Is he or isn’t he? That’s the simple question that forms the basis of Homeland Season 1, now on Netflix UK.
The CBS thriller sees Sergeant Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis) return from Iraq after years in captivity. America welcomes him back as a war hero, but rumours from abroad suggest he’s actually a sleeper terrorist sent back by Al-Qaeda.
Enter Carrie Mathison. Claire Danes is hugely convincing as the dubious CIA agent, even as she lurches between emotional extremes like a child who’s eating too much Haribo. Her many and varied facial expressions are so intense you can now download your own Carrie Cry Face Mask – it’s like Nic Cage stole Claire Danes’ face and took it for a joy ride.
That combination of unpredictable reactions and unwavering belief in Brody’s guilt drives the narrative forward; no one else may agree with her, but she’s so gosh darn sure it’s true that we can’t help but agree.
Why Homeland Is Brilliant Reason 1: Carrie’s Face
The only other person who believes her is Saul Berenson (Mandy “My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” Patinkin), who completely steals the show. Why? Not because of his failed marriage, his withering stare or even his gruff outsider charm, but because of his magnificent beard. It’s the kind of facial fuzz that would make Brian Blessed jealous. With a chin topper that majestic, he must be right too.
He is? Isn’t he?
Damian Lewis keeps the ambiguity levels high, his blank face providing an equally fascinating object to study. As Carrie installs illegal CCTV in his home, we witness his marital problems – his, ahem, very big marital problems – with his alienated wife (an excellent Morena Baccarin) and his difficulty in adjusting to being a father to his daughter, Dana (a subtly conflicted Morgan Saylor), and his son, Chris (Jackson Price), who is mostly invisible.
The ensemble are all so good that they all feel believable – even the non-existent people like Chris. That balance between the realistic and the ridiculous quickly becomes Homeland’s signature style, its writers pushing the boundaries of logic but its characters convincing you to go along with them. The result is a blend of smarts and stupidity that creates one of the best – and most heart-stopping – TV shows of recent years.
Why Homeland Is Brilliant Reason 2: Saul’s Beard
Personal issues soon start to interfere with the professional, but never in a soap opera-like way. This is an exercise in ruthless, streamlined efficiency: it all forwards the story. A romantic fling between Carrie and Brody fuels a gripping confrontation involving a lie detector, while Brody’s emotional attachment to his captors – including elusive big bad terrorist Abu Nazir – only clouds his motivations even further.
Everything comes back to that one question. The show’s triumph is that it manages to answer it with a nailbiting climax that carries all the tension of Argo’s final act, while still opening up even more mysteries for a second season. “Is he or isn’t he?” gives way to more important questions, such as “When can I watch Season 2?”, “Will I ever grow my nails back?” and, most important of all, “Can I get a beard like Saul’s?”