"Homeland"- A Rare, Accurate Depiction of Mental Ill Health.

I often get on my high horse in this blog about inaccurate, unrealistic and misrepresentative portrayals of mental ill health in films and the rest of the media. You may recall that I was up in arms about a film called "Roommate", which to my mind contained one of the worst, most inaccurate and fear-inducing representations of mental illness I had seen in recent times. It is nice to report, then, that having watched the first episode of the American drama series "Homeland", which was screened for the first time on British television last Sunday on Channel 4, I can say that I was quite pleased with the portrayal of one of the main character's apparent mental "instability".
The series stars Claire Daines as Carrie Matheson, a CIA officer who comes to believe that an American Marine (played by Brit Damian Lewis), who was held captive by Al-Qaeda for eight years, has actually been "turned" by the enemy and now, upon his otherwise heroic return to home territory, represents a threat to national security.
The only problem is that seemingly everyone except Carrie considers the Marine, Nicholas Brody, to be a war hero. He is welcomed back home with a show of patriotic pageantry, with even Carrie's superiors at the CIA having nothing but admiration for him, and when she airs her suspicions, she is told bluntly that she is quite obviously barking up the wrong tree.
To add further tension to the situation, we soon learn that Carrie has experience of mental ill health, and takes anti-psychotic medication, a problem she has been battling with since the age of 22. However, very much unlike the "psychotic" character in "Roommate", Carrie is not violent, devious and generally just bad, but rather holds down her (very stressful, important) job, and even her suspicions of Brody are based on a certain amount of evidence, having been told by an "asset" whilst on an unauthorised operation in Iraq that there was an American prisoner of war who had been turned by the enemy.
The dramatic tension then comes from the doubt over whether Brody is, in fact, this soldier who has been turned. Is it just that Carrie's mental instability is causing her to read too much into things? Are her bosses right, or just being misled? Is Brody actually what Carrie thinks he is? The series makes it clear, with a number of flashbacks to Brody's time in captivity, that Carrie is correct to at least suspect him. But, the moment I found really interesting, was when, near to the end of the first episode, Carrie spots Brody, in a number of the TV appearances he made upon his return to America, moving his fingers in a way that seems to her to be a coded message. She takes this as meaning that he is making contact, in some way, with other Al-Qaeda terrorists. To my mind, this is exactly the sort of thing which, without Carrie's grounds for her suspicions, might be taken as a delusion of reference, where a meaning is read into something which is simply not there. So, again the question is posed: is Carrie's mental ill health governing what she sees, or is it that such observations make her an ace CIA operative? Is she ill, or is she brilliant, and can see what no one else apparently can?
I found all this to be an interesting and realistic portrayal of someone with experience of a psychotic condition, and am glad I took the time to watch the start of this series. Apart from anything else, the dramatic tension which was established with this opening episode just makes for damn good television. Add to that the pleasingly accurate representation of Carrie's mental health, and I'm a happy bunny. If only there were more of this type of portrayal out there, the stigma surrounding such conditions may not be as great.           


bazza said…
Hello David. I too, watched and hugely enjoyed Homeland. I did not really pick-up on Carrie's mental health but simply saw it as a plot device to heighten the tension between her and her superiors. Thank you for pointing out the intelligent use of the situation.
Did you know that Homeland is based on an original Israeli TV drama? Funnily enough so was In Treatment, set in a psychiatrist's consulting room.
I really like Damien Lewis as an actor. Did you see the 2005 Stephen Poliakoff TV drama Friends and Crocodiles? Brilliant!
Click here for Bazza’s Blog ‘To Discover Ice’
klahanie said…
Dear David,
I wasn't aware of the America drama, "Homeland" being screened on Channel 4 on Sunday. Judging by what you have noted, it seems to be captivating television and how refreshing, a realistic portrayal of mental health concerns. This is most encouraging and may this sort of balance, continue.
With very kind wishes, Gary
David said…
Dear bazza,
I'm glad you enjoyed "Homeland", too. As I say, if nothing else, it does appear from the first episode that it is cracking television. And yes, I did find out that it is based on an original Israeli drama.
I think Damian Lewis is brilliant in this, but I did not manage to see "Friends and Crocodiles". In fact, I don't really like Poliakoff's work that much, and find it, despite what seems a significant amount of critical praise, somewhat pretentious.
Anyway, bazza, thanks once again for taking the time to comment.
Very Best Wishes,
David said…
Dear Gary,
Yes, this is encouraging. It seems that, this time, someone may have actually done a little research into how such conditions affect people. One hopes that the trend, if it is that, will continue.
Warmest Wishes to you, Gary,
THE SNEE said…
Hi David,

I watched the first season of Homeland this year and thought it's one of the few shows I actually look forward to! I like the juxtaposition of Carrie's apparent intelligence and intuitiveness with her struggles with mental health. I've watched the entire first season, so I will be interested to hear your reaction as the plot evolves. Bazza is right about it being inspired by the Israeli TV drama. I wonder how 'Carrie' is portrayed in their version? I hope you are well, David.
David said…
Dear SNEE,
Seems like most people (well, the ones who comment on this blog, anyway) are liking "Homeland". And I agree with you about the portrayal of Carrie and her struggles.
Thank you for not giving away what happens. It will be interesting to see how it all pans out and I hope the promise of the first episode is fulfilled.
Thanks for taking the time to comment- it's always nice to have you visit.
Very Best Wishes,

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