While we've been busy writing about all the big network premieres, Showtime quietly released what has the potential of ending up as the best show of this fall. It certainly had the most captivating and tightly written pilot of any new series this season (sorry, Hart of Dixie). If the subsequent episodes are as good as the first one, it will definitely be worth the price of subscription.
The show stars Claire Danes as Carrie Mathison, a CIA officer who was working in Iraq to uncover terrorism plots and stop them before they happen. But unlike all of the many other similar characters on TV, she's actually quite complicated. She's been secretly taking the anti-psychotic Clozapine for years, and is still consumed by massive guilt for missing signs about 9/11. So during her time in Iraq (before she got arrested and shipped back to a desk job), she found out that an American POW was turned, but brushed off that intel because she knew of no living American POWs still in Iraqi captivity.
That's where Sgt. Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis) comes in. He's found by a Special ops team in Iraq after having been missing for years and presumed dead. Carrie thinks that he's the one that her contact told her about, and proceeds to wiretap his home and stare at news broadcasts to analyze his every move, when she's not busy interrogating him during a CIA debriefing. Meanwhile, the higher ups, particular Deputy Director Estes (David Harewood), don't take too kindly to her giving the grand inquisition to a man who is being billed as a war hero after supposedly suffering valiantly for our country for many years. But we do know that Brody is at least lying about having seen an Al-Qaeda operative. He's also very vague on what happened to his partner, and goes so far as to mislead that man's wife about the circumstances surrounding his death (with good reason, as we see in a quite brutal flashback).
So is Brody really working for Al-Qaeda and planning a terrorist plot, or is Carrie just crazy? She seems to think that she's cracked some code, and Brody definitely has more than his share of secrets and is comfortable with obfuscation. But does that make him a terrorist or just a man ashamed of his past? Was Carrie's contact just lying to protect his own family?
In addition to the possible terror plot, which this show deftly handles, it is also has plenty of serious emotional relationship drama. Carrie's a swinging single, but she's got a complicated connection to her mentor Saul (Mandy Patinkin), who's sort of the voice of reason, alternating between wanting to toss her in jail for illegally obtaining information and awarding her for noticing details about situations like no one else. There is one very ugly moment in the pilot where Carrie tried to manipulate him that was just fantastically acted and handled. And then there's Brody, who has come home to a wife Jessica (Morena Baccarin) and two children (Jackson Pace, Morgan Saylor) who barely recognize him and thought that he was long dead. Jessica has been having an affair with Brody's best buddy Mike (Diego Klattenhoff), and the quiet looks that the three adults give each other convey volumes. Also, Brody finding out about his mom was so dignified and respectful, it was almost heartbreaking... and we'd only met him a few minutes prior.
This show is well-crafted, very detailed and careful about how and when it reveals crucial information. It's also a bit of an emotional rollercoaster as you are never entirely sure whose side you should be on, or who you should trust. It's not an easy watch, but it's well paced and utterly engaging. And fair warning: there are a few gratuitous sex scenes (you put someone as attractive as Morena Baccarin on a Showtime series and it's inevitable), but they seem more integral to the plot (we got to see Brody's scars for the first time that way) than your typical roll in the hay on, say, Boardwalk Empire. But considering that this show has so much to offer, if Baccarin's negligee collection helps draw viewers on a regular basis, then mission accomplished.
Is Claire Danes a lock to win a Scowly Award for her work on this show? Vlogger Sean Crespo assesses her chances in this video:
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