'Homeland' Stars Torture And Terrorism, But Truth?
SCOTT SIMON, Host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.
"Homeland" premieres tomorrow night on Showtime. It's a psychological espionage thriller that centers on a CIA officer, played by Claire Danes, who hears about a conspiracy when she gets a tip from a terrorist who is about to be executed by the Iraqi government.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SERIES, "HOMELAND")
CLAIRE DANES: (as Carrie Anderson) You said you were an important man. You said you had information about an attack on Abu Nasir.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (as character) I have information.
DANES: (as Carrie Anderson) Prove it.
SIMON: But as a guard pulls her away, the prisoner whispers something.
(SOUNDBITE OF SERIES, "HOMELAND")
MANDY PATINKIN: (as Saul Berenson) What were his exact words, please?
DANES: (as Carrie Anderson) An American prisoner of war has been turned.
PATINKIN: (as Saul Berenson) He said this is in English.
DANES: (as Carrie Anderson) Yes, he whispered it into my ear right before the guards pulled me away.
PATINKIN: (as Saul Berenson) And when he used the expression, turned...
DANES: (as Carrie Anderson) He meant turned, working for Abu Nasir.
SIMON: The series hopes to be as successful as "24," which became popular when the 9/11 attacks were still raw and fresh. Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa, who were writers on "24," produce "Homeland," which is actually taken from an Israeli TV series.
NPR's counter-terrorism correspondent Dina Temple-Raston has screened the first three episodes of "Homeland."
Dina, thanks for being our Roger Ebert.
DINA TEMPLE: I'll try to be at that level.
SIMON: All right, let's start with main characters and the plot. Who are the key people that we need to watch...
TEMPLE: Basically, the story revolves around three people: The slightly unstable CIA agent that Claire Danes plays, her mentor and boss at the agency and this American prisoner of war - this American prisoner of war, Sergeant Nick Brody.
And the premise is basically that this al-Qaida-like group has held this Marine for eight years. They tortured him and may have turned him. So when he returns to the U.S. there is a real question about whether he is a terrorist.
SIMON: Instead of Kiefer Sutherland playing Jack Bauer, this show has a woman CIA agent - and kind of like Jack Bauer - she has some quirks to work out.
TEMPLE: She does. This agent played by Claire Danes is bipolar. Like Jack Bauer, she seems perfectly willing to break rules when it suits her. In the pilot, for example, when her boss refuses to let her put this returning POW under CIA surveillance, she breaks into Sgt. Brody's house and plants all these secret cameras and microphones, and wires them up so she can basically watch his every move from monitors she's set up in her own living room.
And her boss, a character played by Mandy Patinkin, when he discovers her illegal surveillance, he threatens to report her to the authorities.
And in this scene between Patinkin and Danes, you can hear how the writers dealing with civil liberties violations. And then also dealing with the pall the 9/11 attacks seem to have cast over Claire Danes, as well.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SERIES, "HOMELAND")
DANES: (as Carrie Anderson) I thought that once I had some proof...
PATINKIN: (as Saul Berenson) Do you have any? Anything even suggesting that Sergeant Brody is what you think he is?
DANES: (as Carrie Anderson) No.
PATINKIN: (as Saul Berenson) Then get a lawyer because you are going to need one when you report to the IG first thing in the morning.
DANES: (as Carrie Anderson) Saul, please...
PATINKIN: (as Saul Berenson) There isn't anything to say.
DANES: (as Carrie Anderson) I'm just making sure we don't get hit again.
PATINKIN: (as Saul Berenson) I'm glad someone is looking out for the country, Carrie.
DANES: (as Carrie Anderson) I'm serious. I missed something once before. I won't - I can't let that happen again.
PATINKIN: (as Saul Berenson) It was 10 years ago. Everyone missed something that day.
DANES: (as Carrie Anderson) Yeah, everyone is not me.
SIMON: Of course, they're referring to September 11th, 2001.
TEMPLE: Exactly. And it seems clear that the show is going to explore this idea of the guilt that the intelligence community is carrying around, even 10 years later, that we see in real life all the time. For example, a bomber gets on an airplane two Christmases ago with explosives in his underwear. And suddenly we have this proliferation of machines at the airport that are supposed to be able to identify that kind of bomb.
SIMON: Dina, one of the big issues in "24" was it shows depiction of torture. Some of the characters reviled and others essentially said, we will protect this country by any means necessary. What does "Homeland" depict?
TEMPLE: Well, at least in the first three episodes when it comes to torture it is always done at the hands of this al-Qaida-like group. There are some very graphic scenes of Sgt. Brody's torture and it's supposed to explain why he might have been turned into a double agent.
In one episode, right after Brody returns to the U.S., he's being interviewed about what happened to him and the interview is interspersed with flashbacks from Brody's time in captivity.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SERIES, "HOMELAND")
MAN: (as character) You were beaten.
(SOUNDBITE OF BEATING)
DAMIAN LEWIS: (as Sgt. Nick Brody) Yes.
MAN: (as character) Tortured? That's right, to what end?
LEWIS: (as Sgt. Nick Brody) What end?
MAN: (as character) What did they want from you?
LEWIS: (as Sgt. Nick Brody) They want you to lose faith.
TEMPLE: The torture they show does work it. But the interesting thing to watch in the future is whether torture will no longer be something the U.S. side uses to get information in the "Homeland" episodes.
SIMON: Based on what you've seen and without giving away any important plot points, I gather the show suggests an attack is imminent. But no one is sure how or where, or if this former POW character, Sgt. Brody, is even involved.
TEMPLE: Exactly. You recall, in "24," you always knew there was a dirty bomb, or an assassination, or some rocket that was going to hit a target. Nothing here is that concrete. This Claire Danes character, the CIA agent, is unstable, so in the back of your mind you are left wondering if somehow she cooked up this whole conspiracy in her head. And maybe she's wrong.
And the show is written in this way that it's also possible that Brody is a real threat, and she's right. And we don't know for sure.
Actually, that's what goes on in many of these cases in this country, 10 years after 9/11. The threat has changed, homegrown terrorism is a concern, we don't know where the threat might be coming from or what the terrorists look like anymore, and it seems like the show is trying to capture that.
SIMON: NPR's Dina Temple-Raston, talking about the new series "Homeland." Premieres tomorrow night on Showtime. Dina, thank you very much.
TEMPLE: You're welcome.
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