24 ran on Fox for nine years, offering politically charged entertainment where a Rambo-type hero spent a very intense hour every week uncovering plots that posed a threat against the United States. The writing room consisted of both conservatives and liberals, leading to heated discussions. When Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa, who were writers on 24, moved on to a new project, the results worked as kind of a reaction against 24. Still set in the world of intelligence, Homeland did not have a Rambo in the lead and stories developed in a more natural way, not forced into a packed one-hour-at-a-time narrative. Instead, Gordon and Gansa looked at John le Carré for inspiration.
An al-Qaeda prisoner is released
The first season began with the arrival of Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis), a U.S. Marine sergeant who had been held as prisoner-of-war by al-Qaeda for eight years. He was rescued by a Delta Force team and returned to his family. Considered a war hero by most, there were those who had a bad feeling about the sergeant. One of them was Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes), an agent assigned to the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center. While working in Iraq on an unauthorized mission that would eventually lead to her reassignment, she heard about an al-Qaeda asset having been turned. Carrie instantly suspected Brody of being that asset, but quickly learned that she was the only one.
As she reached out to her former mentor, CIA veteran Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin), she also had to grapple with a huge personal challenge: her bipolar disorder.
An American take on an Israeli series
That’s how Homeland began, and much would change over the years. At first, it was an American take on an Israeli series, Prisoners of War (2010-2012), that explored a former POW returning to Israel but finding it hard to adjust to his old life, especially since he had become a Muslim. Pretty explosive stuff, and Homeland borrowed some of the same themes. The audience quickly learned that Brody had become a Muslim, a fact he was hiding from both his family and the public; obviously, we asked ourselves where his allegiances lay, whether we liked those instincts or not. Homeland faced predictable accusations of racism, but was smarter than that, just like 24.
After developing the Brody storyline for a few seasons, it reached a natural ending in 2014 and the series rebooted. The main character would always be Carrie, the operative who was better than most field agents but also vulnerable because of her condition, and in later years, her deeply flawed motherhood. One of the greatest things about Homeland was the relationship between her and Saul. Obviously, it was always a father-daughter thing between them, frail and emotional but also clear-headed, as the duo struggled with personal issues next to all the national-security crises that kept popping up, especially since Saul moved ever closer to the inner circle of the White House.
In the later seasons, Homeland stayed close to current events, even preparing for a female presidency mirroring that of Hillary Clinton… until she unexpectedly lost the election in 2016. But the show quickly adapted and painted a very disturbing portrait of frequent executive failures that Saul and Carrie had to try to mitigate. Danes was at the top of her game here, but Patinkin also excelled; F. Murray Abraham was memorable as a very unreliable black ops operative in several seasons.
Trust remained a key theme, right through the final sequence when we learned what Carrie’s current mission entails. There’s certainly potential for a follow-up.
Homeland 2011-2020:U.S. Made for TV. 96 episodes. Color. Developed by Howard Gordon, Alex Gansa. Theme: Sean Callery. Cast: Claire Danes (Carrie Mathison), Mandy Patinkin (Saul Berenson), Rupert Friend (Peter Quinn, 12-17), Damian Lewis (Nicholas Brody, 11-14), F. Murray Abraham (12-18), Maury Sterling (11-14, 17-20), Linus Roache (17-20), Morena Baccarin (11-14), Diego Klattenhof (11-13), Morgan Saylor (11-13), Sarita Choudhury (12-15), Jackson Pace (11-13), David Marciano (11-13), Costa Ronin (18-20), Elizabeth Marvel (17-18), Jake Weber (17-18), Tracy Letts (13-14), Nazanin Boniadi (13-14), David Harewood (11-12), Navid Negahban (11-12), Jamey Sheridan (11-12), Sebastian Koch (15-17), Miranda Otto (15), Alexander Fehling (15).
Emmys: Outstanding Drama Series 11-12; Writing 11-12, 12-13; Actor (Lewis) 11-12; Actress (Danes) 11-12, 12-13. Golden Globes: Best Drama Series 12, 13; Actor (Lewis) 13; Actress (Danes) 12, 13.
Last word: “Alex and I wrote this pilot on spec, not having a home for it and hoping it would wind up on Showtime. That’s what was ironic about it. It was this great bunch of accidents. We even called the character of Carrie, Claire originally, because we wanted Claire Danes to play that part, after seeing ‘Temple Grandin’. This show has had a lot of luck behind it.” (Gordon, Collider)