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Homeland’s recent series finale prompted me to go back to the beginning. A lot has changed in television, filmed entertainment, storytelling generally, and the whole world in the decade since Homeland premiered in October 2011, a decade that coincided with the entirety of my career as a spy novelist.
The compelling qualities that first drew me to write in the genre are the same attractions that are abundant in Homeland: plot that’s both action-heavy and character-based; the extreme dramatic tensions of fundamental betrayals within intimate relationships; the moral ambiguity of patriotism; and paradigm-shattering twists.
Homeland has it all, plus spectacular performances by Claire Danes as a deeply empathetic, deeply flawed mess of a human being; Damien Lewis as a picture-perfect war hero turned on its head; and Mandy Patinkin as a hardened CIA careerist caught between professional duties and personal loyalties.
At the end of the Cold War, the spy story receded into the background; this type of plot reemerged following 9/11, but often heading in a very different direction—less subtle, less personal, less credible. At its reductionist worst, I think a bad espionage drama is my very least favorite type of storytelling, jingoist and cynical and opportunistic. But at its best, it’s my favorite: that’s Season 1 of Homeland.
Plenty of time set aside: this is a dozen episodes you’ll want to binge through quickly. But not necessarily with kids: there’s violence, nudity, sex, and all sorts of imagery that might be disturbing.
This first season won both a Golden Globe for best drama as well as an Emmy for outstanding drama. Damien Lewis, who plays the uber-American role of a Marine POW, and later goes on to play another uber-American role as a hedge-fund titan in Billions, grew up in London. And speaking of growing up: Claire Danes and costar Morena Baccarin went to middle school together in New York City; they were even in the same class.