The third series of the spy thriller starring Claire Danes and Damian Lewis is a touch humdrum, but the documentary ‘House of Surrogates’ hits its target
When talking about the return of Homeland (RTÉ Two, Tuesday), it’s best to get the Carrie cryface thing out of the way first. So yes, Claire Danes’s face was as expressive as ever: eye-popping, brow-furrowing and maybe even more chin-quivering than before. The maverick one-time CIA agent is off her bipolar medication, saying that it stopped her from anticipating “America’s next 9/11”. The series three opener took up two months after that explosive end to series two; chief suspect Brody is on the run (he didn’t appear in this week’s episode) and his family is broke and ostracised. An indecisive Saul is head of the CIA because all the other bosses are dead, and Carrie is missing Brody so much she picks up a random redhead in the supermarket and takes him home. Teenager Dana Brody, the emerging star from last season, is back from a treatment centre after a suicide attempt, and sends a topless selfie to a boy – so that’s not going to end well, though everything she does spices up the dull Brody family scenes.
The Emmy-winning first series of Homeland was compulsive viewing, every episode a cliffhanger as Carrie raced to prove that Brody was a terrorist. Series two floundered with puzzling plot diversions – the teenagers and the hit-and-run being the most irrelevant – so series three has a lot of work to do to save Homeland from being just another ho-hum glossy TV action franchise. The opener was a dense and at times baffling episode (does anyone believe the CIA might be shut down?), reinforcing what we already know, although the ending – spoiler alert! – did give the direction of a new plot. Saul, after spending most of the episode wandering around brightly-lit corridors, betrays Carrie by publicly linking her to Brody in a senate committee hearing broadcast on TV. That sets up an unbridgeable chasm between these central characters and leaves her free to hunt Brody. Series three can’t hope to recreate the perfectly formed is-he-or-isn’t-he plot dynamic of series one – and Homeland should really have called it quits then – but there was enough in the opener to set some interesting events in motion.
As titles go, Drama Matters: The Psychopath Next Door (Sky Living, Tuesday) is a winner. It’s one of five drama pilots written by women; this one is by Julie Rutterford, it’s directed by Kieron J Walsh, and stars Anna Friel as Eve, a psychiatrist who is secretly a psychopath. Super glamorous, with a slick of red lipstick and luscious hair, she moves into a Desperate Housewives-type cul-de-sac and befriends the tracksuit-wearing mummies. Maybe it’s from watching crime dramas – or seeing the word “psychopath” in the title – but I had different expectations from this jaunty, almost comic hour of TV. It was more like The Wagon Next Door because all Eve did was cheat when they all went jogging, throw a pot plant in the bin, try to get the neighbourhood Queen Bee, Marianne (Eva Birthistle) off her diet and scratch a kid’s telescope. Not quite Hannibal Lecter or even Dexter – and the less said about the witless finale (Dexter, FX, Monday) to that once-clever drama the better. Similarly, The Psychopath Next Door ended bizarrely, stopping dead with a scene that appeared to be spliced in from nowhere.
The best, most thought-provoking documentary of the week was the feature-length House of Surrogates (BBC Four, Tuesday). In the rural, desperately poor Indian state of Gujarat, Dr Nayna Patel runs a lucrative surrogacy business. Up to 100 women live in her hostel – 10 to a room – which acts as a “wombs for hire” business for wealthy international couples. Patel, tapping into a growing industry worth $1 billion, sees herself as a feminist, saying surrogacy “is one woman helping another woman”, though it didn’t seem like that.
Her operation, she said, facilitates “the two basic instincts, to survive and reproduce”. The poor Indian women who earn $8,000 for carrying the baby, living in the hostel for nine months and giving birth, do so to survive and make better lives for their own children; the foreign couples get to procreate by paying $26,000 – a fifth of the cost in the US.
Patel has been called one of India’s most controversial figures, and is accused of running a “baby-making factory”. If she thought that giving the filmmaker Matt Rudge such open access to her life and business would improve her image, she was wrong – the contrast between her luxurious lifestyle and that of the poor human incubators was too stark and the balance of power between the surrogates and those who use them too great. As a Canadian couple prepared to leave India with their baby, the surrogate (who they had also employed as a wet nurse – a cruel thing, surely) looked bereft. “These surrogates are doing the physical work, they know there is no gain without pain,” said Patel.
The only time she is disappointed is, she said, when couples come to collect their baby and “won’t even look at the surrogate”. It was a chilling image in a probing film that deftly navigated its way through a moral minefield.
And finally, a brief acknowledgement that the always superb, breathtakingly clever Breaking Bad (Netflix, Monday) ended. Any review would give away too many spoilers and the publicity around the brilliantly crafted finale means that a whole slew of new fans are binge-watching to catch up. The drama’s creator Vince Gilligan did what he set out to do: “transform Mr Chips into Scarface”.
Please, tell me