TV Review: Homeland [SPOILERS]
Homeland -”The Smile”
Season 2, Episode 1
Fresh off of sweeping perennial favorites like Breaking Bad and Mad Men at the Emmys, the best new series of 2011 hits the ground running in season two. In a single hour, the premiere manages to catch-up on the status of our leads and most of the major supporting characters since the conclusion of season one, fit in some incredible Brody family drama, and even squeeze in a tense bit of spy-craft.
Carrie’s unavoidable return to the intelligence game is handled far better than producers Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa often performed the same maneuver with Jack Bauer on 24. It isn’t the first time we’ve seen the old “No, I’ll only trust/talk to the main character” plot device used, but it’s believable in big part thanks to Mandy Patinkin‘s great performance as a reluctant Saul dragging his former protege back into a world that almost drove her insane. He manages this without actually sharing a moment of screen time with Carrie or Estes.
Though the audience knows it will evolve into more than a one-time mission, the consequences of Carrie’s precarious mental health and rusty skills are given room to breathe. Even as Carrie assaults and evades her tail and earns the episode’s titular smile, it came off more as narrowly avoiding a failure instead of some proof of her skills returning.
Claire Danes is her usual brand of terrific, both resisting and struggling with her limited (for now) return to the CIA. Her mind isn’t as sharp and her field skills are sluggish. Just after Saul pointed out the tail and Carrie turned to glance at them, I shouted at the screen “Why’d you turn around?!”
The best part of Carrie’s narrow escape is that it gives her a victory for the hour, while still leaving her abilities significantly in doubt to make future episodes more interesting than if she just flipped a switch and went back to being a super-spy.
While Danes’ gets her fair share of praise, for me the series’ most important character is Nicholas Brody. Damian Lewis continues to walk a near impossible high wire act between being a good man and a terrorist. It would be so easy for him to commit one way or the other, but he continues to play both sides wonderfully. We continue to empathize with the character, whether he’s providing his own espionage thrills breaking into Estes’ safe to obtain classified data or proving he’s too decent a father to let Dana get torn into by her mother unjustly.
Somehow I still feel like Lewis is under-rated, which seems insane given that he won the Emmy for Best Actor all of a week ago. But in his reaction to watching Jessica throw his Qu’ran on the floor and burying the same book the next night, Lewis excels in lending gravity to these quiet moments and Brody’s lonely world.
Just as she did talking him down from becoming a human bomb in the first season finale, Morgan Saylor‘s Dana Brody works great with her TV dad. I loved seeing her defend her father’s faith in school against her elitist classmates, her refusal to tell Jessica the truth while she’s being yelled AT and finally helping Nick bury the desecrated Qu’ran in a terrific final scene. Carrie might have known the truth at one point, but Dana’s efforts to really understand her father help the audience continue to see him in a sympathetic light despite his darker extra-curricular activities.