Monday, October 24, 2011

Homeland, Season 1 Episode 4 — "Semper I"

I've decided to, in addition to my NBC Thursday night sitcom roundups, start doing episode-by-episode reviews of a few other shows. For now I'm starting with Homeland and Chuck and adding Spartacus and Game of Thrones when they return next year. I toyed with also doing Parenthood, but, although I really like Parenthood (more than Homeland and Chuck, even), I'm worried there wouldn't be much to say after each episode other than "Yep, that was pleasant." But I could always change my mind, and could always opt to add other new shows as well. I'm volatile as fuck!

But for now let's focus in on Homeland's fourth episode, "Semper I." Review behind the cut, lest the uninitiated be callously spoiled.

The involvement of Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa of course makes comparisons between Homeland and 24 inevitable, which was never more apparent than in last week's episode, "Clean Skin." Between the boiling tension, a race against time to save someone's life, the sudden death of a major character, the reveal of a seemingly benign character's terrorist designs, and an "oh snap!" cliffhanger, that episode, nudity and swearing aside, had me damn near convinced I was watching the adventures of Jack Bauer and CTU all over again.

But in contrast to "Clean Skin," "Semper I" is the most domestic, understated episode of Homeland to date, and nothing like any episode that action-at-all-costs 24 produced in eight years. And while I wouldn't yet put Homeland on the same level as Breaking Bad (we'll have to see how the season pans out before making such extreme statements), I'd compare the two in being shows that outwardly belong in the thriller genre yet have rich enough characterization that a quiet episode with relatively little plot momentum can still make for compelling television.

While I kind of wish I had been reviewing the show on an episode-by-episode basis from the beginning, "Semper I" actually makes a good starting point, as you could clearly sense the season kicking off its second act, especially with Carrie and Brody's meeting at the end. I've mentioned before on this blog that I love when a TV drama has the balls to twist its premise hard and irreversibly, and as such I love that Homeland dropped Carrie's surveillance of the Brody household, which initially seemed like it was going to be the basis of the entire series, a mere four episodes in.

Though I continue to find Claire Danes the highlight of the show (and arguably the acting highlight of any new show this fall season), the MVP this week was Damian Lewis as Brody. It was pretty obvious early in that he was going to kill that deer, but Lewis still made the scene where it went down haunting. I like how clear he's made it that Brody knows what happened between Mike and Jessica without ever needing to verbalize it, and even more so how continually subtle he's made Brody's true allegiance. An actor either more shady or more all-American and this character could have fallen apart, but Lewis is perfect.

The one part of this episode I wasn't really into was the reveal of Carrie and David's romantic and / or sexual history, which felt forced both in its overly expositional reveal and in its intent to give David a more human dimension. Honestly, I'm fine with David just being a stuffed shirt CIA asshole. And his stuffy nature, while a great contrast with crazy Carrie in their usual adversarial relationship, gives them all the romantic chemistry of a cat and a dog, and I just wasn't feeling it at all.

But where I was feeling some chemistry was at the end of the episode between Carrie and Brody. However intrigued I was by the show doing away with its surveillance premise so quickly, it left me uncertain where the story was going next, and Carrie reaching out to Brody in person was an awesomely unexpected way to set up the next arc of the show. You get a wonderfully strange sense that while Carrie continues to believe in his terrorist leanings, she's also (going by both her behavior in the final scene and the way she was watching him at the beginning) interested in and maybe even attracted to him on a personal level.

For her to violate orders and contact him directly in this way is such an incredible professional transgression (especially if, as I strongly suspect is going to happen, she fucks him), one that makes it difficult to imagine she's still going to have her job at the end of the season. Not that that means the show can't continue – after all, Jack Bauer lost his job at CTU less than halfway into the run of 24 – but it does make for continually fascinating characterization for this season's darkest and most compelling new antihero.

No comments: