Sleeping With The Enemy; or, The Fodder That Feeds Us
February 6, 2013
Claire Danes as Carrie Mathison, Homeland, Fox 21
by Bobbi Lurie
Homeland is an inside look into who is keeping America safe from terrorist attacks. Answer: it’s a 33 year-old woman named Carrie, whose sex life is under surveillance.
Carrie, played by Claire Danes, was 21 when 9/11 happened. For some inexplicable reason, she can’t forgive herself for not preventing the attacks. The Broadway tenor, Mandy Patinkin, plays her C.I.A. mentor, Saul. The name Saul comes from King Saul, of The Old Testament. King Saul earned the wrath of God for failing to destroy his enemies. Saul is so enamored with Carrie’s supposed instincts for who is and isn’t a terrorist, he fails to remind her, every time we are faced with the jarring opening credits, that she was only 21 when 9/11 happened; there’s no way she could be held responsible. Instead, he reassures her that “everyone missed something that day”(to which she replies, “everyone is not me.”)
Homeland is Obama’s America, I suppose, though, until the very last episode, there is never any mention of America having a president. There are flashing images and voice-overs of presidents, including President Obama, in the opening credits of each episode, but the images are trapped in a maze of abstractions: the thick symbolism of jazz, along with Carrie’s baby pictures, juxtaposed with recorded warnings of terrorist attacks. In the show itself, however, we only see a vice president. This vice president doesn’t look a thing like Joe Biden; he looks more like a cross between a young Kirk Douglas and the vice president who shot his friend in a hunting accident.
Carrie’s life is dedicated to trapping terrorists. She was stationed in Iraq for a while and, when in America, she ‘s been known to go to bars, wearing a wedding band, never wanting any available man to interfere with her role as An American Heroine.
The one man she falls in love with is the man whose house she bugged, illegally, with microphones and cameras. He is a married Marine, with two kids; his name is Brody. (Everyone calls him by his last name except his terrorist leader, Abu Nazir, who calls him “Nicholas.”) Abu Nazir is the cause of Nicholas Brody turning traitor halfway through his captivity at the hands of Al Qaeda. Brody’s distractingly beautiful wife, Jessica, played by Morena Baccarin, is sleeping with Brody’s best friend, a U.S. Marine (Diego Klattenhoff) from Canada. It takes Brody’s wife a long time to realize her husband is a Muslim who prays 5 times a day in their suburban garage. Their daughter, Dana, his only source of solace, kept it a secret for as long as she could.
The entire show is about secrecy: secrecy, lying and loyalties which are easily relinquished. Double and triple agents make up the fabric of this show. Somehow, in its narrative, Homeland hangs onto the conceit of humanity’s basic goodness and the power of persuasion, while blowing each other up to smithereens.
Damian Lewis as Nicholas Brody, and Morena Baccarin as Jessica Brody, Homeland, Fox 21
Carrie develops a vicarious intimacy with Brody’s family, due to her 24/7 illegal surveillance of his private life. Carrie was sleepless for weeks, watching the American Marine-turned-terrorist’s every move. She has an intuition that he is helping to orchestrate a major attack on America. Carrie wants to trap him and kill him. Carrie slips and sleeps with him instead. Here’s a match made in hell: both of them are lost, seeking some sort of positive recognition, no matter where it comes from.
By the end of the first season, Carrie is having shock treatments due to a psychotic break with “reality,” as the American Marine-turned-terrorist-turned U.S. Congressman, is about to rule the world, (as vice president, of course. The word “president” is verboten on this show. Making the vice president responsible for American foreign policy is insulting at best; at worst, it destroys the show’s credibility from the get-go.)
The core of the plot centers around Brody’s commitment to avenge the death of Abu Nazir’s son, killed in a drone attack, sanctioned by “the vice president.” For two seasons the show has been referring to a single drone strike which killed 82 children.
President Obama invited Brody, played by British actor Damian Lewis, to The White House. Lewis was polite to Obama, knowing Homeland is Obama’s favorite television show, but in a Rolling Stone interview, the British actor said, “And by the way, for all the conventional wisdom that Bush was a warmonger and hawkish and that Obama is not, that he’s more dovish — you know, he has ordered more drone strikes in his first term than Bush did in his two terms. I think by a ratio of something like every one in four days, he orders a drone strike to Bush’s every one in 10 days when he was in office. It’s obviously his preferred method of attack, you know.”
Obama watches Homeland every Saturday when his wife and daughters go out to play tennis. Since actual political realities and pop culture are now so, unfortunately, intertwined…
But this is television.
It’s hard to believe this shaky season of Homeland won The Golden Globe For Best TV Drama over Breaking Bad, not to mention Boardwalk Empire. Each episode of Boardwalk Empire, said more about human nature than has been said in both seasons of Homeland combined.
However, Claire Danes’ frenetic performance is bold and enticing. And only someone British could accurately play an American; I’ll give that to Damian Lewis. Mandy Patinkin projects a quality of deep emotional resonance. But in terms of story, Homeland shows America as a land overrun with terrorists, set to destroy The West. Simultaneously, the show makes light of their very real existence. Depicting the lead character as being on the brink of a breakdown is almost too apt.
The opening credits of Homeland will probably have to change in Season Three. Keeping America safe from terrorist attacks is no longer Carrie’s mission; she seems to have devolved into a desperate woman who will find a way to be with Brody whether or not he was responsible for a bombing that killed more than 200 people, at the end of Season Two.
As Abu Nazir (played by Navid Negahban) said to Carrie, and I paraphrase, the terrorists are patient; they can wait forever to achieve their goal of destroying The West, but they won’t have to wait long if this is the fodder that feeds us.
About the Author:
Bobbi Lurie’s fourth poetry collection, the morphine poems, was recently published by Otoliths. Her other books are Grief Suite, Letter from the Lawn and The Book I Never Read (CW Books). Her television reviews for Berfrois can be found here.