Belated thoughts on the first season of “Homeland”

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One of the many joys of being a film student is the media studies classes included in our curriculum. One of these classes, RTF 335, has incorporated the first season of Showtime’s “Homeland,” and the hardest part about the semester has easily been not watching the cliffhanger-prone show ahead of the rest of the class.

The entire season is built around Nicholas Brody (Damien Lewis), a POW returned to American soil after eight years in captivity, and CIA agent Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes), who suspects that Brody may have been converted to the terroristic cult of Abu Nazir (Navid Negahban). As the mentally unstable Carrie gets closer to the truth, the audience is clued in to increasingly suspicious activities on Brody’s part, all of it coming together with an intense finale that left me furiously Googling when I would be able to watch Season 2.

As the intimidating list of awards can attest, “Homeland” boasts two towering lead performances from Claire Danes and Damien Lewis. Danes’ unwavering belief in Brody’s diverted loyalties almost have the audience convinced even before “Homeland” clues us in, but she’s even more effective at the end of the season, as Carrie spirals into mania and jeopardizes her career. Meanwhile, Lewis plays the all-American hero to a tee, but his best moments are when his character is dealing with his reshaped values, particularly in the season finale. As Brody’s daughter begs him over the phone not to detonate a suicide bomb attached to his chest, Brody’s mental anguish, regret, and ultimate elation are beautifully portrayed by Lewis.

With a conflict as clearly defined as “Homeland”’s, it’s hard to imagine the show’s premise lasting more than one season. Thanks to some deft, innovative storytelling from showrunners Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa, “Homeland” managed to deliver a satisfying debut season that still sets up a compelling sophomore effort. Though the question of Brody’s potential terrorism is answered, Carrie is out of a job and still unaware of the truth. The question of our heroine’s future, along with Brody’s upcoming political race, set up a second season that can continue to play out the cat-and-mouse game at the center of the show, while expanding and deepening the show’s roundly compelling cast of characters.