Week 1 Season One: Episodes 1-4 Carrie and Maggie

Saturday January 21, I started watching the hit Showtime series Homeland. Right at the start, I was riveted by this program. The storylines are complex and engaging and some of the characters offer a glimpse into an exciting and dangerous world of being a CIA agent. Typically I watch network TV, a mix of comedies and dramas, so the contrast of following a show on cable is startling. In particular the overt sexual content and graphic language, although I feel these elements add to the content and tone of the show. Since this my first time watching Homeland, I looked into what was the inspiration for this program. “Homeland in the Holy Land” by Debra Kamin recounts how Homeland is basically an American version of the original TV series, Hatufim (Prisoners of War). In Hatufim, the opening episode shows two Israeli prisoners of war coming home after 17 years in captivity in Lebanon to be reunited with their families in a sterile airport waiting room. Episode one of Homeland is strikingly familiar, although the series focused on one prisoner of war returning home instead of two. (There is mention of a second prisoner but we learned he died while in captivity).

Over the next 14 weeks, I will provide commentary on Homeland as part of a project for a communication course at the graduate school level. Each week, I will watch four episodes of this program and blog about them. By using this platform, I hope to offer some unique insights into the storylines and characters in addition to providing a critical analysis at times. I look forward to a continual dialogue about Homeland from my classmates and other participants who chose to read my blog and invite them to post any questions, counterpoints, and in general to share their thoughts.

Let me start by analyzing some of the characters. Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) is a CIA agent who is completely dedicated to her career. It is revealed she is always late, gets agitated easily, and takes medication for a self-described “mood disorder”. Carrie is also a risk taker. Not only does her job take her to dangerous locations tracking dangerous people, but she risked losing her job and freedom by illegally spying on former United States Marine Sergeant Nicholas Brody, whom the CIA rescued. Carrie believes he has turned and is connected to a terror plot that will take place on American soil. At first Carrie tried to spy on Brody legally but got rebuffed by her supervisor David, so she enlisted her friend Virgil to install cameras in the Brody house. It is revealed that Carrie is financing the whole mission and spends a good part of the day monitoring Brody and takes detailed notes, including when it appears he is having a traumatic flashback. Her friend and mentor Saul catches her illegally spying on Brody and was very close to turning her in where she would face certain jail time. However later that night, Carrie noticed how Brody would move his fingers on his right hand a certain way whenever he was on TV. After informing Saul about this discovery at his house, he agreed with Carrie that these movements can be some sort of code. So instead of turning her in, he bribed a judge and secured a warrant for four weeks, allowing Carrie to monitor Brody legally.

As I mentioned previously, Sergeant Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis) is the prisoner of war who was rescued by the CIA and returned home to his family after eight years in captivity. He is stoic and at times seems to adjust back into family life. More often though he appears to suffer from post-traumatic flashbacks and has been violent a couple of times. Most notably was when he punched a reporter in the throat and in a particularly heart pounding moment when we hear a gunshot and assume Brody shot his best friend Nick (since Brody suspects Nick is or was in a relationship with Jessica). Instead he shot a deer (which I personally found appalling since I am an animal lover – not that I wanted him to shoot Nick). We are introduced to Brody’s wife, Jessica (Morena Baccarin), early on in episode 1. Instead of introducing her as a sad and lonely woman, our first glimpse of Jessica is when she is engaged in a passionate sex scene with Nick. It is in this scene when Brody calls Jessica. She quickly gets dressed and rushes home to tell her kids the news that their father is alive. When she arrives home, we see the relationships she has with her kids Chris and Dana. Chris is playing video games and while he is glad to see his mom, he tries to stop her from entering Dana’s room. When she does, she sees Dana with her friend doing drugs. Jessica sends the friend home and starts to reprimand Dana, who is rude and cops an attitude to her. When Chris reminds Jessica that she has news to tell them, we cut to the next scene where the family is getting ready to pick Brody up from the airport. Again we see that Jessica and Chris have a good relationship while Jessica and Dana do not. (In episode three we learn that Dana knew about Jessica and Nick’s relationship, which may partially explain the reason Dana is so frosty to Jessica).

