Its heroes are not flawless superspies, but government agents of sometimes questionable judgment. Instead, it features a CIA agent (an antic Claire Danes) hiding her bipolar disorder from her colleagues, and a Marine (Damian Lewis) returned from eight years of captivity in a terrorist hideout who may or may not have been turned by his captors.
Although it still indulges in too-convenient surveillance, it recognizes that all such technology has limits, bugs, flaws — and so do the decidedly human individuals who are in charge of running it. Even if there’s a will, the show seems to say, there may not always be a way.
Like its predecessor, “Homeland’s” fictional treatment of the war on terrorism was nearly overtaken by real-life events. After 9/11, “24’s” producers quickly recut a segment from its pilot depicting a terrorist blowing up an airplane. “Homeland’s” creators were already well into crafting the show’s first season when news broke that Osama bin Laden had been killed, and had to update accordingly.
The producers have said that they worried bin Laden’s death would render the show meaningless. But if anything, it highlights the cloud of uncertainty that now hangs over America’s massive new permanent security infrastructure. It also underlines the show’s central questions: A decade after 9/11, what has the war on terrorism cost the United States? And, perhaps more important, what price is the country willing to continue to pay?