CIA analyst Carrie Mathison, played exquisitely by Claire Danes on Showtime's Homeland, is exceedingly hard to like. She steals medication from her father, sleeps with married men and counts no close friends or even hobbies, with the exception of appreciating the complexity of jazz. Carrie does not suffer from the common female need-to-please trait and, in fact, insists she is usually right. She is impulsive in a job that rewards patience and lies to the few people who can tolerate her. When she turns on the charm, it is always for calculated effect. It's absolutely maddening.
And yet ... you can't take your eyes off her. You root for her because those very despicable qualities also make her extraordinarily good at her mission. Danes breathes life and realism into a character who, for once, goes against the clichés of what a female CIA officer is supposed to do and look like. No sequined gowns or casual gunplay for Carrie — she works in the real world of gathering intelligence. Her bipolar disorder, which she must hide from her employers, is both a blessing and a curse. It provides heightened powers of concentration and obsessiveness about detail but is so finely balanced that she could easily be pushed into insanity. Carrie may be an improbable CIA agent, but Danes' finely calibrated, deliberate and nuanced portrait of her is breathtaking.
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