Nicholas Brody: Wanted – Dead or Alive!

homeland-season3So…Homeland returns for a third outing. Carrie is back, looking a little less harrowed. Well, only a little. Off her meds, or on to new ones or something like that. Let’s just say, whilst not fully unhinged, the door is hanging on by a hinge at present, but could go either way. Easily one of the best written (and played) female characters on TV in recent times.

Saul is back, reluctantly taking the helm at the CIA. An organisation now in tatters, with other government bodies looking for excuses to pull the plug. As a result, he looks a lot more harrowed, stuck making the tough decisions, with half an eye on so-called ‘friendly colleagues’, wondering whether he’s getting stabbed in the back.

Brody is MIA (again), leaving his family to pick up the pieces (again). Daughter Dana – whilst seeming well-adjusted on the surface – appears to have been through the biggest ordeal, as the episode picks up her story again during rehab, saul homelandhaving tried to take her life following the events at the end of season 2.

Shady operative-turned-assassin, Peter Quinn, is in full focus in this opening episode, ordered to infiltrate a compound Scarface style and take out a very bad man in under 10 minutes. It goes (mostly) to plan but, as you’d expect, takes us to some dark places. I was half hoping a coked-up Al Pacino to burst out and utter that immortal line.

So, all in all, a perky start. However…

Third time round the writers have got their work cut out, ensuring the various character story arcs don’t all snowball in different directions. The first episode hasn’t even touched on the whereabouts of Brody or Abu Nazir.

One thing for them to remember (should they need reminding) is to avoid letting this show veer too close to the action fuelled roller coaster that was 24. Times have moved on since then and the first (if not so much the second) series proved that Homeland was (and hopefully still is) an intelligent, slow burner, b6f713e9b7c677e3_homeland_303_4882.R.previewwhere you have to put the work in to thread the story together.

Key to this is the tour de force performance of Damian Lewis. The sooner he’s back in the picture the better. Although, with half of America now gunning for the ex-Congressman, his ability to lie his way out of trouble could be sorely put to the test.

Whatever way this season unfolds, I imagine it will be the hardest one yet in terms of receiving widespread acclaim. Season 2 rode high on the success of season 1 meaning that, if season 2 was largely accepted as the difficult second album achieved, that leaves this as the impossible third album in the making.

I say in the making, I’m hoping they’ve finished writing it and that it promises to be the best season yet. The bar, however, remains almost impossibly high.

Secret State – proper thriller or nothing new?

Talk about a mixed reaction to the first episode of Channel 4’s four-part political conspiracy thriller Secret State. Some critics think it’s pretty good, others have torn it apart.

Me? I sit somewhere in the middle, probably more on the positive side. Despite the plot being a little predictable at times, it’s well shot and Gabriel Byrne (Deputy Prime Minister) is a compelling lead, with a solid supporting cast including: Charles Dance (Chief Whip with dark motives?), Gina McKee (suspiciously well informed reporter), Douglas Hodge (alcoholic ex-MI5 chief turned private investigator).

Setting the scene
Based on the book A Very British Coup, the story begins in the aftermath of an explosion at a US petrochemical site in Teeside, which results in the death of 19 people. After securing compensation for the families whose loved ones died in the explosion, the Prime Minister’s plane suspiciously crashes on a flight back from the US and he dies.

Dawkins (Byrne) reluctantly assumes leadership and promises justice for the victims’ families. As he pressures the petrochemical company to make good on their compensation promise, he begins to make discoveries of a conspiratorial nature that lie at the heart of Government.

channel 4 thrillerSuspicion abound!
Within the first 20 minutes or so, it becomes abundantly clear that nearly every major character has hidden/murky motives. We’d expect nothing less from a conspiracy thriller right?

It does feel that plot points are contrived at times. Characters like McKee’s reporter pop up at key moments with teasing information to divulge.

Everyone appears to be watching everyone – GCHQ are listening intently to the PM, the order coming from someone ‘very senior’. My money is on Chief Whip (Dance) who’s clearly up to something – he always is. His gravestone should read, ‘Born to scheme’. Ahem, let’s move on.

I understand why people expect thrillers to deliver on every level these days, they’re up against wise, old dogs – State of Play, Edge of Darkness – and keen, new youngsters – Homeland.

A proper PM
Ladies love a bit of Byrne right? He’s great casting. Calm, decisive, authoritative, charismatic, knowledgeable – everything you’d expect from a leader. You get the sense he’s on the back-foot initially, but his Irish fire will kick in and he’ll tear into those that oppose him. At least, that’s my hope.

Numerous references get made to his military background. It would be great to see him bring righteousness to the political arena. A biblical PM, delivering great vengeance and furious anger against his conspirators, Pulp Fiction style. Too much?

The long game
In terms of the London setting and production values, it’s visually impressive. Great shots of Whitehall and the corridors of power. The score is suitably tense, although perhaps stolen from the Bourne films?

I imagine many characters will reveal their true motives as things progress. Despite some shortfalls in terms of giving the audience too many ‘standard conspiracy’ elements, it’s worth sticking with this show. It’s only a four-parter, so probably best judging at the end.

I’ve seen two episodes and it’s shaping up well. Not an instant classic, but worth your time. If nothing else than to imagine what it’d be like if Byrne was PM. Now that would be thrilling.