Gripper of a thriller up with the play
Season two of Homeland debuted on Monday night, just four hours after it was shown in the United States. The immediacy makes sense for this timeliest of shows.
The twitchy spy thriller already seemed the most current of dramas, thanks to its is-he-or-isn't-he season one that focused on whether Sergeant Nicholas Brody, set free after eight years as a prisoner of war in the Middle East, has been turned into a double agent for terrorists.
The nerve-jangling season one finale had Brody failing in his attempt to detonate his suicide bomb vest in a bunker with the vice-president and other heads of America's defence establishment.
Season two opens six months later, and Brody is a congressman and a fast-rising star of the Republican Party. We know his secret - he is working for al Qaeda - but since his failed mission was never exposed, his pursuer, CIA agent Carrie Mathison, does not know that her seemingly far-fetched theories of season one were accurate.
Now that her bipolar disorder has been exposed, she has been forced out of her intelligence analyst work. But a former source of hers in Beirut, the wife of a Hezbollah leader, has come forward, saying she will talk to only Carrie. She is quickly pulled back into an operational role and despite her fragile mental state, dropped on to the streets of Beirut, which are heaving with anger as the Middle East protests Israel's air strikes on Iranian nuclear plants.
The producers could not have known that Israel would be making such threats in the United Nations just before season two aired but such a coincidence is thanks to their ripped-from-the headlines approach to storytelling.
If you are new to the show and think all this sounds preposterous, be assured that terrific performances from the two leads, Brit Damien Lewis as Brody and Claire Danes as Mathison, make the story seem entirely possible.
Both won lead acting Emmys for their work on season one and it is easy to see why. Lewis brings an eerie stillness that overlays a tormented, broken man and Danes has a mixture of tenacity and fragility that give her obsessions believability.
The geopolitical is grounded in the personal. Brody has been turned largely from his anger over a secret drone strike that killed 82 children in the compound where he was being held prisoner, including the young son of his captor Abu Nazir. In a suicide note movie we see him recording, he explains that he is pursuing revenge to restore American honour: he loves his idealised version of his country so much that he has been driven to terrorism.
And both are being manipulated in the service of cause or country.
Brody and Mathison are outsize characters but despite their strong personalities, what they want to do is irrelevant to their "handlers".
The ground keeps shifting - we never quite know who to trust. In the season two opener, Brody is contacted by a high-level Washington journalist who turns out to also be working for Abu Nazir and there seem to be hints there may be double agents within the CIA.
It all makes for edge-of-seat viewing, and the way things are shaping up, you are not sure if you are watching the news or the best drama currently on television.
COMING UP Monday nights have quickly become the best night of television. A new season of Californication began on TV3 right after Homeland and season two of Shameless, my pick for the best show of 2011, has been buried at midnight on TV2. -
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