Of all the pilots this fall, Homeland is the most solid and well-rounded. That may be understating it a bit. Every aspect of the show is not only solid but also strong. Starting with the acting by Claire Danes as Carrie Mathison and Damian Lewis as Nicholas Brody, there are hardly any weaknesses to the pilot. Danes and Lewis are both superb in the numerous silent scenes, saying nothing but expressing plenty.
This idea of silence works brilliantly with the show’s premise. People can say things, tell everyone how they are fine, but it may all be lies. In the silent moments, however, when no one is there, something comes out that cannot be obscured. Carrie bugs Brody’s house and proceeds to examine what he says and does. Later, she interrogates him but gets nothing useful. After, she catches him in a series of lies only to realize he isn’t up to anything–yet. What ultimately tips her off is what he’s doing with his hands while on television, signaling something to the world. One need not express their intent to commit terrorism for terrorism to occur.
And as Carrie looks at Brody through hazy, illegal cameras, the audience sees Carrie in all her weaknesses through the lens of the television. Carrie is not the typical protagonist. She has many problems and she comes off a little devious as we see her jump to sex both with her boss (through his suggestion she broke his marriage) and with Saul. While Carrie is aware of her problems, her mood swings can quickly override her better judgment. Danes shines in these moments, and we immediately see Carrie on the edge, not quite right, but also trying to hang on.
The other side of Homeland is Brody’s family, and while it’s nowhere near exciting as Carrie digging into Brody’s activities, Morena Baccarin plays her role as Brody’s wife well. Love triangles are a well-worn television trope, but in the context of a soldier returning home after 8 years, it fits perfectly.
Built into Homeland’s premise is an exploration into the post-9/11 intelligence world. There is overstep of civil liberties, of course, but also more ambiguous questions throughout the episode. This paranoia taken on by Carrie reflects the haziness of identity in this age. She questions who Brody is–whether he is still the same person he is–and at the same time, the viewer has to question who Carrie is–whether her psychological condition has thrown her off the edge and whether we can trust her judgment. These two different people–the man imprisoned for years and woman who missed the signs of 9/11–share the same murkiness that drives the show ahead.