Homeland is the Iliad of our time; discuss. No greater drama has occurred on television, nor, to the best of my knowledge, on film — though Downfall, War and Peace and Army of Shadows nudge it closely. Brody is no less a far-flung, wandering, suffering protagonist than Ulysses (and, like him, returned after long travails to a possibly faithless wife), and Carrie Mathison like no-one in literature: whore, tortured saint, murderess, madwoman, patriot, spy.
It is a measure of the greatness of Claire Danes, Baz’s Juliet in another, simpler age — and the great polymath’s wisecracking squeeze in Me And Orson Welles — that she straddles these many ego alterations without losing us, in the blood-dimmed tide of her mutinous struggles within the CIA, and her perilous, hair’s-breadth double-agenting in the Middle East and Washington DC. We must see her go off her medication, go rogue, and plot her bomb-strapped Muslim lover’s murder, and her escape with him to Canada, and her desertion of him there, without ever tuning out of her mind; and she somehow makes us do this. Callas as Medea could do no more; and now her character is pregnant we will see more of what she can do, and become.
Mandy Patinkin’s Berenson, expressionless, wise, divided of soul, tough, torn, uxorious, complaisant, unambitious, vengeful, is almost as good; one can see him as Agamemnon, sacrificing his daughter to ensure good voyaging weather to the shores of Troy. And Damian Lewis, an Englishman, as Brody may be even better.
Seen plain, he appears no more remarkable than some pale, coked-up shift worker met at midnight in McDonald’s. But then, up close, he has the eyes of Steve McQueen and a tragic force that may give the stage yet its finest John Procter, Cassius or Coriolanus.
Not that these roles outrun what he must do here: shoot his friend, turn Muslim, strap up for a suicide bombing, run for Congress, cope with Carrie’s horny clawing madness, his daughter’s attempted suicide, his wife’s justified adultery, and the guilt of his own. No actor has endured long torture better, nor woken with bloodshot eyes and bruised face and soul to a new chapter of hell.
Many writing credits bedeck this majestic achievement – Alex Gansa, Howard Gordon and Gideon Raff predominating, with thirty-six episodes each – and show, without doubt, that Shakespeare could indeed have been a committee; and there are eighteen directors thus far, each one as good as Polanski.
But it was the series plotting committee – Gordon and Gansa I guess, plus, later, Michael Cuesta, and Chip Johannsen – who added up to the vigilant, hovering, all-seeing Homer (himself also, some say, a committee) of this classic, throbbing narrative. Since Dickens’ monthly serials there have been no better cliff-hangers: how many beatings and bullets can Brody take? How, now a suspect of the next 9/11, will he get out of this one? How will Carrie, drugged, imprisoned and charged with both treason and manic depression, get her job back at the CIA?
It is a series that engages, like Dostoevsky, the full questing mind of the reader/viewer to the top of his/her capability. None dare disparage it for shallowness of character, or simplistic side-taking, or ideological self-praise. We sympathise as greatly with Abu Nazir, his son killed by air strike, when he and al-Qaeda come to destroy America, as we do with Brody’s scarred young daughter Dana, on the run with her bipolar Romeo from her father’s infamy and in danger of her life.
Much more could be said. It is good to see American’s second best living playwright, Tracy Letts – Tony Kushner is the best – as the pale, impelled, double-dealing and Mephistophelian Senator Andrew Lockhart, and F Murray Abraham, Salieri in Amadeus, as an interfering murderous Levantine spymaster; and Rupert Friend, lately Prince Albert to Emily Blunt’s Victoria, as a thoughtful accent-perfect American assassin.
But what should most be said is it is the best drama yet made, and no education, and no life is complete without seeing it twice or three times, and considering the enormity, and the accumulated evil tidings, of what it means, and portends.