Showtime's new thriller Homeland, based on the Israeli series Prisoners of War, is all about keeping up appearances, so let's hope the high quality of Sunday's series premiere was the real deal and not just some façade. The premise is dripping with intrigue: FBI agent Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) believes, based on intelligence she previously acquired, that recently freed P.O.W. Nichoals Brody (Damian Lewis) was turned by his captives and now works for the bad guys. But while the theme of pretending to be someone you're not obviously applies to Brody, the more interesting fraud is Carrie, an unstable agent who can't seem to convince others she isn't crazy.
Of course, the root of the problem is that Carrie IS crazy. When men talk about women being crazy, they have women like Carrie in mind. When Freud talked about people being crazy, he had women like Carrie in mind. And Danes brings the character to life with such believability that it's hard to tell whether she's acting or not. Seriously, she is intense. Before last year's Temple Grandin, the fantastic HBO film in which she played the titular autistic woman who helped revolutionize the slaughterhouse industry, Danes had disappeared from my radar; she was last seen regularly on My So Called Life and many folks remember her for playing Juliet in that horrible Romeo & Juliet film adaptation from Baz Luhrman. But now she's back in a big way, completely dominating Homeland with a performance that is so convincing it's unnerving.
Carrie is a purposefully flawed character in an ironic position: She knows the truth, but thanks to her steady diet of anti-psychotics and her perceived habit of making far-fetched accusations, she's difficult to believe. In the midst of a TV season where all the high-profile female characters seem to be serving drinks on planes and wearing bunny tails on their asses, it's nice to see a gritty lead female lead with real problems, and Danes's performance sells the show.
Homeland's pilot excelled in conveying information. Broken flashbacks slowly began to reveal what happened to Brody in Iraq, and the story changed with each snippet we saw. It's a format not unlike the one that made Damages such an addictive show to watch, though less elaborate and not the intended backbone of the show.
The actual backbone of show is comprised of two incredible characters in a showdown to see who will break down first. Will it be the FBI agent fighting against the odds, or the decorated war hero who's (possibly*) deceiving an entire nation? It's going to be a while until we learn the answer, but I'm dying to see how this plays out.
*I say "possibly" because I'm waiting for more evidence to surface before I decide on the truth. Brody may have punched his partner in the face, but there can still be more to the story. Isn't that half the fun of the show anyway—trying to decide whether he's the bad guy or not?
– If all that other stuff doesn't do it for you, Morena Baccarin got naked. It's so much more enjoyable to watch her play Brody's wife than it was see her play Queen Anna on V.
Follow TV.com writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom