she asks Brody about how her husband died. He tells her that Walker was beaten to death. What he doesn't tell her is that he saw it happen. During a barbecue celebration for Brody's return, his best friend Mike corners Jessica in the kitchen and lets her know that he still has feelings for her. She seems to return his feelings, but she also loves her husband and family. From outside, Brody seems to catch the two of them behaving oddly.

At her home, Carrie is stunned to find that Saul has broken in and discovered her illegal spy activities. He tells her to get a lawyer, and as he goes to leave she makes an awkward pass at him that makes things even worse. Facing the end of her career or even jail, Carrie goes out to a bar and almost hooks up with a male colleague before she notices something strange about Brody on the TV news. She goes to Saul's home in the middle of the night and shows him that whenever Brody knows he is on camera he continuously makes the same hand movements, possibly as a signal to his handlers.

Saul agrees that it merits more investigation and he tells her she won't be going to jail just yet. In the morning, Brody goes for a jog across Washington D.C. and he clearly remembers Walker's beating because Brody was the one throwing the fatal punches at the behest of Abu Nazir.

Breakdown:

The moment that "Homeland" really came together for me was Carrie's failed attempt to seduce Saul. This woman isn't just unstable, she's dangerous and desperate. From just the information we learned in this episode, we've seen that Carrie has very few moral qualms about getting her job done. She didn't let the illegality of her actions stop her and she was even willing to use her body as one last bargaining chip to stay out of jail. Given what we know about Carrie's affair with David, it seems likely that she entered into that relationship under similar circumstances.

There's no doubt that Carrie thinks that she's the heroine of this story. And she may very well be. But she is also her own worst enemy. As a first impression, she appears to be good at her job. But Carrie is also reckless almost to the point of insanity. Virgil and Max were right to be afraid of tying their fates to hers. Even if Carrie is ultimately proven correct, her actions could bring them all down.

Claire Danes' performance encapsulates Carrie's intensity and she is believably driven. It helps that Danes isn't impossibly beautiful by Hollywood standards. She's definitely attractive, but she still looks like a relatively ordinary woman with ordinary proportions. It's a good sign that the producers of "Homeland" avoided making everyone at the CIA look like they came off a modeling assembly-line.

Damian Lewis is also very good as Brody and it's through the strength of his performance that there is still some ambiguity as to whether Brody has become a Manchurian Candidate or worse for Al-Qaeda. It would actually  be a very bold move if "Homeland" established that Brody isn't part of a terror attack and the threat is all in Carrie's disturbed mind. But clearly Brody held back his knowledge about Abu Nazir and his part in the death of his partner. That unavoidably throws suspicion back on Brody and suddenly makes Carrie look credible. 

Getting back to Carrie's failed seduction of Saul, the look of disgust on Mandy Patinkin's face really sold the moment and actually made Carrie slink off. When it was clear that Carrie was "sanity challenged" I kept expecting Saul to be revealed as a hallucination of hers. Thankfully, Saul appears to be real and the show's lone voice of reason among the main characters. Morena Baccarin also proved to be unexpectedly strong as she shook off two years of playing an alien queen to step into the role of a wife believably torn between two men. Baccarin was particularly good during the scene in which Jessica discovered Brody's scars. Just the sight of those wounds seemed to hurt Jessica in an almost physical way. If the series has a heart, it belongs to Jessica after that.

"Homeland" is off to a promising start thanks to some sharp writing and well drawn characters. It won't make anyone forget "24," but it stands as one of the fall's best new shows.

Crave Online Rating: 8.5 out of 10.