Claire Danes in Showtime’s “Homeland.”
There is only reason to watch Homeland anymore and it’s Claire Danes.
It’s not the storytelling or the locations or even the other performers in the show. It’s only her. The entire series rests on her ability to play a fascinating, infuriating and complicated character in such a way as to always make it seem like she’s discovering something new about her and turning to us to show it. “Look what I found, deep in the recesses of this occasionally tortured but brilliant mind.” Carrie’s like no other character on TV – certainly like no other female character – and after four full seasons, Danes is so comfortable in her shoes and so clearly knows her as well as she knows herself that it almost doesn’t matter what else goes on in the show.
After all, every critic and most viewers have been asking roughly the same question since Damian Lewis’ Brody shuffled off this mortal coil and the show lost the charismatic and chemistry-loaded relationship at the center of it: Why is this show still on and why am I still watching it? Season 4 was actually quite well done, but it only succeeded because the show was so drastically retooled from its origins, going from a contemplation of the United States security state and how it’s fueled by paranoia to a 24 knockoff that may as well have been retitled “The Adventures of Carrie Mathison, Super Spy.” We found it flawed, but enjoyable as a direction to take the show, but there was no denying it stripped it of everything that ever made it unique in the first place. The only thing that occasionally broke it out of its standard international spy thriller mode was the reality of the protagonist’s mental health struggles. And by luck or simply by very good casting, Claire Danes is an actress uniquely suited to portray Carrie’s occasional bouts of mania, paranoia and obsession. In short, no one can do that twitchy energy, like an animal that has resigned itself to its cage but still hates it, like Claire Danes can.
So if you’re asking yourself, as we were, why we would bother coming back to a show that seemed to have run out of new things to say, the answer is this episode, which places nearly all of its focus on Carrie and shows her as someone who’s been trying desperately to run away from her many demons and questionable choices in a world that has absolutely no intention of allowing her to forget them.
It’s something like two years after the events of last season and Carrie, retired from the CIA, is working a civilian job as a security consultant for a German billionaire. She’s living in a fabulous home in Berlin, with an adorable ginger daughter and even a hot little replacement ginger in her bed. She’s on her meds, seeking solace through an apparent discovery of faith, and appears, from the outside at least, to be living the life she wants to lead, having finally found some semblance of peace. Then it all comes crashing down around her.
Thankfully, this isn’t a cliched “Just when I thought I was out, they dragged me back in” kind of tale. It’s not merely about the call of her old life and whether she feels stifled or suffocated in her new, safer and more stable one. It’s not about document leaks or security details or whether or not Quinn is too far gone or Saul likes her.
It’s about one sentence, blurted out after she’d been abducted and then released by the men she appealed to for safe passage to the refugee camp, one of whom told her, “You killed my son.” One sentence she blurted out to her new boyfriend when he asked her what had happened: “I was on the wrong side.”
Edited to add: Or, y’know, we probably misheard the line because we’re dumbasses. Thankfully, we’re not totally wrong (we think) about the thematic point of Carrie having to answer for past actions and decisions.
It’s not about whether or not you can “take the girl out of the CIA…” or even whether Carrie wants to come back into the fold. It’s about her coming face to face with the decisions she made and the actions she took over the course of her career, many of which were reckless and a whole lot of which resulted in death. She can light as many candles in church as she likes and medicate herself exactly according to her doctor’s instructions, but she simply can’t have peace if she hasn’t come to terms with her past. And Claire Danes portrays this dead-perfectly. There is SO MUCH going on behind that face, even when she has control of a situation (which she almost never does in this first episode).
Whether it works or not, we’re intrigued by this idea. If nothing else, it feels like the show has a direction to it, if this is going to be the overarching theme of the season; Carrie coming to terms with herself and her past. It’s interesting to us that there was no major terrorist threat in this episode, nor was there even the hint of one. Instead, the entire episode was about European and American interests worrying whether or not their illegal actions were going to be exposed and whether or not they could travel through a war-torn area like they owned it. Homeland will never really take a “Who are the real bad guys here?” approach to Islamic extremism, but it’s never shown the western response to the War on Terror as quite so damaged and fractious as it appears here.
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