Watching the Homeland


(Image courtesy of Showtime)


Burning Israeli flags. Bombing Iran. Protests outside of a U.S. Embassy.


No, it’s not the latest headlines ripped off the Internet, but art (in this case Showtime’s “Homeland”) holding up a mirror (a little too close for comfort) revealing worry lines like tripwires—hard to see, never mind cross.


By far one of the most tense and dramatic shows to appear on the screen in the last 10-years, “Homeland” takes on the anxiety, fear and yes, paranoia of a post-9/11 world and ratchets it up to heart stopping, brain bifurcating migraine levels.


As David Zurawik aptly pointed out in The Baltimore Sun this past Sunday, this notion of duality is at the core of the show’s intense, spy-vs-spy yarn which is based on the Israeli series “Prisoners of War” or Hatufim that aired on Channel 2 in 2010, winning the Israeli Academy Award for Best Drama Series.


In the American show (which swept the Emmy''s last month), we also have a spy-vs-spy yarn starring protaganist Claire Danes as Carrie Mathison (a bi-polar CIA Agent) on leave due to her mental state and antagonist Damien Lewis as Nicholas Brody (a U.S. Marine held prisoner by al-Qaeda for eight-years.) Adding to their own internal cracks, in season one, the two had an affair, even though Carrie suspected Nick of being a terrorist. So just as Carrie is pulled between her duty to her country and her affection for Brody, Nick wrestles with his family, homelife and political life and his religious transformation into a Muslim terrorist.


On the microcosmic level, these two lead characters showcase what’s going on in our macro-world as the U.S. election draws closer, further making manifest an already divided country split into red states and blue. It also peers into the split-open gash of war wounds still unhealed from the past 10-years. But rather than alleviate it, it’s like salt in it. The show doesn’t ease the pain, but intensifies it with scenes that seem too close to reality; like the current Arab Spring gone haywire, a looming existential threat from Iran and the attack in Benghazi, Libya on the U.S. Embassy—we wonder if what we’re seeing on Showtime is live or Memorex.


In fact, just as the first season had scenes shot in Israel, so too does season two which had its debut last night on Showtime. Moreover, as a fall cover story for The New York Times Style Magazine, “Off Duty In Israel” pointed out while on the set of “Homeland” in of all places Tel Aviv, “nothing was quite as it seemed.” While it was Lebanon in the show, it was being shot in Israel and the location of a terminal at Ben-Gurion Airport was standing in for Beirut.


As Howard Gordon one of the producers told the Times, “We had taken an Israeli show, adapted it for American television on the basis really of reading just the pilot episode and then taken it back to Israel to be filmed using the same crew that had done the Israeli version.”


This is more than a TV show. It’s a McLuhanesque medium mirroring the many twists and turns of the molelike message.


Tune in. Part of you will be glad you did. The other will surely be a bit on edge.


Abe Novick is a writer and communications consultant and can be reached at