Hero or traitor? That's the question that gnaws the guts of the maverick CIA officer Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) when she hears an astonishing bit of news from Afghanistan. It sounds almost too good to be true. In fact, in her mind, it's so beyond miraculous that she smells a rat.
After eight years missing-in-action in the lightless pit of an Al Qaeda dungeon, Marine Sgt Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis) has been rescued. Subjected to unthinkable torment at the hands of America's foes, he's finally coming home. Yet Carrie's convinced he's been turned; that America's latest, most glorious mass-media-anointed war hero is, in reality, part of a terrorist plot to be carried out on US soil.
To say her stance proves unpopular among her superiors - including the Emmy-winner Mandy Patinkin as her old boss and mentor - is a wild understatement. And Carrie, who is bipolar and more than a bit rogue, is fighting some demons of her own, which means that nothing is as it seems on Homeland, a psychological espionage thriller that's winning rave reviews from critics and fans alike.
"She gets into trouble pretty consistently," Danes says of her character. "She works in Homeland Security. She's been relegated to the realm of analysis, which is not really her game. She's a very adventurous, intrepid spirit. She's very passionate to a dangerous extent.
"She's also bipolar, which is something she has to conceal from her colleagues. She's like a 'secret' secret agent," adds Danes. "She's getting by, but it's a little precarious. She's not great with the boundaries sometimes. She's just so fixated on her goal that she'll make a lot of sacrifices to see it through. But she is preternaturally gifted and her mind does work faster than most people's."
Homeland recently gathered nine Emmy nominations, including one for outstanding drama series, while Danes and Lewis are up for outstanding lead actress and outstanding actor, respectively, in the 2012 Emmy Awards to be presented on September 23 in Los Angeles. At the Golden Globes earlier this year, Homeland won for best TV drama series while Danes won for best actress in a TV drama.
Is it any wonder, then, that the executive producers Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa are both veterans of 24? Hardly.
"24 existed in a real post-9/11 world," says Gansa, "and Jack Bauer was an action hero. In response to that, 10 years later, things have become deeper and more complex and the heart of this show is really psychological: how America is dealing with that 10-year period."
Nicholas finds himself "claimed by the CIA, the military, the US government and the army - he's a great propaganda tool," Lewis says of his character. "There's ambiguity about what happens to him after his initial psychological and physical breaking. There's no telling who will survive extreme conditions like that."
"There are moments when Brody simply can't cope. We can see him with his wife, unable to be physically intimate with her because he can't handle the intimacy," adds Lewis. "We see this man hiding in his house, imprisoned in his house, unable to cope with the outside world because he is having a breakdown. He is unable to deal with what it takes to reintegrate with the modern world again. All of these things are true and he has to cope in each moment the best that he can."
It's also truly a dramatic pleasure to see Morena Baccarin has left behind her human-skinned reptiles and her short hairdo on V to embrace a role with some real emotional meat - as Jessica Brody, a "widowed" wife and mother of two who gets the jolt of her life when her "stranger" husband returns to the family fold.
"It's nice to be human again and play emotions and to have a lot going on emotionally," says Baccarin. "It gets very intense. You can't blame her - [Nicholas] was gone for eight years and at a certain point you have to assume he's dead. And just as she was putting that behind her, he comes home, so it's just a really impossible situation for everybody and it gets really intense."
It's a fun bit of trivia to hear that Baccarin and Danes were classmates in junior high school.
"I remember she had orange hair or pink hair at one point after she'd got back from doing (the pilot for) My So-Called Life," Baccarin recalls, then laughs. "We were just [recently] bonding over the fact that we had the same bully in junior high."
Homeland premieres at 10pm, Tuesday on OSN First HD.
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