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Showtime at Press Tour: The Post-24 Terror of Homeland

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The 9/11 attacks happened almost ten years ago. Since then, we’ve lived through whole cycles of war and cultural change; Osama bin Laden is dead and Jack Bauer is off the air. This fall, one of 24’s producers is returning on Showtime with a terrorism thriller, Homeland, that’s very similar in subject and very different in themes and mood.

In 24, which defined pop culture’s response to 9/11 in many ways, the question was always whether Jack would stop the bad guys in time. In Homeland, which presented a panel at TCA press tour this morning, the question is whether the bad guy is in fact a bad guy at all.

In the pilot, an intelligence tip leads to the rescue of an American POW in Iraq (Damian Lewis) who has been held captive for years. Everyone celebrates, except one analyst (Claire Danes) who suspects that the tip came too conveniently, and sees signs that he may be a terrorist sleeper agent. She may be right (there are inconsistencies in his story) and she may be wrong (she has a history of single-mindedly pursuing her own theories and, we learn, of mental illness that may be impairing her judgment).

The pilot screened for critics, is taut, well-performed and psychologically fascinating. But, as Gordon notes, after the killing of bin Laden, there was a flash of worry that a story about a possible al Qaeda plant might be dated. In the end, he decided, bin Laden’s elimination closed the chapter on one section of American history–call it the 24 chapter–and began another one, whose questions and ambiguities he hopes Homeland will address. One issue informing Homeland, he said, is “What was the price of 9/11 to this country?”

The show is less action-focused than 24, though it looks faster-moving than the somewhat comparably-themed Rubicon (whose producer, Henry Bromell, is now a writer for Homeland). But being on Showtime, it’s more raw in terms of language and violence, including several hard-to-take torture flashbacks involving Lewis. “I’ve been hung upside down,” said Lewis, on the challenge of playing these scenes. “I was being peed on three days ago.”

Not all the discussion at the panel was quite so heavy, though. The cancellation of My So-Called Life was even longer ago than 9/11, but apparently America is not over that either, and one reporter asked Danes to address the decade-and-a-half-old claim that the show was canceled because she no longer wanted to do it. (“A 14-year-old girl is not going to determine the fate of a show,” she said.) Meanwhile, Morena Baccarin, who plays the returned POW’s wife, talked about making the genre change from sci-fi, having been in Firefly and most recently having played the lizard queen of V. “I’m just glad to be playing a human being,” she said.

Or at least she claims she’s a human being. Trust no one!