Had I seen it before: No.
What IMDb says: A bipolar CIA operative becomes convinced a prisoner of war has been turned by al-Qaeda and is planning to carry out a terrorist attack on American soil.
Why I picked it: Homeland is more than just one of the token Showtime pilots on this list though I’m not gonna lie, that’s part of it. It’s also had a fair amount of positive reception from the critics/awards people.
But it also seems like one of those shows that made a huge splash for a year or two and then kind of fizzled out. It’s still on the air, I just don’t really hear people talk about it the way they once did. Is that just because the content is highly dependent on timeliness? Like if it’s not a year where we’re exceptionally scared of terrorists it just loses its relevance? It’ll be interesting to see if the pilot makes it obvious that the show can only work for a season or two or if it’s brilliant and mistakes were made later on.
I’m also intrigued by the notion of an American political thriller that takes place abroad. It seems like such an obvious idea but yet I can’t recall another one off the top of my head, so I can’t wait to see how this one goes!
What I liked: So the concept of a CIA operative with bi-polar disorder is fabulous. Does her anxiety make her better at her job, kinda like how Monk is a better detective because he has OCD? Or does it make her worse at her job? Also it looks like she has to keep her mental illness a secret which adds another interesting factor.
We also see that Carrie is the type who has no issue breaking all sorts of rules to follow her gut, even when every other character is like “Yo, this is a bad idea.” That should help drive a ton of episodes.
What I didn’t like: I really wanted to like this one. It seems so interesting on paper but the pilot leaves a lot to be desired. The more I think about this, the more I think the problem is the dramatic tonal shift between the first scene and the rest of the pilot.
We start with Carrie in Baghdad desperately trying to save a potential informant. It’s fast. It’s intense. It’s full of painfully expository dialog but I’ll let it slide. It’s a scene that says “fasten your seatbelt, you’re in for one hell of a ride!”
But that ride never happens. The rest of the episode is rather slow. It’s a combination of Brody, a presumed-dead soldier who was found alive and rescued, readjusting to normal domestic life and Carrie whining about how he works for the terrorists now.
Have you ever watched a tv show or movie where you spent the entire time waiting for something to happen? I mean you’re into it and interested, but not because of what’s actually happening on screen in front of you but because you trust that it will be relevant in interesting scenes to come.
That’s how Homeland felt because you get this intensity right off the bat, but then it goes away and never returns. As a viewer, you expect it to. There’s this instinct that tells you “well, they wouldn’t have made that scene the first one in the whole show if it wasn’t an accurate indication of the show’s pace.” So there’s something incredibly unfulfilling when we never get that pace back.
At the end, it turns out that Brody is potentially signaling terrorists when he’s on tv by pretending his hand has a nervous tick. That’s it. All of this and all we’re left with is “well, his hand is twitching.”
Looking back on this knowing that later seasons were not as successful as earlier seasons, I can sort of see why. There’s really not a ton of conflict other than “Brody is potentially working for the bad guys now.”
My guess is that this kinda did what Scandal did. That pilot established that Olivia is sleeping with the president. Over and over again, the writers kept returning to that plotline, even after I thought they were done with it. Eventually I lost interest in the show because it started to feel like the writers had just run out of ideas.
It’s really hard to see where Homeland can go once we get a conclusive answer as to whether or not Brody is a good guy or bad guy. So I’m guessing the writers either a) gave us a conclusive answer and didn’t know where else to go or b) spent so much time being inconclusive that the show got boring. I see potential for a great mini-series in this pilot, but I don’t see enough here for 6+ seasons. Hopefully other conflicts were introduced and hopefully it didn’t feel like the writers were grasping at straws with them, I’m just saying the pilot doesn’t really give us anything to be curious about besides Brody.
Do I want to watch Ep. 2: Not particularly. I’m sure the show is pretty good but at this point it’s Day 28 and the competition is stiff. I can think of at least five other shows I’d continue before I continue this one.