Sunday night Homeland returns to TV. That’s good news for liberals, who like the show’s politics because—unlike Fox’s 24—it shows that, in the Middle East, sometimes US actions make more enemies than friends. Sunday’s episode centers around the all-to-real situation where a drone attack on suspected terrorists in Afghanistan kills lots of civilians instead. Obama, we are told, is a fan of the show, and Bill Clinton told reporters that the show “created the notion of ‘other’ which was very important for the American people to sit down and watch.” He and the show’s star, the brilliant and compelling Claire Danes, both appeared at the 2013 Golden Globes—where, she said, Clinton “asked if I would come and meet him in some special room.” (Can you really blame him?)
But I’m still unhappy about Claire Danes’s meeting with CIA director John Brennan in a special room at the Agency’s headquarters in Langley, Virginia, a year ago. She told the press afterwards, “It’s always so thrilling and moving to meet the people who really do so much to protect and defend our country.” She’s talking about the people who didn’t think ISIS would amount to anything, and before that informed our leaders that Saddam was building WMD. (That info came from “Curveball”—remember him?) And there was also that 9/11 business. But when you’re on a publicity junket for your fall show, I guess you’re supposed to be nice to everybody.
The show intersects with reality in a much more direct and compelling way: Claire Danes’s character Carrie Mathison suffers from bipolar disorder, and her portrayal of her character’s manic break in season one was awesome and frighteningly real. We learned how she did it in an unusual place: the op-ed page of The New York Times. The real-life model for Carrie’s breakdown wrote the piece—she’s the sister of one of the show’s writers. “Bipolar extremes can be truly hard to watch,” she wrote, “excruciating even in memory.”
Reality has also posed a location problem for the show’s producers. They considered making the new season about Israel and Palestine, but that was ruled out, show runner Alex Gansa said, because the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is “just such a difficult, difficult situation to dramatize and to explicate.” He might have added: especially when you have AIPAC breathing down your neck. “The decision also proved wise on a more practical level,” the Los Angeles Times reported, because “the violence in Gaza this summer forced two other series, FX’s ‘Tyrant’Tyrant and USA’s ‘Dig,’ to pull up stakes.” Tel Aviv, where Tyrant was in production, “was under missile fire and people were running into bomb shelters,” the show runner explained. “It was not conducive to shooting.” They moved to Istanbul.
Homeland’s people also considered sending Carrie to head the CIA station in Istanbul, but the Turkish government insisted on reviewing all the scripts. They decided instead to make Carrie CIA station chief in Kabul, and to shoot in South Africa as a stand-in for Afghanistan. Cape Town, the LA Times explained, “offers a large Muslim community for background casting that can, with the help of Hollywood magic, pass for Afghanistan and Pakistan.”
The cast is also finding inspiration in Cape Town. “It’s very moving to be somewhere where a man like Nelson Mandela came to prominence,” said Mandy Patinkin—his character, the morose Jew Saul Berenson, has at last left the CIA for a really good job with a private security contractor. “I’m reminded that I’m living in a place where horror was once in abundance and the boil has been lanced and life has improved.” Will Carrie help the Afghans lance their boil and improve their lives? Obama will be watching—and so will Bill Clinton.