HOMELAND (Showtime) This gripping newcomer, developed by Howard Gordon and...

HOMELAND (Showtime)

This gripping newcomer, developed by Howard Gordon and Alex Ganza of "24," and starring Claire Danes, Damian Lewis, Mandy Patinkin and Morena Baccarin, launched with one of the best pilots I've ever seen.

So let's quickly talk "Homeland," the most celebrated new show of the 2011 fall season, shall we? First season ended last night in a satisfying way or at least a way that was not designed to elicit some sort of outraged howl on the part of fans. (Another way of saying, I guess, that this was not "The Killing.")  We knew Nicolas Brody - Damian Lewis - would not be unmasked. We knew Carrie - Claire Danes - would not prevail. Successful shows have a way of maintaining their core concept so that fans return for more. We get that.

I do have a few thoughts about "Homeland," and sometimes when the spirit so moves me, it's best to rely on the trusty Socratic questions-and-answers method so as not to hopelessly confuse either readers or myself (and I do thank you for your patience). So.... 

  [And for the unintiatied, briefly, "Homeland" is about a CIA analyst, played by Danes, who believes a Marine captured by the Iraqis and later handed over to Al-Qaida has "turned" and is planning an attack for the enemy against U.S. targets; she's right, but everyone else thinks she's unbalanced - she is - and so her warnings go largely unheeded...] 

Will "Homeland" be more successful than "Dexter?"

It will certainly be a more effective awards generator than "Dexter," which also wrapped last night. I expect a best actress/drama Golden Globe for Danes, and Emmy nods for Lewis, Danes, and probably Mandy Patinkin too. As for always-the-bridesmaid-never-the-bride, "Dex" fails where "Homeland" succeeds - as a Big Idea show about relevant, or at the very least, politically charged subject matter. Try as it might, "Dex" cannot and probably will not ever win Emmys in its waning - also indisputably weaker - days simply because Academy members can't bring themselves to vote for a police "splatter specialist" who in reality is a good-hearted serial killer. "Dex's" best days are behind it, and "Homeland's" are before it, leading to the second point...

* Where does "Homeland" go from here?

"Homeland" may be blessed with believability but is sometimes cursed with implausibility. Which is another way of saying it can often feel intensely real and at other times intensely contrived. At moments it's an effective big-screen thriller, at others a plodding small-screen clunker. "Homeland" is stuffed with familiar tropes - the Manchurian Candidate and the plausibly unbalanced Cassandra character - Carrie Mathison - who speaks the truth that no one believes or wants to believe.

That's fine for a limited-run series, but Showtime has a habit of hanging on to shows long long past their expiration date, like "Dex," or "Weeds." Showtime does this because it recognizes that subscriber retention is based on subscriber satisfaction - even if the shows that are being retained are sometimes no longer particularly satisfying. "Homeland" is a very good show (so were the first seasons of "Weeds" and "Dex" though not as good) but it is also predicated on a story that demands a conclusion within a reasonable time frame. If "Homeland" is puttering along six years from now, with Patinkin as a grayer CIA Doubting Thomas, and Carrie even more emotionally unspooled, and Nicholas Brody an even more devious terrorist, then something will have gone terribly wrong. At some point, "Homeland" will have to reinvent itself or risk parody.  

 Fine, but you didn't really answer the question - where does it go from here?

Beats me, and I almost wonder whether the producers have a perfectly clear idea either. There is no established template here even if this is based on a successful Israeli series - "Hatufim" - which itself is only a couple of seasons old. Nevertheless, I thought last night did a particularly good job of hook-baiting while offering hints of how this might play out. Carrie and Brody are of course parallels - twins, shadows, or mirrors of one another, linked psychically, romantically, sexually to such an extent that she would consent to undergo a form of torture herself (electroshock therapy) to break the bond.

Meanwhile, the question of whether Brody is a good man who has been brainwashed into doing a terrible thing, or a terrible man who had been brainwashed into doing something he was convinced was good - the polarity of Nicholas Brody all season long - melted away in that one moment with his daughter's voice on the end of the line.

Suddenly, he was only a father, and nothing more. His agony was exquisite, magnificent - the best moment of the entire series, and one of the most memorable of the season.

Something visibly snapped in him in that instance: A Marine 8 years in captivity which had been just enough time to learn Arabic and otherwise become a viable Stockholm syndrome candidate, but not quite enough time to erase the memory of his firstborn daughter. In that one supercharged instant, thanks in part to the brilliance of Lewis, that became one of those plausible moments that in lesser hands would have been reduced to sheer silliness.

Carrie Mathison - Danes has been equally extraordinary in this series - also visibly snapped when her body convulsed and her jaw clenched, while the horror and passion of her obsession went up in smoke, so to speak. She and Brody will be different characters next season - certainly more psychologically complex characters. The future for "Homeland," whatever that is, bodes particularly well.

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