Homeland: Tin Man Is Down, Review *UPDATED*

In the first two episodes of Season 3, Homeland establishes a new status quo that will surprise, intrigue, and endear one even closer to Claire Danes and her precarious alter-ego. *UPDATED* So, about that ending...

The third season of Homeland returns tomorrow evening on Showtime, and there is no doubt that every cable drama junkie who ever glanced at the series has the date marked and scheduled. This is simply because the first season of Homeland is fantastic. It would not even be hyperbole to suggest that the already-iconic program features the best pilot in television history. It is so skillfully and artistically constructed in its conflict—Is Sgt. Nicholas Brody a turned terrorist or is Carrie Mathison crazy?—that it pulled viewers in and never let go all the way to its freshman year wins for Outstanding Original Series at both the Emmys and the Golden Globes. However, it has become almost as equally accepted wisdom that Season 2 just didn’t measure up. I have previously written about how Season 2 consists of really two separate story arcs built around the flawless hour that is “Q&A.”  The first of those halves was the natural conclusion to the breathless narrative established in that searing first minute of Homeland; the other, unfortunately, felt more akin to series creators and showrunners Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon’s previous hit spy series, 24. Indeed, once Carrie broke Brody in “Q&A,” the ending to that original premise was mostly achieved and the rest of Season 2 searched for a new existential cause. I can now safely say that in Season 3, they have finally found it in the smoky ruins of Langley. The first two episodes of Season 3, which I shall avoid any major spoilers of, picks up two months after the CIA was turned into a visceral smoking gun. However, instead of mourning the tragedy, the U.S. government and media have instead turned on the Company Men, demanding a scapegoat to explain how they missed Brody’s alleged treason, as he is still wanted for the explosives that went off in his car. Further, some in the U.S. Senate apparently see the country having to endure “a Second 9/11” as a golden opportunity to revoke the Central Intelligence Agency’s charter. It is before such disapproving senators’ subcommittee that Carrie is forced to explain (lie) why they missed Brody. One would think that Saul would have her back as the wolves gather, but he himself is detained by the new title of CIA Director. His organization is undermanned and browbeaten, suffering from an inferiority complex that is causing the likes of Dar Adal (a newly promoted to regular F. Murray Abraham) to whisper sweet drone strikes in his ear. And through all these spooky times for the spooks, there is the Brody family, which has become the worst kind of celebrity. Suffice it to say that Nicholas’ daughter, Dana, is not reacting to this infamy in the healthiest of ways.  Going into Season 3 of Homeland, you should realize upfront that this is as much a soft reboot for the Showtime flagship as a continuation. The reality is that everyone wondered how the story could continue past “Q&A,” which deservingly won an Emmy for writing, and the truth is that it has not. At least not in the parameters as set by Season 1. This year, we are introduced to a new cast of characters, including Nazanin Boniadi as Muslim CIA analyst Fara Sherazi, and a new status quo. It is for that reason that Nicholas Brody will not even appear until the third episode of the season (though his presence is felt throughout the first two). As such, much of the first hour is about the heavy exposition of preparing the audience for what is to come. While this may disappoint a few viewers, trust me when I say that the course charted by the second episode reveals a remarkably unexpected direction for the series, which none have yet predicted. However, as the creators maintain their trademark twisty, contorted surprises, the series is also unfortunately conceding to television demands. For example, Peter Quinn is back as a regular and acts as a CIA Jack of All Trades, as he is both in the field carrying out morally questionable operations, and sitting in for high-level interviews between Saul and nefarious members of the international banking community. The CIA really MUST be understaffed if one guy can be their personal button man and the director’s personified conscience. Unfortunately, the greatest change is that while the new direction of the series is refreshingly different, the family Brody feels tacked on because they were part of that earlier, better show. I’ve never been one to hate Dana like some viewers did in the first two seasons, but there will be an audible sigh from your mouth every time the series switches gears to her newest teenage angst. And it will do so often.  With that said, these early curiosities are minor quibbles for what remains one of the finest shows on television. Following the bombing of Langley, I had worried that the series would go down the Jack Bauer rabbit hole of escalating super-powered terrorists, which is far and away from the series’ beautifully haunting intro that places Carrie Mathison in our world. These early episodes regain that initial verisimilitude. While several of Carrie’s decisions in the first two hours strike me as unwise, it is just so Carrie (especially off her meds) to make them. Season 3 guarantees more than ever that this really is Carrie’s show, and Claire Danes is her usually fantastic self in it. Her character is faced with a new journey that has previously been unexplored in espionage film or television, but makes so much sense. When one looks at how the country reacted to the likes of NSA wiretapping or even David Petraeus’ now legendary stupidity—something that even made Carrie look comparably sane—Homeland’s new approach may be the most realistic and ambiguously dirty of all. There is a new threat in Carrie’s life far more dangerous than Abu Nazir, and the CIA is under a perpetual state of lockdown with enemies at home and abroad amassing like a mob at the gates. For those who follow Beltway drama, this is OUR homeland. In spite of one very specific subplot, Season 3 has made some bold and totally unexpected moves in its first wee hours, and I have no idea where we are now headed. For Homeland, that is the highest compliment. *UPDATED* So how about that ending? Saul threw his surrogate daughter, little Care-bear, under the bus. It was horrifying. It was cruelly unexpected, and it was so true to life. THIS is why Homeland can still be great. As much as I love the relationship between Saul and Carrie, even more than Carrie and Brody, the whole episode seemed to revolve around how Saul was going to get Carrie out of her current predicament with the U.S. Senate intending to turn her into a national disgrace. Instead, events unfolded in a close approximation to our reality…he DIDN’T save his daughter. He threw a friend and collegue with decades of loyalty and trust to the wolves. If anyone has ever spent even the weekend in D.C., they know that this is the undertone of any “friendship” in that town. Everything is in flux when careers are on the line, much less Saul’s beloved CIA. Granted, I do not think Saul was the one leaking information about Carrie to the Senate, because he seemed genuinely annoyed with Dal about the intel. Why give Carrie another reason to crack? However, once the egg has not only been cracked, but smashed against the wall of the U.S. Capitol building, what is there left to do but clean it up before it drips upon your face? Saul did what needed to be done to preserve the secrets of the secretively scary people. But what about Carrie? If one looks at the Season 3 posters, they would notice that she is staring at Saul much the same way that she used to study Brody in previous Homeland art. It would suggest that Season 3 may be as much about Carrie surviving the CIA and the U.S. government before they can lock her up, as it would be about stopping the next Abu Nazir. She has never been in greater danger. Den of Geek Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars


3.5 out of 5