Thursday, November 29, 2012

Homeland, Season 1

I watched Season 1 of the Showtime series Homeland on DVD.

I recommend this series, but I want to join Megan’s complaint about how poorly the series corresponds to reality in several salient respects.  Megan focused on its representation of the physical geography of D.C., a subject on which I know little.  But I do know a little about how the intelligence community operates, and this isn’t it.  I was appalled to see CIA intelligence officers waltzing around secure facilities with cell phones, turning their living room walls into pin boards for classified documents, and having sensitive counterintelligence discussions in bars.  In reality, we aren’t allowed to have cell phones even in the lobby of where we work.  Classified material is handled freely in secure areas, but never outside them.  And we never talk about, or even around, our work anyplace except at work.  And that’s just the stuff I know about.

The stuff I don’t know about is what the CIA does specifically, but I’m pretty sure it’s foreign intelligence.  Counterintelligence is the FBI’s mission, yet here the FBI is treated as the half-witted brother of the CIA, which seems practically unrestricted in its domestic activities short of making arrests.  That’s either poor screenwriting, or a pretty scary commentary on the CIA’s respect for the law.

One more thing.  Carrie, the central character, suffers from bipolar disorder, for which she takes the anti-psychotic drug Clozapine.  Improbably, however, Carrie is also something of a lush, even though alcohol consumption is not recommended for people with mental disorders, and is specifically contraindicated with Clozapine. Did the writers not think anybody would know this?

But all this notwithstanding, Homeland is one of the more straightforwardly patriotic TV shows I’ve seen.  It has no truck with the usual neo-Nazi tropes or other figments of the liberal imagination; it’s villains are exclusively Arabic Muslims and their American converts.  Yes, there is a “good” Muslim working for the CIA, but there are also plenty of terrorist sympathizers.  The CIA, and Carrie in particular, are prepared to play as rough as necessary to get the job done; this is presented with only a nod at moral equivocation.


Dexter said...

It's not a problem to work for the CIA if you're bipolar and drink a lot of booze?

Dr. Φ said...

The premise is that her mental illness is kept secret from the CIA, not wholly implausible if everyone who knows about it doesn't mention it to the people conducting the background interviews. Treatable mental illness is theoretically insufficient for denying a security clearance, although it surely disqualifies one from being a field operative.

But yeah, Carrie exhibits a pattern of reckless behavior that would raise a lot of questions.