“Everyone missed something that day,” says Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin), a CIA operative in response to Carrie Mathison, the agent he recruited and trained played by Claire Danes. We all know the day he’s referring to is September 11, 2001.

Danes is completely absorbing as Carrie, a driven, highly intelligent woman who is single-mindedly obsessed with her work. She’s also suffered from a psychotic disorder since the age of 22 that she’s hiding from the agency.

Damian Lewis is the previously presumed dead marine and instant hero, Nicholas Brody returning home after eight years of captivity in Iraq. Carrie suspects he is the American prisoner of war an Iraqi source informed her has been turned. She may be out of her mind but in this case, she may also be right.

Carrie and her team are on the hunt for Abu Nazir, an Osama bin Laden figure who hasn’t been spotted for seven years. Abu Nazir resurfaces just as Brody returns home. The timing feeds Carrie’s belief that Brody is a terrorist waiting to strike.  This unshaking certainty leads her to use questionable methods all in the name of national security.  Saul is the voice of reason who tries to keep Carrie in line but still remains open to every possibility. Patinkin delivers a subtle, layered, and complicated performance as a man of principle dedicated to a job where you often have to walk that grey area between right and wrong.

Meanwhile, is Brody a war hero, brainwashed weapon of mass destruction, or a broken man suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder? On the home front, he and his family have to deal with readjusting to his return after eight years of absence. His wife, Jessica (Morena Baccarin) has moved on with her life and his children don’t know him. Brody is blank and detached with outbursts of anger that can strike at any moment. His character is often unlikeable and his motivations unclear. You don’t know where he’s coming from and keeping the audience off balance is obviously intentional, although Lewis comes off more wooden than detached at times.

Homeland is not an over the top show in the style of 24. It employs a realistic feel of the everyday tedious investigative work that is a part of the inner working of the intelligence business along with the politics, moral judgments, and personal sacrifices involved with such a career choice.

There is a tension between the CIA team’s investigation into Abu Nazir’s possible next strike and how their roles affect them, Brody’s home life, his unknown intentions, and the suspected terrorists.  The show does an excellent job of depicting the interplay of these varying and often conflicting aspects of homeland security in a post 9/11 world. The question of whether Brody is a terrorist is merely an opening for the larger and much more difficult question–How do you catch or stop a terrorist and at what cost?

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