Homeland: The Complete First Season Blu-ray Review: Intriguing Premise and Great Acting Defeated by Terrible Writing

Based on the Israeli TV series Hatufim (aka Prisoners of War) created by Gideon Raff, Homeland is a political thriller that offers up a compelling scenario populated with intriguing characters.  Unfortunately, the writers waste the great potential they begin with by forcing too many unbelievable plot points into the story.

U.S. Marine Sergeant Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis) is rescued after having been captured in Iraq in 2003, held captive by Al-Qaeda during that time, and presumed dead.  He has trouble transitioning into normal life back in the states for a number of reasons.  His wife Jessica (Morena Baccarin) started up an affair with his best friend, Captain Mike Faber (Diego Klattenhoff).  The administration and military want to use him as a poster boy and the media are happy to oblige them.  Most importantly, Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes), an anti-psychotic-pill-taking CIA agent, suspects him of working for Al-Qaeda based on vague information she obtained from an asset. 

Carrie is so obsessed with finding out the truth about Brody, for reasons made clearer as the series progresses, she sets up illegal surveillance and starts a relationship with him.  When her superiors at the agency, mentor Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin) and Director of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center/former lover David Estes (David Harewood), learn of her activities, Carrie’s status with the agency is jeopardized.

I was very intrigued by the first few episodes as Homeland covers fresh and compelling dramatic ground.  Plus, the actors are very engaging, especially Danes who wows during the final few episodes of the season as more of her character is revealed.  The same goes for Lewis, who has a wide range of emotions to play throughout the season as more of his story is told.  My interest slowly eroded as the season’s 12 episodes progressed.  They completely lost me with a terrible final episode that had me laughing out loud at how preposterous it was and ultimately did nothing other than start the series back at square one.  But it wasn’t surprising as the writers make many bad choices along the way.

The truth about Brody is revealed early on, yet the writers repeatedly try to cast doubt in the viewer’s mind.  For example, a mole is suspected in the CIA after a prisoner is given a blade to commit suicide.  Brody, going against what seemed like obvious protocol, is allowed by Estes to interact with the man, who served as his jailer, but the writers hint that Saul might be the mole when he fails the lie-detector test and acts very suspiciously during the episode, though it is only this episode he behaves in such a way.  Even harder to believe is the agent conducting the test does nothing in response to Saul’s action.  We are shown Brody can beat the lie detector in one of the many scenes Carrie recklessly reveals her surveillance of him, but the truth about who supplied the blade is never made clear to viewer, likely so the writers can apparently use Saul as a bad guy later. 

The character of Tom Walker is a great example of the writers forcing the story rather than having characters act in believable ways.  He was captured along with Brody and was also presumed dead, especially by Brody who witnessed it.  Walker returns and is discovered to be a terrorist agent.  His wife, who moved on and got married, is told this but rather than help her husband receive the care he needs and stop him from killing others, she warns him, allowing him to escape.  Worst of all is the character’s fate in the last episode.  He does everything he is supposed to do yet he is the one punished, while the person who fails the mission is rewarded, which makes zero sense.

The Blu-ray is given a 1080p/ MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfer at 1.79:1.  The picture offers vivid colors and inky blacks.  Contrast is strong and details provide great object texture.  Very minor artifacts pop up, like aliasing from the rippled office glass in Estes’ office, but there are not enough nor appear long enough to be troubled by it.

The audio is DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1.  Dialogue is always clear and understandable.  Gunshots and explosions come through with the right amount of power thanks to the LFE.  Cars are heard passing across channels.  Carrie is a jazz fan and classic songs are presented with great clarity.  Surrounds present nice ambiance no matter the scope of the scene.

Extras feature an audio commentary for “Pilot” with executive producers Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon and actors Claire Danes and Damien Lewis.  It’s a bit slow in parts and not overly informative, so no great loss if it’s skipped.  All video extras appear in HD.  Each disc offers between three to five minutes of Deleted Scenes, none of which contain any great story revelation.  ”Homeland Season One: Under Surveillance” (34 min) is a making-of featurette filled with interviews discussing the creation of the series.  “Week 10: A Prologue to Season Two” (4 min) finds Brody finding Carrie in the hospital. 

Homeland: The Complete First Season has great moments, which is likely why the bad ones deliver such disappointment.  The writers lost my trust, so I have no interest in revisiting the series in season two.  Fans who were able to overlook the story flaws should be happy with the Blu-ray, which comes with a very fine high-def presentation, though light on extras.

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Gordon S. Miller

Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of this site.

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