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Homeland | Television Show Review

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If there was any doubt about whether Damian Lewis and Claire Danes deserved to sweep the Emmys for their work on “Homeland,” episode one of the second season cast them aside.

While it would be easy to credit the showrunners, “Homeland” seems to be the first show really led by the actors. Even “Breaking Bad,” which depends on a continuing brilliance of Bryan Cranston, doesn’t depend on Meryl-Streep-in-“Sophie’s-Choice”-level acting like “Homeland.” The first episode, entitled “The Smile,” refers to an, at best, three-second shot of Claire Danes smiling with complete joy. It is the perfect name for the episode, and the episode’s defining moment, but can you think of another show that would hinge its season premiere on a three-second glimpse of an actress grinning?

It speaks volumes of the respect the writers, directors and producers feel for Danes and Lewis that they put the entire show on their shoulders. And unlike Danes’ character Carrie Mathison, the production crew never seems to back down, going about their business with an ease that must have every other actor in Hollywood cringing. That three-second shot? Pure television gold, a haunting yet human shot of Danes’ character finally reliving the joy she hasn’t experienced since the season one finale. This moment perfectly captures why Mathison, even after all the events of season one, would return to the CIA. I can’t think of a single actress that could pull it off better than Danes.

While Danes may own the premier’s defining moment, Lewis’s character doesn’t have it any easier. Whether he’s being pressured to steal valuable information in a hostile environment, having (some of) his secrets exposed, or dealing with how to fight the country which he feels betrayed him while also protecting his family who call it home, the script hinges on Lewis’ abilities — and he delivers time and time again. In nearly every scene, Lewis seems to one-up his performance from previous ones. There doesn’t seem to be any range he isn’t able to reach.

Season two starts six months after the events of season one, and opens with some very familiar shots of Arab protests at U.S. embassies. But while you may feel you understand it, the world of Homeland is very different from our own. This is a world where a Dick Cheney-style politician has a real shot of becoming President, among other things. However, these differences only work to strengthen the show’s overall focus on humanity. While the CIA may be powerful, they are still prone to the same errors that cause most of the world’s problems, whether the agency be too trusting or too vengeful. The show never loses its focus on the human side of things, even when it throws around a figure like 3,000 dead Iranians as if it’s an annoying anomaly. And that, my friends, is all in the power of the acting.