Homeland: Season 1 developed by Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa (Teakwood Lane Productions, Cherry Pie Productions, Keshet Broadcasting)
Starring Claire Danes, Damian Lewis, Morena Baccarin, David Harewood, Diego Klattenhoff, Jackson Pace, Morgan Saylor, and Mandy Patinkin.
The Conundrum of a Pilot
When writers draft a pilot episode, they face an unenviable task. Their episode must sell the potential of a long-running and profitable television series. Network executives need a good sense of story, a robust understanding of character, and a solid grasp of the narrative potential. A pilot, to a certain extent, is a pitch. It gained enough traction to slide into production, but it has yet to gain full-scale adoption.
For this reason, writers often feel compelled to dive into narrative development and character study. In an executive-summary world, nobody has time for a slow-boiling idea.
Season 1 of Homeland suffers underneath this principle. The beginning episodes throw every idea against the wall elevating the viewer immediately to the predicaments each character will face during the season. As a result, these episodes feel forced and underwhelming.
Luckily, the farther away from the pilot, the more Homeland shines.
Terror in the Homeland
Season 1 introduces us to our protagonist, Carrie Mathison (Clair Danes). A CIA operative working in counterterrorism, Carrie holds deeply rooted suspicions of a recently rescued Marine, Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis). For the last 8 years, Sergeant Brody has been a prisoner of war underneath al-Qaeda.
Carrie’s suspicions are rooted in experience—an Iraqi contact suggested an American prisoner of war had been “turned.” This nascent idea leads Carrie to the outer limits of the law as she monitors Brody’s actions for any seditious behavior. Under the direction of her superior and mentor, Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin), Carrie enters the topsy-turvy world of homeland security, trying desperately to thwart a terrorist attack on American soil.
Forced Character Development
While Homeland’s narrative thrills especially as the drama builds toward the end of the season, I can’t help but think about the forced character development which hinders the early-season episodes.
For example, Carrie suffers from bipolar disorder. This affliction threatens her very livelihood; the CIA does not look kindly on mental illness.
A careful unveiling of this plot development over the course of the season would have been extremely effective. The viewer, drawn to the normal protagonist traits of Carrie’s character, would recoil at the sight of her neuroses before rooting for her to regain her form—a typical hero narrative progression.
Brody suffers equally from the writer’s need to frontload the plot developments. We learn very early that his relationship with terrorists is rather complicated.
With everything out in the open, the intrigue of Homeland lies not in its suspense but in how the writers connect the dots. It’s almost as if we started with the conclusion and worked our way back to the beginning.
Hopefully the Best Is Yet to Come
Don’t get me wrong, Homeland is an enjoyable series and I look forward to watching Season 2. But I lament the need for writers to use their early episodes as an advertisement for the series. I understand the money involved in such productions. Everyone wants to turn a profit and the sooner you build an audience, the sooner a paycheck sits in a bank. But it is sad that profitability trumps storytelling.
Now that Homeland holds some Emmys, I expect the stories will become more nuanced. Hopefully the best is yet to come.
Verdict: 3 out of 5