Homeland – The Smile
In direct contrast to that other Showtime show that premiered this Sunday night, Dexter, Homeland was a program that I expected to be good, perhaps to the point of problem. The first season came out of nowhere, hitting fast and hard, establishing itself as one of the year’s best dramas only weeks after people started hearing that it existed. This strength though set-up expectations for the show’s second season and it set them high and its extreme success at last weekend’s Emmy’s only exacerbated the issue further.
People aren’t going into this premiere expecting a sub-par season of Dexter spinning wheels, they aren’t peeking in on the program out of curiosity, they are coming to see a main event, a masterpiece in motion, they want to be blown away and despite its topic Homeland simply isn’t a show that does that. This lack is exactly what earned it that standing among – or above, if you’re an Emmy voter – the best drama’s currently on TV; a set of show’s also known for suffering from something similar. See, like those other series Homeland is styled towards the slow burn and that’s why it is deserving of its ‘Best Drama’ Emmy (despite not being my personal preference)
Despite its now prestigious pedigree the single show that Homeland is constantly compared to is not a cable drama at all but 24. While I was a fan of that show this is strange to me because they share similar content only, while the pacing and the delivery are both remarkably different. A new season of 24 could have an extreme and exciting premiere full of twists and turns in the plot, plus major moments for the characters because that is exactly what every single one of the show’s episodes consisted of.
Memory is a funny thing; sort of subjective and totally unreliable. For instance, when we try and remember the first season of Homeland now it is likely the big moments, the tension and the excitement that jump out at us and thus 24 comes to mind. Though whereas at the time, at least for myself, it was the small scenes, the sexuality and the psychological subtlety that made the show stand out from the lump of pilots that premiered alongside it that Fall and many others that had come before. Those small moments are where the show really succeeded but over the break I basically forgot about them in favor of the big stuff; thankfully though, like Carrie, the writers remembered.
So Homeland on the other hand though is a show built out of stellar, single moments and its steady momentum slowly draws us towards these; hinting at the strike and then showing the hurt that resides long after. So while this season will have twists, it will have turns and it will surely shock us with massive beats before the finale comes to close we will have to wait a while before these come to pass. Until then all we are left with are the characters and that thankfully is where Smile‘s focus stood.
With the start of a new season normally we rush for the plot to kick in; impatient at the set-up and salivating for those late season episodes still to come. Here though I was as happy to watch the wrecking ball swing as hit; simply seeing the characters coming to terms with their new surroundings was satisfying enough; that the show may or may not kick up another gear later is secondary. Which is good because the story at this stage is still very slight, it is quite literally the second priority throughout.
Instead what the show spends its time on is doing a decent job of setting up said surroundings. Because of this the episode is simple enough to dive back into with only a cursory knowledge of the show, since the new status quo is so simply explained, but the way that things have changed and what that says about the characters is so complex. That ambiguity is still there and thanks to a tight and witty script that is shot with the same surreal constrictions and shadowy claustrophobia as the last season it is still amazing.
The episode has something of a strange title and it is a very fitting one. Late in the episode, after almost an hour of seeing her shaking scared and literally seconds after an awesome action foot chase Carrie smiles and it is simply stunning to see. That the show would call attention to that single shot as being the episode’s defining element perfectly describes its approach and the difference between it and 24: Homeland is not about the roller-coaster plot, it simply has one so that we will pay attention to the people sitting in the ride.
While it may not have been my choice at the ceremony I can wholeheartedly say that Homeland is the best show currently on TV.