Homeland is an espionage drama series, with psychological thriller elements that pulls together a lot of ideas surrounding counterterrorism, paranoia, prisoners of war, damaged personas, and what it means to be a hero. I missed Homeland during its initial run on Showtime last fall, so I was happy to be able to catch up with in on Blu-ray, before the start of the second season. Given all the critical acclaim the series received, it came as no surprise to me that Homeland is easily one of the best new dramas currently on TV. The series resembles something of a mix between The Manchurian Candidate, The Conversation, and 24, with a very well plotted out season that is full of twists and turns, not to mention strong lead performances and great thrilling elements throughout. Now Homeland’s first season is available for all to check out on Blu-ray. Continue on to learn more about this release.
The series follows two lead characters on two sides of the same situation. Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) is a CIA operations officer, currently working in the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center in Langley, Virginia. She has been reassigned to this location, following an unauthorized operation that led her to learning a key piece of information – an American prisoner of war had been turned by Al-Qaeda. Ten months after learning this information, a U.S. Marine Sergeant, Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis), is rescued from capture in Iraq, after having been reported as missing in action for eight years. Brody is quickly recognized by everyone as a war hero, but Carrie is convinced that the information she has previously received is directly related to Brody. She immediately sets up unauthorized surveillance around Brody, trusting only a few people to help her in this secret investigation. Chief among those Carrie can trust is her mentor, Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin), who is willing to overlook the illegal aspect of this investigation for the sake of having enough belief in Carrie’s skill as a CIA Operative.
Over the course of the season, we deal with Carrie’s investigation surrounding Brody as well as Brody’s re-adjustment into the life of an American citizen living at home. As the episodes carry on, we learn a lot about both characters, as well as the others involved in their life. A major part of Carrie’s life involves the fact that she is bi-polar and needs medication to keep herself balanced, though this illness is a secret she keeps from almost everyone. Brody is a bit more mysterious, as we learn about the torture he went through during his time as a prisoner in Iraq and possible connections to major terrorist threat Abu Nazir, who could be plotting a strike against the U.S. in the near future.
Another large aspect of this series is Brody reestablishing a relationship with his own family. After returning home, Brody is reunited with his wife Jessica (Morena Baccarin), and two children, Chris and Dana (Jackson Pace and Morgan Saylor). With Brody having been gone and practically assumed dead, Jessica naturally had to deal with a lot, which does cause strife as Brody learns that his best friend and superior officer, U.S. Marine Captain Mike Faber (Diego Klattenhoff), has become quite close with Jessica and the kids. On the CIA side, we also learn a lot about Saul’s character, beyond just his relationship to Carrie, as his role in this twisty plot ends up feeling just as significant. Really though, the focus of this story is how all of these various characters and aspects contribute to whether or not Carrie is on the right track and if Brody is on the level.
This Blu-ray set includes all 12 episodes of the first season, including the 84-minute long season finale:
3. “Clean Skin”
4. “Semper I”
5. “Blind Spot”
6. “The Good Soldier”
7. “The Weekend”
8. “Achilles Heel”
10. “Representative Brody”
11. “The Vest”
12. “Marine One”
Homeland is based on an Israel series, Prisoners of War, and was developed for American television by Howard Gordan and Alex Gansa, both of whom were previously involved with 24. 24 is a fitting show to bring up, because Homeland feels like 24’s more reserved and methodical older brother, despite being able to go to larger extremes, given that the series is on Showtime as opposed to Fox. Both shows do have their moments of characters screaming at each other about where the terrorists are and what not, but Homeland is also very willing to play a lot of things very close to the chest, which makes these characters and their choices all the more compelling. As opposed to an action/drama, Homeland is very much an old school 70s espionage thriller that happens to be set in modern times.
Among the great things that the series has to offer, Claire Danes and Damian Lewis are clear standouts. Both actors do a tremendous job of keeping the audience hooked on their characters. Danes is fantastic as the CIA operative who becomes way too attached to the subject she is watching over, putting her career into jeopardy in the process. The way in which Danes is able to communicate how good she is at her job, as well as how important it is for her to be going about things the way she does, regardless of how against protocol her actions may be, makes her side of the story incredibly compelling to watch. I love the way she is able to bring qualities like intelligence, sassiness, stubbornness, and a manic nature to this character and make it work so effectively. And without further giving anything away, the way Danes utilizes her eyes, which I consider a defining feature of hers, in very specific scenes is incredible. She is easily my new favorite female character currently on television.
At the same time, Damian Lewis is just as remarkable as Brody, who we see so many different sides of, as we learn about what he has gone through and how he is dealing with the issues involved in being back in America with his family and people that care about him. The way he is able to achieve so much, while also holding back plenty in his interactions with others is pretty amazing. The fact that much of his performance hinges on how suspicious we are supposed to be of this guy makes the show incredibly compelling as well. Later on in the season especially, having a clearer beat on Brody’s character, it was continually impressive to see how Lewis, as an actor, was able to dig deeper and deeper into what makes this character tick.
