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Though Carrie Matheson (Claire Danes) is the main character of Showtime’s tense CIA drama Homeland (which returns for a second season September 30th), Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin) is the force binding the show’s combustible elements together and propelling the action forward. Patinkin deserves a heap of credit: anyone who can play both Inigo Montoya and Che in Evita is a hall of famer. Still, Saul’s centrality is especially interesting because Jewish identity rests at his character’s core—an identity so richly illustrated, I offer the following proposition: Saul Berenson is the most accurate depiction of an American Jewish identity ever portrayed on television.

There is a scene midway through the first season in which Carrie bets her signed copy of Thelonius Monk’s Monk’s Dream that a polygraph test will incriminate Sergeant Brody. Saul parries: “I prefer Coltrane. Not so fussy.” The Monk-Coltrane dichotomy is an almost too-perfect metaphor for these characters. If Monk’s schizophrenic genius prefigures Carrie, Coltrane’s religious devotion to his craft encapsulates Saul.

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