Homeland: The Drone Queen

A world without Brody. There’s no denying Damien Lewis is a very fine actor. I’m a big fan and his departure at the end of the last season of Homeland did leave a void, but it was almost like his character, Nicholas Brody, had become bigger than the show. With him gone everyone can settle down a bit and get on with things.

Particularly Carrie Mathison (Clare Danes), now station chief in Afghanistan. The episode (and latest season) starts with her hesitantly authorising a missile strike. Her team watch a big screen stoney-faced as buildings blow up. They then bring out a cake for her birthday with her nickname, ‘The Drone Queen’, written in icing.

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This disturbingly blasé approach to ‘the war on terror’ won’t be lost on the audience. In fact, it won’t be lost on the characters. Carrie may have hardened up to the realities of her job or just be putting on a good show of it, but someone coping less well is the former hitman with a heart of gold, Peter Quinn (Rupert Friend), now stationed in Pakistan.

His conscious began to knaw away at him last season and his moral crisis continues here. His pain is clear to see and appears to be in direct contrast to the rigid exterior Carrie has built up for herself.

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One of the other main stalwarts of the show, Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin) is now a private contractor advising the US government on the current conflict. He’s also questioning his stance and decisions made in the past, perhaps in a more reflective way, but it’ll be interesting to see how his influence on Carrie plays out now that he’s not directly calling the shots on behalf of the government.

For a season opener it’s not all moody introspection though. There’s a tense and dramatic sequence involving the (possibly corrupt) station chief in Pakistan, which sets up the story for (probably) the next few episodes in an intriguing way.

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Carrie, as ever, remains a conflicted and eminently watchable character, and with Brody out the picture she’s back to centre stage. No doubt a few new characters will emerge to put her off her stride and make her question her choices.

Either way, it feels like this show has somewhat turned a corner and it will be interesting to see where the writers take the story. The opening episode focused on the American’s use of drones, as did the whole of the latest season of 24, but this show is almost the opposite in terms of tone and style. So how they build on this premise will be key. If the first episode is anything to go by, it looks like a running theme to develop could be the degree to which each character questions his or her decisions.

The conflict of the moral compass you might say.

There’s no doubt after the first two seasons Homeland holds itself to a high standard. The last season suffered a bit of a wobble but I’m keeping an open mind on this one.

Top swordplay scenes and fencing movie moments – en garde!

inigo montoya dread pirate robertsYesterday I went for my first ever fencing lesson with a group of mates. Quite an interesting sport – a lot harder than I expected.

As our Hungarian instructor attempted to explain the technique behind parry and riposte, my thoughts drifted to iconic swordplay scenes from movies. Let’s look at some of my favourites:

The Princess Bride (1987)

‘You seem a decent fellow, I hate to kill you.’ ‘You seem a decent fellow, I hate to die.’ Memorable lines uttered by cult character Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin) and the film’s hero Wesley (Cary Elwes), aka the man in black. A wonderfully scripted scene too. Patinkin rose to professional level in fencing as part of his preparation and bears striking resemblance to a young Antonio Banderas. Is that how Banderas got the Zorro gig a few years later? Hmm.

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The Three Musketeers (1973)

In terms of a compelling screen presence and down and dirty swordplay, you can pretty much pick out any scene involving Athos (Oliver Reed). D’Artagnan meeting the musketeers was a key scene, as it brought the main characters together brilliantly. But special mention should go to Athos’s fight in the third act, where he appears to get killed and impaled on a windmill. Great swordplay, great scene.

Die Another Day (2002)

Whilst this Bond film may have been below par, the swordfight scene was not. Found a great behind-the-scenes clip that shows Brosnan really got stuck in, doing most of the physical work himself. Most impressive!

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Pirates of the Caribbean (2003)

Try and force the rest of the self-indulgent franchise from your head for a second and focus on the original film – a thoroughly enjoyable tale. Johnny Depp elevated this film with his quirky, masterful take on Captain Jack Sparrow. A stand-out scene had Orlando Bloom’s blacksmith Will Turner meeting Depp’s Jack for the first time and trying to prevent his escape. As expected, a wonderfully choreographed fight ensues.

Kill Bill: Vol 2 (2004)

Just to be obscure I’m going to include a deleted scene, one where Bill (David Carradine) shows off his skills with Kiddo (Uma Thurman) watching with adoration in the background. I can see why it was cut, as it doesn’t drive the story forward a great deal, just adds more depth to Bill as a character. As sword fights go though, it’s pretty cool.

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Highlander (1986)

‘There can be only one.’ I’ve often pondered the subtext to that line. Only one what? Film with a Scottish guy (Sean Connery) playing an Egyptian lord? Or French guy (Christopher Lambert) playing a Scottish tribesman? Suspension of disbelief aside, it’s a film packed with iconic swordplay scenes. For me, Highlander vs. The Kurgan is the pick of the bunch.

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)

‘Recognise this? It was your father’s…’ Not technically great swordfighting, more a chance to watch Alan Rickman at his scene-stealing best, swinging a sword as long as his arm against Kevin Costner’s ‘Californian’ Robin Hood in this climactic battle. Even as an out-and-out bad guy, you don’t want Rickman’s Sheriff of Nottingham to die. He’s mesmerising to watch, particularly when fighting and spitting venomous lines in Robin Hood’s direction.

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The Lord of the Rings (2001)

Here, Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) goes toe-to-toe in a frenzied battle with giant orc Lurtz. Fun fact: when filming, the stuntman playing Lurtz accidentally threw the knife directly at Mortensen instead of aiming wide as planned. Viggo instinctively deflected the blade with his sword. Does that mean Mortensen is actually Aragorn in real life? We can but sincerely hope this is the case.

As a final note, before anyone mentions Rob Roy, Seven Samurai or Star Wars, I’ve left them out because either I’ve not seen them, or don’t consider them worthy of inclusion in terms fencing quality. You may disagree, but it’s my list, so there we go.