It’s unsettling when humdrum life starts to imitate high-octane art.
On Monday night, I finished a marathon viewing session of Homeland, the US political thriller charting a terrorist plot against America, which has been playing out on Channel 4.
The next day, I turned on Radio 4’s Today programme to discover the CIA had foiled an attempt to blow up a passenger jet heading to America. The would-be bombers, Al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula (who really need a snappier name) had planned to detonate a so-called underwear bomb.
The two criminal conspiracies – the real one and the fictional one in Homeland – put the deployment of a suicide bomber, and the operations of the CIA to stop him, centre stage.
Revelations about the success of the Yemen-focused CIA investigation, which will do no harm to President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign, and the timing of the end of Homeland is just one of those weird coincidences.
And yet the coincidence serves to underline the way in which powerful and successful TV drama can unnerve us.
If you missed Homeland, starring Damian Lewis and Claire Danes, you missed a treat. Although the various sub-plots are hellishly complicated, the main story line is relatively straight-forward: minutes before he is executed, a credible source tells a CIA agent that a freed US prisoner of war has been “turned” by al Qaeda.
Bi-polar spook Carrie Mathison (Danes) points the finger at Marine Sergeant Nick Brody (Lewis), after he miraculously returns to Uncle Sam after being captured in Iraq eight years ago.
It’s a classic “is he, isn’t he?” conundrum played out over 12 episodes, at the end of which it’s pretty clear Brody, a classic anti-hero (arguably the most anti of anti-heroes ever conceived) has an axe to grind about US foreign policy.
So is he a deranged suicide bomber orchestrating a “spectacular” in the heart of America? Or is he an American hero? Or are things more complex?
In case you haven’t seen it, I won’t give the game away. I usually watch these shows several years after they are first aired, so it’s remarkable that I caught up with a backlog of recorded Homeland episodes and watched the final instalment only a day after it was broadcast.
This was made possible by a bank holiday weekend of block viewing, which involved turfing our children out of their prime seats in front of the TV.
Yes, we didn’t even let them watch The Voice live. This was the weekend the parents hit back and it’s been a chastening experience for our daughters.
Our eldest returned from the youth club on Friday night to announce she was getting a bowl of cereal before watching Neighbours.
“No, you’re not,” I said. “Your mother and I are watching Homeland.”
There was shocked silence. P thought I was joking.