A lot of credit goes to the rest of the cast as well, particularly Mandy Patinkin, who brings a great amount of subtlety to his role as Saul and only continues to be stellar throughout the season with his mix of helpful knowledge that he provides and world weariness that defines his own persona. The reason a lot of this works so well is because Homeland is a great character drama first, which is why the decisions and turns in the plot end up working so well for the series as a whole. Homeland frequently puts itself into areas where certain decisions made for the story would not work as well as they do, were it not for the great handling of these characters and the actors who portray them.
The series also deserves plenty of credit for its thrilling nature as well, which comes without much in the way of standard “action” sequences. The tense nature of this series is much more in line with focusing on how characters get out of tricky situations based on the dialogue they have with others, rather than action. In addition, there is so much good work done in handling the psychological level of these characters, which only continues to make this show fascinating in ways that feel more ambitious than a lot of other shows.
I also really enjoyed how the series moved the plot along in ways that would take others shows much more time to deliver payoffs on. Homeland begins with an aspect that ends pretty quickly, only to pick up a new direction for the story to go on, before being switched up on yet again. It is the way the show diverts from the norm that I really appreciated, given that I was completely caught up in how things on the show went down, only to be taken in directions that I was not expecting to go.
As with any series, Homeland is not without its flaws. There are a few areas where the show does not quite find the best way to get to a specific plot beat, sacrificing some sense of the established reality for a certain action that needs to take place. It also did not help that the least interesting subplot of the season, which revolved around Brody’s teenage daughter, got to points that began to feel irritating after a while, regardless of how well this ended up factoring into the overall arc of the season. These are all minor quibbles; however, as the show is so compelling in almost every facet that it is really hard to be pulled out of the experience as a whole.
I expected to really enjoy Homeland, but I am completely ecstatic at the prospect of being able to see more of it fairly soon. Having digested this whole first season pretty quickly, I was easily wrapped up in what this initial season had to offer and hope the series continues to deliver in the future. As it stands now, both Danes and Lewis are fantastic in a show that manages to achieve a lot, given how strongly written the characters are in the series and how interesting the story is. The fact that it adheres to a particular old school style (complete with a heavy use of jazz throughout) only makes me appreciate the series more for its wonderful blend of dramatic, character-driven storytelling and compelling espionage and psychological thriller beats.
Homeland arrives on Blu-ray with a 1080p AVC-encoded transfer for every episode, which looks great, given the digital photography used to film the show. I would not necessarily consider Homeland a series that relies on flashiness when it comes to the show’s visual aesthetic, but that does not stop the show from being well-shot and carefully constructed in the way it is framed and assembled during each episode. In that regard, despite being shot with digital cameras, there is a sense (later proven to me in the special features) that the show does try to have the same feel as a lot of 70s spy thrillers, which is fitting, not to mention some very specific choices made visually in the season finale. With that said, the Blu-ray is fine when considering the textures and colors for the characters, backgrounds, and settings during various times of the day. It looks good throughout, with most of the emphasis being on the characters. When the show does get into more hectic scenarios, the look of the more action-y sequences are well handled for the Blu-ray, which feels rich and dense with a nice level of contrast to balance between that and the more intimate settings. Strong presentation all around.
Maybe I was just pleased with the bursts of jazz that came through on the sound track, but I was quite pleased with the audio presentation as well. The score of this series by Sean Callery (another 24 alum) does a great job of representing a lot of what was going on in the characters’ heads. With that, this Blu-ray does a great job of delivering a solid audio experience all around. The score comes in at specific moments and sounds great, but when dealing with other aspects, the dialogue all registers well throughout. Various other elements that factor into the audio sound clear and feel properly mixed, which include louder moments to take note of, such as explosions and gunshots. It is a solid lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track that does well by the show for sure.
While I wish there was more here, the special features section for Homeland has some material that is worth viewing. It is a three-disc set and each disc has a little to offer, with the third disc having maybe the most significant extra feature. Additionally, all of the extras are presented in HD. It is worth noting that too that when watching the series, the viewer has the option to view the entire season in Season Mode, which is essentially a “play all”, but allows the Blu-ray player to keep track when switching between discs.
Commentary on “Pilot” – Features actors Claire Danes and Damian Lewis, along with showrunners Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa. I wish there were more commentaries, but this is a pretty strong track.
Deleted Scenes – There a few deleted scenes present on each disc.
Week Ten – Prologue to Season Two
Homeland Season One: Under Surveillance – The best feature on the disc. Coming in at just over half an hour, this is a fairly comprehensive extra that features interviews with the cast and crew, a discussion of the series’ origins, and what went into the making of this series during production. It is spoiler heavy, so be sure to check this out after having watched the whole season.
Homeland was a great season of television. It features superior writing, a compelling story, two great lead actors, with a strong supporting cast to help, and an overall great handle on how to provide a solid dramatic espionage thriller series. Looking forward, I hope season two is able to deliver as strong, given the great lead in that it has set up for itself. With that said, the Blu-ray for season one is quite strong, with great audio and video presentations and special features that do just enough to supplement the series. Overall, this is a great new show with a pretty great Blu-ray package to go with it.