"Batshit crazy" is such a perfectly descriptive term. It's so perfect that you don't even need to clarify it with the word "crazy." All you need to say is, "batshit" and everyone knows exactly what you mean. Why do I bring this up? Because, never in the history of television has that term been more apropos to a character than it is to Carrie Mathison of 'Homeland.' Played by Claire Danes, this CIA field agent/analyst is the most insane, yet interesting, character you'll ever have the pleasure of watching on TV. Her nutty psychological makeup is right at the heart of why 'Homeland' is so damn good.
Hyperbole is thrown around a lot during a new television season. Every fall we're inundated by critic quotes stating that such-and-such show is the "best show ever in the history of television." It's a common practice as we all know, but I will tell you that such hyperbole in the case of 'Homeland' isn't really hyperbole at all. If you see a quote like, "'Homeland' is the best new show of the season," (in 2011) it isn't an embellishment. 'Homeland' was the best new show of the season last fall and promises to continue on strong with its second season on Showtime.
What makes 'Homeland' so good? Again we turn back to the controlled insanity that is Carrie Mathison. In all my years of watching television I've never come across a character like this. We're used to seeing main characters dealing with one or two personal demons. Carrie's mind, however, is like Pandora's Box, and opening it unlocks a narrative world of psychological chaos.
Mathison works at the CIA and she's obsessed with her job. Like most career-obsessed characters she cares little about her personal life and is fully invested (to a fault) in her profession. However, we're used to watching, say, Jack Bauer fight between having a personal life and killing terrorists. Bauer, while completely awesome, was a one-note character. He efficiently rid the world of terrorists 24 hours at a time. His personal problems stemmed from being so dedicated to his job, but we never felt for a second that Bauer wouldn't succeed because of his own demons. Mathison on the other hand is supposed to be neck-deep in stopping the next 9/11 and we're consistently worried that she'll crack up at any moment. Her bona fide crazy throws a gigantic monkey wrench into the show's storytelling, which causes almost complete unpredictability with the plot. That's why 'Homeland' is so fun to watch; you never really know what's going to happen.
The story begins when the U.S. military raids a terrorist stronghold and uncovers an American prisoner of war. Marine Sgt. Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis) is found and freed after suffering eight years of torture. Brody's family believed him to be dead. So much so that his wife Jessica (Morena Baccarin) has moved on and has been seeing Brody's longtime military friend Mike (Diego Klattenhoff). Jessica is actually in bed with Mike when she gets the call that her husband is alive and well. Needless to say this adds another layer in an already complicated and enthralling story.
Meanwhile Mathison has received a small bit of intelligence from a source who is about to be executed in Iraq. Before the execution Mathison learns from him that a U.S. prisoner of war has been, "turned." This just so happens to perfectly coincide with Brody being found alive. Now Mathison is adamant that Brody is the prisoner of war that the intel is referring to; nobody else agrees. Her close friend and co-worker Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin) is the only person that will entertain such a wild accusation, but Mathison soon goes off the rails trying to investigate Brody.
From episode to episode I could never predict what was going to take place on 'Homeland.' It's an intricately woven tale of espionage, intrigue, strenuous familial relationships, clashing political ideologies, and psychological awareness. It's like '24' only much more cerebral in its approach. This is a cloak-and-dagger sort of espionage story. That isn't to say that the show's not intense, indeed it is. It may not be filled with shoot outs and nuclear bombs counting dangerously close to zero, it doesn't need those things to keep the tension taught. This is a show that harnesses its characters in such a way that the whodunit part of the plot becomes secondary. Sure you care deeply about finding out the baseline truths of what's happening, but following Mathison hazardously close to the cliffs of insanity is just as fun.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
This is a 20th Century Fox Blu-ray release. 'Homeland' has 12 episodes in the first season (five episodes on disc one, four episodes on disc two, and three episodes on disc three) and they're spread out across three 50GB Blu-ray Discs. This is a standard size Blu-ray keepcase has a swinging arm with back-to-back disc hubs and a third hub inside the back cover. Inside the front cover is a barebones episode list under the two advertisement inserts for the second season of the show. It also comes with a slipcover which adds to the cover art already in place. It's a clear, plastic slipcover that has its own artwork that blends rather nicely with the case art. It's labeled as being a Region A release.
Fox has provided a very fine-looking transfer for 'Homeland' on Blu-ray. If you watched it during its original airing on Showtime no doubt you were confronted by many of the artifacting problems that plague compressed cable and satellite signals. I know I was. This is your chance to see it in the pristine 1080p glory that it was meant to be seen in.
From the outset you'll notice that the picture is crystalline in its clarity. Detail is easily apparent. A good example of this is the shot of Mathison as she desperately tries to get information from her informant in an Iraqi prison. The prison door she talks to him through is covered in a large quantity of rust. The dimpled, brittle texture of the rust on the door is tangible. Facial details are equally impressive. From the swath of freckles on Lewis' face to the ever-present "really, I am crazy" furrowed brow of Danes, all facial details are easily noticeable.
Colors are bright and vivid. Earth tones in the Middle East are rich. Reds including blood and a striking dress that Baccarin wears in the first episode leap off the screen. Blacks are ink and deep. Shadows are perfectly delineated, adding nice depth and dimension to the proceedings. Honestly I couldn't find anything to really complain about in this presentation. There are bits of aliasing here and there (on far off park benches and whatnot), but they're negligible at best. Banding, blocking, or any other nuisance is a no show.
I absolutely love the unpredictability of Sean Callery's jazz-inspired score. Callery, who was the architect behind the memorable music on '24' has created more great original music for this show. It's seemingly haphazard arrangement mirrors the inner struggles of Mathison's mind. That's why I was so pleased that his score skedaddles and bops throughout the sound field. Each channel is full of the chaotic jazz notes whenever the score rises into existence in a given scene. Makes you feel like you were right there, watching a seasoned jazz band preform. What's even better is that the jazz-infused score harbors enough eerily unsettling echoes, which are also clearly heard, that it creates a sense of constant dread. The way that this audio presentation treats this wonderful score is reason enough to love it.
As for dialogue, it's always clear and delivered in the right channels. This is a pretty intimate show, with lots of one-on-one conversations, but that doesn't mean that ambient sound isn't heard. There are plenty of scenes with rooms crowded with reporters, busy restaurants, and chaotic CIA offices that have more than enough ambient chatter to go around. The opening scene with Mathison careening down the streets of Iraq is full of well-rounded surround sound that is present throughout the show. LFE stands constantly at attention as it's called upon to produce those unsettling notes we were talking about in the musical score, along with booms for explosions, gunfire, and heavy thudding punches. Just like the video, the audio will do nothing but impress.
Boy do I love 'Homeland.' It's smartly scripted. Its characters cannot be pigeonholed into any sort of rote cliché. They're intriguing people puzzles that keep you guessing throughout the entire season. What I liked most is the fact that I could never predict what was going to happen next. 'Homeland' has taken a subject we've seen over and over again in movies and television and given it a unique twist. It understands that producing tense television has as much (or more) to do with characters as it does narrative cliffhangers. With near-perfect audio and video how could you pass up this set? It comes highly recommended for people craving intelligent television.