There is no denying that US series Homeland has been a smash hit. The show, which follows a US Marine who has been recruited by terrorists after eight years in captivity, can count Barack Obama amongst its fans and has received rave reviews for its tight storytelling and complex, suspense filled plot lines. I missed the first series on its original airing but after hearing all the hype I had to tune in and watched the nightly catch ups run by Channel 4 before diving straight into series two. I powered through it and I’m already getting antsy waiting for series three to continue in the “explosive” direction of the pilot. The problem is I can’t watch a single episode without finding at least a dozen points to pick at and there are a few overarching issues that I will happily moan on and on about for ages after the credits have rolled. So why on earth do I keep watching?
Carrie Mathieson (Claire Danes) is the only person at the CIA who is convinced that Sgt Brody (Damien Lewis) has been turned by the terrorists and launches her own off the books surveillance of him. When that’s discovered and shut down she begins to follow him and integrate herself into his life. At every turn she makes the right calls and inferences as to his motivations and plans but we have to wait until series two before the rest of the CIA finally catches up. We can only hope that the real life intelligence agencies don’t work in this way otherwise we would be facing total annihilation on an almost daily basis. But my major problem with Homeland isn’t the fact that even as an experienced agent Carrie is not taken seriously, it is the fact that her savant like skills are linked with her mental illness rather than her intelligence. From the pilot episode we see Carrie struggle with her bipolar disorder and the writers have (whether deliberately or not) provided a link between this and her “sixth sense” about the terrorist Abu Nazir, who recruited Brody, implying that because her mind works differently, she is able to piece together the puzzle in a way her co workers can’t. It seems an overly simplistic, not to mention offensive, writing tool to imply that Carrie’s illness somehow gives her special insight into the cases she works. She has her biggest breakthroughs when she is at her most manic and the overarching plot of the first series is revealed fully when Carrie goes off her medication and begins to frantically go through all her research. Once stable again, her theories have been worked into a coherent record of the case, from which her CIA colleagues can now work to trace and catch Nazir.
That’s not to say that bipolar disorder is portrayed as a walk in the park and much of the drama stems from the fact that Carrie struggles in both her personal and professional life because of her illness. She can’t connect with anyone (except Brody) and when her illness is revealed, despite her being right about everything, she is written off by the CIA and loses the most important thing to her, her job. The extent of this is my primary issue with the show but strangely it doesn’t stop me watching. Oddly enough, as a viewer I find Carrie to be the only likeable character in the show and so it is gratifying to see her solving the cases and being three steps ahead of the hypocrites that she reports to.
A third series has recently been commissioned by Showtime and begins filming soon. It will be interesting to see if the writers can make the move to legitimise Carrie’s actions in their own right, rather than having her brilliance being the by product of her mental illness.