In the seventh series of Homeland, the FBI lay siege to a ranch occupied by survivalists protecting Brett O’ Keefe, an Alex Jones-come-Steve Bannon figure wanted by the Federal Government. It’s classic Homeland: a tense and dramatic showdown driven fundamentally not by action nor violence, but by the interpersonal relationships between the protagonists.
We are reminded, right from the beginning of the scene, that this ranch is someone’s home. The sequence in the ranch presents in microcosm one of the show’s central themes – the clash between loyalty to the homeland as home country and nation, and to the domestic homeland.
In the first two series, Carrie Mathison, a CIA agent played by Claire Danes, investigates Nicholas Brody, a liberated prisoner of war. Mathison suspects, correctly, that Al Qaeda has turned Brody during his imprisonment, and the first series plays on the tension between Brody’s status as war hero and his hidden allegiance.
Images of Brody’s home-life in the United States are constantly juxtaposed with scenes of Brody’s service and imprisonment in the Middle East. We watch as the trauma Brody suffered in the service of one homeland tears apart another.
Carrie Mathison is also bipolar. Claire Danes’ portrayal of someone both deeply driven and deeply unstable is brilliant, and extremely convincing. One facet of her illness is a sudden, manic obsession with solving the problems she’s faced with.
Her obsession with preventing and hunting down terrorism is at the expense of everyone around her, including her family. This is particularly true of her sister, who takes it upon herself to keep Carrie on the straight and narrow. Later, in the fourth series, Carrie has a child who she leaves behind in America with her sister, while she’s posted in Islamabad for the CIA. Once again, Carrie’s home is split apart by her devotion to her larger homeland, America.
Homeland is often described as a ‘post 9/11 TV show’, as it concerns a range of issues which entered public parlance after the 9/11 attacks. Terrorism, intelligence, and espionage are all central to the show’s plot. In the first series, Carrie listens in on everything Brody says, and watches his every move, through hidden cameras in his house. Even the most recent episode opens with a supposedly secret conversation between two other characters, as Carrie watches on, a voyeur.
In real life, the United States government made this kind of observation legal in 2005, through title 2 of the PATRIOT Act. Similarly, in the UK, we’ve become used to the idea that GCHQ knows all about us, all the time. But Homeland shows us, in the wake of 9/11, Iraq, and Afghanistan, what this really means. The safety and integrity of our domestic homelands are constantly under threat, so that our larger homeland, our country, stays safe.
Homeland is a great TV show because it engages us with real questions about our modern world. Our homelands are threatened, both by terrorists and those who seek to prevent them. To what extent are we willing to compromise our privacy to ensure our safety? Homeland demonstrates that there are no easy answers.