In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • “Pledge Allegiance”: Gendered Surveillance, Crime Television, and Homeland
  • Lindsay Steenberg (bio) and Yvonne Tasker (bio)

Although there are numerous intertexts for the series, here we situate Homeland (Showtime, 2011–) in the generic context of American crime television. Homeland draws on and develops two of this genre’s most highly visible tropes: constant vigilance regarding national borders (for which the phrase “homeland security” comes to serve as cultural shorthand) and the vital yet precariously placed female investigator. In the immediate context of post-9/11 crime television (in programs such as 24 [Fox, 2001–2010] and 24: Live Another Day [Fox, 2014]) the overarching message was that good people (i.e., trustworthy figures of authority) are watching. Thus, the surveillance of civil society was effectively legitimized as both responsibly managed and absolutely necessary. Moreover, the good people who both watch and respond are themselves suffering—whether conflicted over their actions and/or damaged through a personal history of violence and loss. These watchers’ honorable trauma serves to assure audiences that surveillance is not undertaken lightly. Agents of homeland security suffer on behalf of average citizens, those who seemingly do not have the psychological or physical fortitude to bear the responsibility of surveillance.

Premiering ten years after the events of 2001, Homeland develops these themes in new directions, moving beyond the Manichaean opposition of right and wrong that characterized earlier representations. Homeland atypically dramatizes watchers who fail in their task and thus lack the absolute authority of earlier action-based intelligence thrillers. In a show that foregrounds multiple themes and resonances of fidelity, these failures take into account (and play with) the crime genre’s established history of featuring damaged investigators who are doubted but ultimately triumph. (Fidelity here refers both to personal and professional loyalties within the fictional world and to the actual failures of intelligence agencies to which Homeland alludes).

A second key feature of American crime television, one that has been seamlessly absorbed by intelligence-focused programs like Home-land, is the centrality of a female investigator who is herself damaged [End Page 132] and overinvested in her work.1 Once again, Homeland acknowledges and develops this familiar construction of a professional woman whose personal trauma underpins her role as truth seeker and law enforcer. Particularly notable, we suggest, is the rich relationship explored in the show between these tropes of the female investigator and of legitimized surveillance.

The title Homeland of course refers to an America focused on the threat of terrorist activity at home as much as abroad and to the concessions in civil liberties that political violence is widely felt to require. From its initial broadcast, Homeland intervenes in a representational landscape in which the moral legitimacy of (political) violence is debated with intensity and regularity. Crime television has proved a fruitful site in which to rehearse ethical concerns over the extent of state surveillance, concerns of expediency over law, and the rights of suspected terrorists.

Unfolding in the aftermath of violence, crime television narrates processes of investigation and understanding, on the one hand, and pursuit and narrative resolution (if not always justice), on the other. The two are bound together, with the investigators seeking to understand a crime (scene), identify those responsible (and their motivations), and prevent further violence. The balance of investigation and pursuit in a crime show is one factor that determines its tone: Is it primarily a battle of wits, a chase, or a puzzle? Is the crime a pretext to explore the relationships within a work team (Bones [Fox, 2005–], Numb3rs [CBS, 2005–2010]), a character study (Dexter [Showtime, 2006–2013], Elementary [CBS, 2012–]), or a vehicle to elaborate concerns over contemporary politics (The Wire [HBO, 2002–2008], 24 [Fox, 2001–2010])? The narrative complexity deployed in Homeland is not novel in this larger generic context. Indeed, the plot twists of 24, with its themes of loyalty and legitimacy, demonstrate the established character of these elements. Television narratives of homeland security in many ways require the shifts in allegiance, suspenseful revelations, and plot twists that the medium is particularly able to deliver.

As they have developed, the conventions of homeland security—at least on network television—have come to rely on...