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Archive for October 17th, 2013

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What You Won’t Do For Love

I loved “Homeland” from episode one. I’d been turned on to the work of the great Claire Danes back in the ’90s when my independent film producer friend, Karen Kaufman-Wilson was working with Carl Franklin, the director of “Devil In A Blue Dress”. Back then, according to Kaufman- Wilson, Danes was a young Meryl Streep. Time passed and her assertion proved to be true.

Early in the first season of the show, I had dinner with the Golden Globe and Emmy winning Danes. We have a mutual friend and over sushi and cigars, I took the opportunity to express my appreciation of the taught espionage thriller and it’s “Manchurian Candidate” like quality. I enthusiastically recommended the show to all my friends and acquaintances who have taste.

Because I was born during the Cold War era, and I was deeply affected by the popular culture of the period; James Bond films and novels, “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.”, “The Avengers” etc., the rhythms, plots and characters of the spy thriller genre are easily recognizable, and as familiar to me as an old record by the Temptations. “Homeland” had the stuff that I like; the double agent, the overly sexualized female operative, the cold analytical spymaster and the exotic foreign threat were all elements that were consistent with other work in the espionage narrative area. The first season was stellar.

The second season moved more into the area of melodrama as the two lead characters, Danes’ erratic Carrie and Brody (the sleeper/double agent played brilliantly by Damian Lewis) dance too closely to the fire by falling for each other. And instead of focusing exclusively on the procedural aspects of hunting down an Al Queda sleeper agent, by a gifted but challenged C.I.A. operative, the plot shifted to the tortured but growing, love against all caution story between the two leads. In my opinion, though it was well performed, it was less gratifying than the first season. I’d signed up for a suspense thriller with a side of international intrigue as the main course and the star crossed lover’s thing had high points but less impact. The season finale proved to be dramatic when an unexpected explosion provided a Hitchcockian grassy knoll type plot twist that set up the wrong man and made it necessary for Brody to make a hasty retreat to parts unknown. His season ended with Carrie, sharing a tender moment, in the darkened woods near the Canadian border with him, before they parted and she decides to rejoin an agency in tatters and to not become a rogue agent in the name of love by following him into the darkness.

While “Homeland was on hiatus, in it’s vacant time slot, Showtime delivered the smash hit drama “Ray Donovan”, the powerful Liev Schrieber vehicle that features him as a private eye/fixer set in the sleazy world of backstage Hollywood. While examining the themes of the immigrant experience and ethnically based conflict in and around show biz, the show does a good job of looking at the evolving world of male sexuality; a former prison inmate with a thing for black women who can twerk advises his grandson on the more permissible aspects of same sex liasons, an at risk juvenile rap star gets rough with the girl next door, an ex boxer with Parkinson’s disease finds true love with a nurse who happens to be married, a blackmailing pre-op transvestite puts the arm on a bi-sexual above the title player in order get the funding to become post-op, the above the title player looks for love in all the wrong places, a priest with a history of child molestation comes to a shocking end and so on. “Ray Donovan” sizzles and it’s heightened world of revenge, illicit trysts, blackmail and strong arm tactics served to create greater anticipation for the return of “Homeland”.

“Homeland” returned and I was looking forward to more of the domestic espionage narrative, and an international manhunt to be the key elements of the third season’s story lines. In the wake of recent revelations of NSA surveillance of US civilian communications sent via cell phones and e-mail, and the Wikileaks don, Paul Asange’s avoidance of prosecution by finding refuge in countries that were unwilling to release him into the custody of the US, I’d hoped that this “ripped from the headlines” approach would fuel another successful season.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The first two episodes of this season focused on the C.I.A. being called on the carpet during a congressional hearing for not preventing the bomb explosion at their Langley, Va. HQ that decimated their morale and killed many of their personnel. In order to placate congress (total fiction, right?) there was agency maneuvering that scapegoated Carrie for the attack. Additionally, Carrie’s family struggles to get her back on her meds (always a chance for Danes to show her chops). In response to agency politics and family pressure, Carrie acts out and seeks revenge by breaking the agency’s code of silence when she tries to tell her side of the story to the press. Carrie is then involuntarily committed to a private mental health facility by her mentor, Saul, the spymaster (Mandy Patinkin).

The affect that Brody’s believed involvement in the bomb blast, and the discovery of his duplicity has had on his family is examined too; the attempted suicide by his daughter, his family having to move in with his wife’s mother because of removal of all Veteran’s benefits, the absence of the prestige and pay of his congressional office and so on. It seemed as though there was endless whining that was caused by Brody’s disappearance. In other words: corporate politics and family drama. Not very compelling stuff.

But then, last Sunday’s episode found both Brody and Carrie in similar circumstances; held against their will and involuntarily medicated. Carrie in a mental health institution, filled with behavioral modification meds to combat her bipolar mood swings. Brody hidden and protected – with a $10 million bounty on his head – by a mysterious drug cartel, in an unfinished South American high rise, while being shot full of heroin as a home remedy to kill the pain from an unexplained gunshot wound. Both of them cut off from family, friends and work, but most importantly each other.

When I watched the first two episodes of this season and all of last season, I didn’t get it until last Sunday: “Homeland” has become a cautionary tale against choosing poorly in love and the ache, pain and heartbreak that can happen when you have to have someone who you shouldn’t be with. When you go against prevailing wisdom and throw caution to the wind and love someone that you and everyone you know feels is dangerous to your mental and spiritual health but you don’t listen. When family, work and all else no longer matter because that other person fills a hole that religion, family or work can’t. When you’re willing to sacrifice all, and the potential resulting devastation and havoc that can be caused to your career and family when you love selfishly and irresponsibly. This is the emotional terrain that the show has staked out. It is a tale of two broken and lost individuals who have no “home” other than each other. “Homeland” has become an epic tale of love gone wrong. Like so many others, I’ve been there before. I can’t wait until next Sunday night.

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 For Karen, Jim, Seth, Jenina and Claire

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