In order to not make this blog post too much longer, I will close with some criticism of the portrayals of Carrie. It is clear that she is utterly devoted to her job but instead of her supervisor David seeing this as a positive trait, he sees this as a negative trait and seems to hold a grudge against her for their affair that happened a decade ago. I can’t help but wonder if this character was male instead of female, would the supervisor find this same level of devotion to the job a desirable trait?  Carrie seems to not have a lot of time to take care of herself, including personal hygiene (except for routinely brushing her teeth) and does not eat healthy. It seems unlikely that someone who has such little free time would have a such a clean and nicely decorated apartment (outside of the food containers scattered on her coffee table) and be able to look so polished every time she steps out the door. At first I thought she may have someone who comes by and cleans her apartment but when Saul told her to clean up her apartment in episode 4, I realized that is not the case.  I also inwardly groaned at the contrast between Carrie and her sister Maggie. When Carrie stops by her sister’s house, her sister is the perfect homemaker/doctor including having chocolate chip cookies ready on the kitchen counter. We also learn that Maggie takes care of their father who suffers from the same mental illness as Carrie does and provides Carrie with her medication.  The difference between the two sisters further illustrates a negative characterization of Carrie as a workaholic, someone who is self-centered, and who has little time for family.  Although I am only four episodes in on a program that is currently in its sixth season, I find my self rooting for Carrie especially since she is so determined to stop any terror plots to America.

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9 thoughts on “Week 1 Season One: Episodes 1-4 Carrie and Maggie

  1. You are definitely right about Carrie and her sister! I had never really made the connection that Carrie’s sister operates as something of a narrative foil: the well put together, idealized working woman who figures out how to “have it all,” as opposed to Carrie who is pretty much none of those things.

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  2. Christine, Good start. Be careful that you don’t start doing plot description and recounting. You’re on better ground when you evaluate what’s going on: e.g. when you asked the question about whether Estes treated Carrie in a gender-determined way, or when you asked how the respective women have time to maintain the appearance of their living quarters. You did well bringing in the article on the Israeli show, it felt germane to the discussion and gives the blog a “knowing” quality. I think it fair play to ask questions about the mother daughter relationship in the Brody family. Does it work? Is it typical? Is something else going on?

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  3. It’s interesting you mention that her apartment is relatively clean, I wonder if that is a function of her mood disorder? I have a family member who impulsively cleans when they are anxious so it makes me wonder. Another possible explanation is as you mentioned, she is always in a hurry and really only uses the apartment as a pit stop (unless she is doing illegal surveiallance…)

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  4. You bring up a nice point about the differences between Carrie and her sister, especially as it relates to work/home lifestyles. This is something that you may want to keep looking into as the show progresses, since these differences are brought up again. The family dynamics in both the Brody household (wife sleeping with best friend, daughter doing the “drug” thing, perfect American-boy son), and the Mathison household (bi-polar father/daughter, sister with husband and two daughters) make for some interesting comparison/contrast. I’d like to know your thoughts on these two families as we progress throughout the show. Which family, or individual family members, do you think get the best treatment?

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  5. I was also a little shocked by the state of Carrie’s apartment and her personal appearance. Based on her behavior I would expect her to look disheveled and her apartment to be messy. Aside from the food containers and the lack of healthy eating habits, she always looks polished and her apartment is relatively clutter free. In my viewing I chalked it up to the fact that it’s a tv show and they care about appearances!

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  6. Christine, I really like that you utilize a first person point of view when discussing the show. I think that is something I want to make sure I am doing, as we each have our own unique perspective when it comes to the themes and characterization of the show. I’m going to jump on the apartment/ put togetherness train, as it isn’t something I initially considered. Excellent point!

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  7. The relationship between Carrie and her sister is definitely intriguing. Even though many might not want to say it but just from that one scene I saw Carrie as an addict and her sister as her dealer. Carrie is hooked and her sister is supporting the habit. There is no way she can’t tell her sister is dependent on those drugs at this point.

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  8. Good points about Carrie and her sister! I am curious to see how much Carrie’s sister actually plays a role; from what I could tell from their first encounter, it seems like she is more of a plot device to illustrate certain points about Carrie’s character.
    I also think it’s interesting that you brought up her “workaholic,” nature. I find Carrie’s character very intriguing, but I didn’t even think about the fact that her devotion to her work is something that her male counterparts take issue with it. I enjoyed your perspective on that part of the show!

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  9. Christine,
    I liked the lens in which you discussed the show. I agree I think the relationship dynamics are really interesting and developed. I also think its interesting to see how even though they are all separated, through Carrie they are all somehow connected.

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