Domestic Terrors

the search for home on homeland.

Now in its final season, the Showtime series Homeland is, on the surface, about spy and intelligence work in the aftermath of 9/11, in the so-called War on Terror. It has also always been about the struggles of protagonist Carrie Mathison, played brilliantly by Claire Danes, to get her own house in order, to find her own way home.

In this way, Homeland concerns multiple issues of domestic security. The show has included Mathison’s painful, and failed, efforts to be a good mother to her daughter, Frannie. And her difficult interactions with her sister, Maggie (Amy Hargreaves). There are her brotherly relationships with Max Piotrowski (Maury Sterling) and others. And of course the ill-conceived lovers and almost-lovers, such as Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis), Peter Quinn (Rupert Friend), and Yevgeny Gromov (Costa Ronin, sneaking over from The Americans).

But the domestic life of Carrie as protagonist has most been defined by a series of paternal figures: her actual father (James Rebhorn), her boss at the CIA and NSC, Saul Berenson, who Mandy Patinkin has almost elevated to be a co-star, and even, in a curious way, father figures such as the Hillary Clintonish Elizabeth Keane (played by Elizabeth Marvel). On Homeland, a show about a broken world in which authoritarianism continually overwhelms authority, in which the dream of democracy repeatedly goes up in flames and corrupt strongmen seem to triumph, there are some serious father issues as Carrie can’t find her peace in her own paternal relationships and so is sent brilliantly reeling and spiraling out into one effort after another to save the home front.

Maybe in this way Homeland joins the long tradition of television shows that stage family dramas by other means. But what makes the show especially intriguing, even as it sometimes jumps the shark into ridiculous plot lines, is that it continually flips the script on the relationship between the public and the private, the political and the personal, the foreign and the domestic, far away and close to the heart. Carrie is most at home away from it. Nonetheless, no matter what the exotic, far-flung, or pedestrian location of its latest season, no matter what the latest threat of domestic terrorism or overseas diplomatic failure may be, we also always encounter a deeply felt ongoing longing of hers to return to the hearth, to find her way back to a lost sense of family.

Placed in the unending War on Terror we are still waging, almost twenty years after 9/11, perhaps Carrie frantically fights against the lurking threat of domestic terrorism because she is unable to confront the terrors of the domestic.

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