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Homeland: What’s With the Rolling Surveillance?

Posted by Writing PIs on November 20, 2011

Enter to win a free writers workshop: Surveillance 101

We’re major Homeland fans (Homeland is the Showtime series, Sundays 10 pm ET). It’s a conflict-filled drama about U.S. government operatives uncovering terrorist cells in the U.S. and the questionable loyalties of a war prisoner recently released from Afghanistan. In the course of the show, there’s more electronic spy devices planted and used than even the most paranoid could imagine. But in the show we watched last night (we’re still behind in our viewing, so this was a few shows back), the female U.S. government operative conducted a rolling surveillance (meaning, she conducted a mobile surveillance in her vehicle) to track a suspected terrorist when it would have made a lot more sense for her to attach a GPS device to his car.

What was that about, Homeland writers?

Rolling surveillances are very difficult, often impossible, especially when the investigators:

  • Are in one vehicle (versus two or more)
  • Don’t know the destination of the subject
  • Must travel through crowded traffic conditions.

All of the above scenarios mirrored the situation in the show last night. Yes, our protagonist-U.S. op had an associate with her, but hey, they were following a terrorist. With all the whiz-bang electronic spygear these Homeland ops have access to, they couldn’t check out a GPS for the day? Okay, they were being sneaky themselves and not telling the government what they were up to — they still could have purchased a small GPS device for cheap.

In their rolling surveillance, they miraculously tracked their terrorist-subject through a crowded campus environment, through urban traffic (if you’ve ever followed someone in a vehicle, it can be very easy to lose them with sudden turns, stop lights, traffic congestion, etc.), and then they were the sole vehicle following the terrorist’s car in a residential neighborhood.

Wow, and the terrorist didn’t notice he was being followed?

Okay, so the Homeland writers wanted tension…wanted the U.S. op to “go the distance” (literally) in her obsession to track down the terrorist cell. Sorry, it felt contrived.

The scene could have been as dramatic, and more realistic, if our government op (Claire Danes, who rocks this show) had surreptitiously attached a small GPS underneath the terrorist’s vehicle, then tracked it. Since there were some unseen terrorist associates who figured out their terrorist-guy was being followed, they could have still done what occurred in the show: alerted the terrorist’s wife at home, who averted the terrorist-husband from parking in the driveway by hanging out an American flag. Then the terrorist would have kept driving, knowing he was being tracked…(maybe he ultimately abandons the vehicle or drives it off a bridge or…).

Outside of that one questionable scene, we respect the story Homeland creates. Its actors are masterful, the storytelling is gripping and we can’t wait for the next episode.

Have a great week, Writing PIs

How Do Private Eyes Do That? available on Kindle and Nook

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