Welcome, one and all, to the Homeland Happy Fun Hour, chockablock with mental instability, moral bewilderment, and the persistent menace of religiopolitical violence! Most of you are joining the story of bipolar former CIA agent Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes), American P.O.W.-turned-sleeper-terrorist-and-closet-Muslim Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis), and perpetually dour master spy Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin, holla!) having already experienced Homeland’s Emmy-winning first season. I suspect a healthy handful of you watched that season as I did, via DVD or VOD, over a weekend or two in a binge of white-knuckle anxiety and awe at Claire Danes’ masterful acting.
But I’m guessing at least a few of you checked out Sunday’s season 2 premiere having never seen the show, curious to see what all the hubbub was about. It’s as much for those newbies as for us hardened vets that the episode opened with a lengthy recap of the first season — but that recap left off a few key details, so let me fill in a few more of the blanks. (Hardened vets: You can skip ahead to the next paragraph.) Detail No. 1: Carrie had been told by a key source right before his own execution that “an American P.O.W. has been turned,” which is why Carrie suspected Brody from the moment she learned he was alive. Detail No. 2: That suspicion led Carrie to embark on a terrifically illegal surveillance operation on Brody and his family, against the expressed orders of her mentor/father figure, Saul. Detail No. 3: Saul grudgingly went along with said surveillance only after securing a super-secret-special warrant. Detail No. 4: Carrie’s constant, intimate scrutiny of Brody’s life led her to fall in love with him. Detail No. 5: During Carrie’s horribly misguided weekend at the family cabin with Brody, he began screaming “Issa” in his sleep. Detail No. 6: Before she underwent electro-shock therapy to end the severe bipolar episode that had cost Carrie her career, Saul told his protege/daughter stand-in of the classified drone attack ordered by Vice President Walden when he ran the CIA, which led to the death of terrorist mastermind Abu Nazir’s young son Issa — an attack the U.S. denied ever happened, which drove Brody to join Nazir’s cause. Detail No. 7: Right before the electro-shock therapy was administered, Carrie connected Brody yelling “Issa” in his sleep with that attack, proving, finally, that her suspicions about him were correct. Then: Zzzzzap! End of season. (Click here for Tim Stack’s even more thorough download on the first season.)
Some of these details mattered in the season premiere; some of them, I’m sure, will matter in the episodes to come. Because along with Danes and Lewis’ award-worthy performances, one of the best things about Homeland is that its characters are rarely if ever let off the hook for their choices. Sunday’s episode provided a great example or two of that uncommon storytelling quality, but it also indulged in a few of the show’s worst habits, making for an episode that I suspect left at least a few newbies still wondering quite what all the hubbub is about. Still, this merely “good” episode of Homeland was still packed with some great stuff, so let’s get to it!
Six months after Carrie’s electro-shock therapy, we opened on our once hard-charging heroine quietly puttering around the family garden, under the watchful eye of her sister Maggie (Amy Hargreaves) and the permissive care of her father Frank (the fabulous James Rebhorn). (Another important detail only flicked at in this episode: Papa Mathison is also bipolar.) Carrie’d turned to teaching English to native Arabic speakers and living in Maggie’s spare bedroom, decorated with homegrown art from Maggie’s young daughters — their cheery sign exhorting Carrie to “BREATHE” was at once touching and terribly sad.
But try as her sister might to shield Carrie from her old way of life, it remained stubbornly just an ominous news report away. We learned that in Homeland’s merciless parallel universe, Israel had made good on its real-life threats to bomb Iranian nuclear facilities — five of them, in fact. Casualties were reported as high as 3,000, and although U.S. officials denied the number as anti-Israel propaganda, Muslims throughout the Middle East had nonetheless amassed in front of American embassies in protest. And Homeland once again sent a shiver up my spine with its eerie prescience.
NEXT: Saul gets some bad news in a fantastic hat