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Homeland: engrossing and forgettable

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First, the part without spoilers:

For one hour a week, I'm completely engrossed in Showtime's Homeland. For the other 167 hours I kinda forget about it.

It's not that the show isn't good. For two and a half seasons and counting, Homeland has presented an unrealistic, militaristic, borderline xenophobic thrill ride about American spies and the Islamic terrorists they attempt to foil. The star is Claire Danes as Carrie Mathison, a CIA intelligence officer who wrestles with bipolar disorder while trying to prove her brilliant deductions of where the next attack is coming from and who will be the perpetrator. She thinks the wolf in sheep's clothing is Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis), a Marine who was an Iraq war POW before escaping. Carrie thinks Brody was turned by terrorist mastermind Abu Nazir (Navid Negahban). Carrie's superior, Saul (Mandy Patinkin), doesn't know what to think. Brody's wife (Morena Baccarin) and kids (Morgan Saylor, Jackson Pace) don't know what to think. The first season is a tense bit of gamesmanship but takes a long time to get really rolling. Each episode ends on a cliffhanger to hook you back, but, for me at least, I wasn't invested enough in the characters to remember to be anxious.

It's not that the show isn't superbly acted. Danes has got the "best dramatic actress on TV" thing on lockdown right now. Watching her face, as she cycles through 100 emotions a minute when she goes on and off her bipolar meds, is an amazement. That her character is thematically linked to jazz is almost too rich a metaphor for Danes' acting. Both she and Lewis have won Emmys for their work. Can't say I agree with Lewis' accolades, in light of the competition, though Patinkin is wonderful as a steadying presence on the show, and Rupert Friend is exceptional as fellow CIA agent Peter Quinn.

Now, the part with spoilers through the first two seasons:

Season one ends with a great turn of events. Brody really does try to detonate a bomb, but his attempt fails. But the second season is even better. The series gets its finest moment in the S2 episode "Q&A," wherein every lie Brody and Carrie have been telling each other is aired. It's riveting, watching Carrie wear the man down and the relief they both feel when the ordeal is over. The climax of the season, when the CIA is bombed and Brody is blamed for it, is weird. I can't pin down exactly what happened and why Carrie is so sure he wasn't involved, except because of their history. It's not great storytelling.

Now, the part with spoilers of the current season:

Season 3 is the weirdest yet. In hindsight, I very much appreciate the long con of having us fall out of love with Saul and then back in love in a fury when he and Carrie are revealed to be in cahoots. Also in retrospect, Danes' performance is even better, walking that line between emotional breakdown and pretending to be going through emotional breakdown.

What I don't like is the lingering anti-Muslim sentiment, most vivid when the new analyst Fara (Nazanin Boniadi) walks into the CIA to a bunch of stares — because she's wearing a hijab and for no other reason!

Also apparent: Brody's got to go. Now that Nazir is dead, any tension of having him on the show is dissipated. As for the other members of the Brody family, I really do like them. I would watch a show about angsty teen Dana Brody. But Homeland is not that show. And I don't like the feeling that Homeland is going down the same road 24 did with Kim Bauer. (The two shows share a gaggle of producers.) Mental health runaways is just another way to say cougar trap.

Last, the part with spoilers from the last episode:

Carrie is pregnant? WTF? Who's the daddy? Brody? ... or Peter Freakin' QUINN?

Homeland

Sundays, 8 p.m.

Showtime

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