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Homeland versus Prisoners of War: The Cage Match

Homeland versus Prisoners of War: the cage match

I've been watching both these television series and enjoying them. I don't often get addicted to TV shows but there are a few that have hooked me and, strangely enough, they're usually the ones Mr Ellink and the rest of the world hate and give up watching.

I wanted to discuss Homeland and the television series it's based on, Prisoners of War.

WARNING: spoilers are in this post.

Prisoners of War is an Israeli television series shown in Australia on SBS with subtitles, and in Australia series two has just finished.

Homeland is an American show, inspired by Prisoners of War. Clare Danes plays a CIA agent, and Damian Lewis plays a soldier returned from al-Qaeda captivity.

Both shows are based around the return of soldier(s) to their home country after a long-term captivity and much torture.

In Homeland, my major bug-bear is that Brody (the returned soldier) is cast back into family life with hardly a care — we see no counselling for him or his family. And it's hell for both of them. He's been gone 13 years, his kids don't know him, his wife was in love with, and about to commit to, another man. Yet all this is kind of glossed over. It does slow things down to have threads running off the main story but I felt it was a failing of the show not to at least pretend there was some help provided to the family and him.

Prisoners of War had a fairly long debriefing period for two of the returned soldiers and we had two seasons to watch them struggle with their return to civilian life. This repatriation was supported (or maybe, more accurately, observed) by government officials. A psychiatrist was brought in to deal with the daughter's issues. It was a harsher, more realistic picture of adjustment than in Homeland, and an integral part of the story rather than being there just to create story threads.

In Homeland, and most American TV shows, people have nice houses full of stuff that costs money, even when they're broke. They wear nice clothes, always have makeup on and immaculate hair. No one ever looks like I do in my normal day, in my normal house and life.

In contrast, in Prisoners of War, the houses were all very different—some old and run down, others nicer, but all very lived-in. The women didn’t always wear makeup, which was startling but refreshing after watching Homeland. Sometimes a woman’s hair was a mess—not brushed and worn out loose, or twisted into a rough bun, or thrown into a ponytail. The women wore different types of clothes—nice clothes to go out in, comfy house clothes for being at home. Sometimes they even went braless. The women sometimes wore unmatching PJs to bed, or even an old t-shirt that looked old, stretched and worn. Some of the homes, and rooms, in Prisoners of War were almost Spartan in their furnishings. For me, it was a godsend to watch normal people in normal clothes in normal houses.

Prisoners of War also has a depth to its characterisation that I don't find in Homeland, and the characters who are at the forefront of the two shows are different.

Homeland's focus is on the CIA agents and their work, life and love. Saul and his wife are having marital and communication problems but it's all a bit sketchy. Carrie and Quinn have a friendship developing but I don't understand how or why. Carrie is a mess with a kind of supportive family who appear only when needed. It's disjointed and there's no depth. We're just told the barest details and have to believe them.

Prisoners of War, however, remains firmly with the soldiers and their families, lives, loves and struggles. For me, it's grittier, more hard-edged and more interesting. We're not told what their life is like, we're shown. This is what all writers are told to do when writing, and I can see the difference it makes when comparing the two shows.

Also, Homeland is a bit 'in your face'. When Carrie suspected Brody of being a spy, she yelled, she jumped up and down, she made a huge scene until she was heard.

Prisoners of War is more subtle. Amiel came home, and — right at the end of season two —the Isreali psychologist/intelligence officer (Haim, Carrie’s equivalent, who's male), says, "do you think his capture was too easy?" He asks with a little grin, then shakes his head. "Forget it." And that's the subtlety of the show. A tiny question, with a grin and a head shake. I love it.

So, have you been watching either show? I'd love to know what you think. I'm keen to discuss these clever television series with other followers.