Homeland

In Homeland, terrorist plots aren't dismantled in 24 hours and the hero doesn't save the day by slaughtering suspects. Ten years after the horror of 9/11, good and evil are sometimes far from black-and-white.

"This is not 24, which had a muscular response to what happened on 9/11," says British actor Damian Lewis, who plays Sgt. Nicholas Brody, the Marine who's become a hero after eight years of imprisonment by Al Qaeda, on the set near Charlotte. "It was a show for its time. Now we live in a world where people are divided about the best way to wage war on terror."

Derived from an Israeli hit series, Homeland  "dramatizes the collision of two very iconic characters, CIA agent Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) and rescued POW Brody, both of whom are damaged by the events of the last 10 years," says executive producer Alex Gansa, who along with Howard Gordon, his partner on Homeland, produced 24. Based on a tip from an Iraqi source that an American POW has been turned, Mathison makes it her mission to prove Brody is a traitor. Says Gansa, "Their cat-and-mouse game propels the drama through this season."

Mathison is the show's flawed hero, a brilliant operative secretly plagued by bipolar disease. Spurred on by the belief that Al Qaeda is planning another attack on the U.S, she's hell-bent not to miss the signs she feels she overlooked a decade earlier. Brody, she believes, is the key.

What Carrie sees as she monitors Brody in his Virginia home, watching him struggle to relate to his children and wife, Jessica (V's Morena Baccarin), is ambiguous. The evidence she can't see is inside the former POW's tormented mind. That's where he relives his hideous torture, his forced killing of a fellow captive and the incongruous acts of kindness from terrorist Abu Nazir (Navid Negahban), whom the CIA is dedicated to neutralizing.

Carrie's CIA mentor Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin) watches and worries about his obsessed protégée. "He cares a great deal about her," says Patinkin, "and he believes her intuition and keen intelligence make her as good as it gets. He's not blind to her moods, but this is a person who could actually save millions of lives if it came down to it."

Danes was the producers' first choice to play Carrie. "She has this intelligence, this ferocity about her," says Gordon. Their protagonist was first called Claire, even though they thought the actress would never commit to a TV series. Danes had no doubts. "Television is now a really fertile medium," she says, "and this show is very smart." An Emmy winner for her 2010 starring role in HBO's Temple Grandin, Danes says she "admires" her character, emotional warts and all. "I understand her conflicts and I have empathy for her. She's reckless, very intense and strong, yet fragile and lonely. She's also an unreliable narrator."

Finding the right actor to play the conflicted Marine was much more challenging. In the end, Lewis, last seen in the quirky procedural Life, was coaxed from his London home to do another U.S. series. "The show is dramatic and heart-stopping," he says. "At the same time, it has contentious, controversial things to say, because those people who are defending our freedom can turn out to be people that, once exposed to different belief systems, are persuaded by them."

Although the scene shooting on a late September day shows a moment of real tenderness between Brody and his wife, in tonight's episode there's tension in the house as Brody grows suspicious that she had an affair with his best friend, Capt. Mike Faber (Diego Klattenhoff). Though Jessica has broken it off with Mike, "she still loves him," Baccarin explains. "She wants to make things work with Brody, but she also wants him to be the man she knew before — which he will never be."

As the season continues, look for the capture of an Al Qaeda member who guarded Brody in Afghanistan, a big reveal of an important person from his past, and, in a Manchurian Candidate-like twist, the entrance of political figures who believe the American hero would be the perfect means to achieve their goals.

The producers promise that much will be answered by the end of the first season. "We'll find out what actually happened to Brody in captivity," says Gordon, "and come to a more definitive understanding of the guy. How it all unravels will test our basic understanding of who's good and who's bad."

Gansa hopes Homeland will be as emblematic of a national era as 24 turned out to be. "It's not a Jack Bauer world anymore — it's a Carrie Mathison world," he says. "There are more interesting questions than whether a Marine is a terrorist or not. If he has been turned in captivity, he's hypothetically in this limbo state trying to determine for himself whether or he not he will go through with an act of terrorism. That's a very interesting place to be for a character."

And a thrilling place to be for Homeland's riveted fans.

Homeland airs Sundays at 10/9c on Showtime.

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