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Featured TV on DVD Review: Homeland: Season One

September 21st, 2012

Homeland: Season One - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray

Last year I started seeing trailers for Homeland and was immediately intrigued, but I don't have Showtime, so I couldn't see it when it first aired. By the end of the first season, it was named on a number of top ten lists, picked up several major award nominations, and even won the Golden Globe for Best Drama Series while the similar Emmy is being announced on Saturday. This lifts the expectations to a very high level. Can the show possibly live up to them?

The Show

At the beginning of the series, we are introduced to a CIA agent working in Baghdad, Carrie Mathison. She's trying to get a terrorist freed, because he has important information about an imminent terrorist attack against the United States. Her boss, David Estes, refuses to intervene, so she bribes her way into the prison and talks to the terrorist herself. She isn't able to save his life, but she promises to protect his family if he gives her the information he has. He tells her a POW has been turned and is now working for Abu Nazir (Navid Negahban), who is one of the heads of al Qaeda. She doesn't even tell her mentor, Saul Berenson, because at the time, there were no known POWs in Afghanistan or Iraq.

However, we flash forward ten months when she learns in a CIA briefing that an American soldier, Nicholas Brody, a scout working with a sniper, Tom Walker, was found in prison room within a compound and freed. Tom Walker wasn't as lucky. Carrie thinks he might be the POW she was warned about and wants a full surveillance package on Brody from the second he reaches America, but since the government has already declared him a hero to the press, that's out of the question. She tries to go to Saul instead, but even he says no, unless she can at least provide a hint of evidence that the evidence that led to his rescue was planted. However, after the prison incident, she's nowhere near the active duty, so it would be hard task to do, even without a 22 hour deadline. So she decides to work around the law and bug his home without the CIA's permission.

Meanwhile, Nicholas Brody prepares to return to the United States and one of the things he does is call his wife, Jessica. When he calls, she's in bed with another man. In her defense, she did think her husband was dead for years. She drives home to her kids, Dana (Morgan Saylor) and Chris (Jackson Pace). (Before she can tell her kids the good news, she does catch her daughter smoking pot in her bedroom, with a boy, but that's a family issue for another day.) The family reunion is obviously emotional, but Brody doesn't have much time to get used to it, as the next day he's back dealing with the CIA.

Carrie asks Saul to be involved in this debriefing, and he invites her over the head of his boss, Estes. The debriefing has a wrinkle, as Carrie talks to Brody like he's got something to hide. Estes is pissed, for a number of reasons. Firstly, Brody's a national hero and Carrie's treating him like a suspect. Secondly, Carrie's got a weird obsession with Abu Nazir that Estes doesn’t understand. (Really? He's a high-ranking member of al Qaeda. If you are not obsessed with him as a CIA agent, why not?) Thirdly, Estes had an affair with Carrie and that cost him his marriage, so he has personal reasons to hate her.

There might be another reason why Carrie is obsessed with Abu Nazir: She's bi-polar, a fact she's kept hidden from everyone at the CIA. So is this theory that Brody is the POW Abu Nazir turned based on evidence? Or is it a manifestation of her chemical imbalance? We get a lot of evidence either way, but all of that's spoiler territory, so I'll stop the plot summary there.

Is Homeland as good as the critics and the Awards Season voters seem to think? I think so. It has one of the best setups out of any of the new dramas from last year balancing three major threads: Carrie's obsession with stopping a possible terrorist attack, which may or may not be all in her mind. There's Brody's attempt to readjust to freedom and how his obvious PTSD affects him and his family. And finally there's what's really happening, which I'm not going into. Hell, telling you there's something happening is a bit of a spoiler. Throw in the side plots, like the portrayal of the media, the politics, the military-industrial complex, and there's a huge amount here to draw you in.

Not only is the writing fantastic, it is also stylish in its presentation with a good use of flashbacks, nightmares sequences, etc. On top of all of this, the acting is also stellar. Claire Danes and Damian Lewis have been nominated for Emmys for their performances. Claire Danes has to been seen as the favorite, given her wins at the Golden Globes, Television Critics Association Awards, Critics' Choice Television Awards, etc. Additionally, I'm a little surprised some of the supporting actors weren't nominated. There really is not a weak point in the cast.

The Extras

Extras on the first disc include an audio commentary on the pilot with two creators / executive producers, Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa, plus the two stars, Claire Danes and Damian Lewis. There are also deleted scenes. Disc two has more deleted scenes, as does disc three. Disc three also has two featurettes, a 34-minute recap of season one and a four-minute prologue for season two.

The technical presentation is excellent, when compared to other TV on DVD releases. It has a very high level of details with fine detail visible throughout. There are some darker scenes that have a few compression issues, but that's not a deal-breaker by far. The colors are solid, although there are some aesthetic choices that make is not as vivid as it otherwise would be. The audio is excellent with clear dialogue, great spread, directional effects, ambient sounds, solid bass. It has everything you need in a show like this.

Right now on Amazon.com, the Blu-ray costs just 60 cents more than the DVD. That's just 2% more than the DVD. That's an awesome price, even without exclusive extras.

The Verdict

Homeland is arguably the best new drama of last season. It's the best I've reviewed. The extras on the Season One DVD and Blu-ray are disappointing, as I was hoping for more audio commentary tracks. It's still absolutely worth picking and still a contender for Pick of the Week.


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