There is much to be admired in the Showtime series Homeland, an excellent example of the post 9-11 popular genre of anti-terrorism thrillers, surpassing even the previous gold standard -- 24. Homeland has refined suspense and surprise to a fine art, and the performances of all are as sharp as broken glass. The writers have created even minor characters that are flawed and fascinating. The main characters are three-dimensional, complex and sympathetic -- even when they are bad.
Most impressive is hardworking, crack CIA agent and terrorist expert Carrie Mathison, played to a fine note by Claire Danes. She makes this highly flawed character compelling and sympathetic, even when she engages in behaviors that are cringe-inducingly immoral, illegal and dangerous. As she has done so well throughout her career, beginning with the character of Angela in My So-Called Life, Danes can nail the complex subtleties of feeling and thought with a look. From the first episode we feel Carrie's loneliness and the pain she lives with inside her head -- a serious case of bi-polar disorder. She goes to extremes to keep her illness a secret, a constant struggle that threatens her all-consuming devotion to her job
This series is a solid contender for awards for a number of reasons. Notice should be especially taken to the episodes when she goes off her meds and becomes increasingly manic. The writing, directing and performance of this plot point alone deserve accolades for capturing the genius, hyperactivity, frustration and despair that those with bi-polar disorder experience, and the fear, confusion, and heartbreak of those around them. There have been too many movies and television programs that create stereotypical, clichéd interpretations or comedy from the symptoms of mental illness. It may be entertaining, but Homeland demonstrates the courage to seriously touch the awkwardness and humiliation of the reality. Homeland is an example of excellent fiction that is both fake and true, disturbing and entertaining, heartbreaking and compelling. Among the subjects addressed by the Homeland narrative -- and there are many -- war, post-traumatic stress, family life of those in dangerous occupations, torture, politics, ambition, violence, religion -- its depiction of mental illness is setting a new higher bar for portrayals in the future. In addition, Carrie's illness frames a metaphor for the psycho world of spies and terrorists; we are reminded that more than a single CIA operative is unstable and disturbed.
Catch the first season reruns, get hooked on this outstanding series.