Can we start things off by mentioning how September 30th was basically the night to premiere in 2012? Seriously – we got Revenge, The Good Wife, the 14th season of Dexter, and that cheap network version of American Horror Story. But after last Sunday’s Silence of the Lambs-esque Emmy sweep, Homeland proved that it was the show on the night. Please don’t argue with the facts presented here. If you remember Homeland’s rip-roaring season one finale, Claire Danes & Co. pulled off something that everyone stoned The Killing for: not delivering on what the entire season built towards. Sure, The Killing was unmasking a murderer and Homeland only promised a bomb, but still. I’m just being hard on our little critical darling, as Homeland is the best show on television right now and The Killing is ultimately just about rain (I think).
We start the episode with Carrie in the garden. Carrie, who is living at home with her aloof father and overbearing sister; Carrie, who has pulled everything together and is now grading those awful Blue Books in her quaint bedroom. Israel and Iran are butting heads, but Carrie is cool and collected. We all know that Calm Carrie is not Homeland, so this can only go on for so long, right? In Beirut, Saul is rolling in the deep and some mysterious woman with important insider information. No other show need attempt footage from the Middle East because Homeland is the only show that makes everything feel urgent and real; remember all the sitar music that Damages used during their Afghanistan drama? Play that against the opening scene from the Homeland pilot and Albert Nobbs can kiss her Emmys goodbye! Saul keeps getting chased and everyone wants to kill him or something. It's not really anything new, but it's definitely dangerous.
Homeland then drops our third major player into the field (yes, Saul is just as important a chess piece as Carrie, as Saul is our glue) – Sergeant, or rather Congressman, Brody. Brody still has that tight mouth, so everyone watching knows that he is very much still involved in Abu Nazir’s plan. Homeland has made me believe that Abu Nazir is actually a player in real world terrorism, and I don’t understand why I haven’t heard his name in the news. This show gives me too many emotions, and I think I stress vomited when the CIA took down Carrie’s color-coded timeline towards the end of season one. I also blacked out. Anyway, Brody’s name is being thrown into the ring for the next election cycle, and Brody’s son gets 300 Facebook friend requests in response. I would never want to be Facebook friends with the maybe-new Vice President’s loser son, but to each their own. Unless the Vice President’s loser son was named Barbara Bush. Huh?
The current Vice President is potential the worst character on this show, mainly because the characters on Homeland live in (fifty?) shades of grey – everyone is endlessly complicated and I love/hate every decision they make. I want Brody to blow everything up and I want Carrie to shoot Brody in the head. Graphic, I know. The Vice President is too obviously smarmy and manipulative, and feels like something 24 would throw into the ring. I love Jack Bauer as much as the next psychotic American that takes television too seriously, but Homeland has (so far) outsmarted 24 because 24 fell into a gimmicky pattern; Showtime’s juggernaut needs to stay away from the temptation to over blow our political drama.
The CIA comes back to visit Carrie while she is in the middle of teaching her English course to Middle Eastern immigrants. The crazy in Carrie’s eyeballs begins to come back after her conversation with her old co-worker, and it is the first real spark that’s ignited under Carrie’s new “sane” exterior. Carrie’s relationship with the CIA tested the very core of her being, and it eventually broke her during the fallout from her terrifying Brody bomb meltdown – Carrie not only let the CIA down, but she was wrong. Carrie was crippled at the end of season one because she thought her mental state drove her to something wildly incorrect; Carrie was afraid of herself. Clearly, we, the audience, know that Carrie was right and that Carrie needs to take Brody down as soon as possible, and I very much believe the tension in that dramatic irony is what makes me love Carrie Mathison unconditionally.
At the Brody house – Dana is still something like the blood sister of Sally Draper and Sansa Stark, while Jessica still has not found a better hairdo. I am obsessed with hairdos on television (as anyone that read my Pretty Little Liars recaps can attest), and Jessica’s hair is really not doing her beautiful face any favors. Neither was the time she spent as an alien on V, however. Regardless, Dana is still giving stoner vibes and Jessica is still a power-hungry political wife-b**ch. Homeland is smart to make sure that Carrie and Brody don’t cross paths in the premiere – their relationship is a time bomb at the center of the show. Carrie is being pulled back in by the CIA. Saul’s informant in Lebanon is named Fatima Ali, a woman Carrie recruited in 2005 and who was kept off-book in order to keep her informant alive. Everyone assumed she became a dead agent, but clearly things are on fire again. Fatima is working for the U.S. because she loves Julia Roberts movies, which is sweet and super weird; who knew that Pretty Woman could be inspiration for spy work?
The CIA has come to Carrie because Fatima has information about an upcoming attack on American soil, but she will only share her information with Carrie. Nice coincidence. As Carrie speaks to her old boss (and ex-lover, which was the weirdest twist from Season 1) David Estes, Claire Danes delivers one of her best Carrie expressions: She registers disgust, intrigue, and fear in a single twist of her mouth. Carrie was beaten down by a government organization that wanted her quiet, and now they want her back for a quick 72-hour mission? She registers the cruel reality, but her threat of not accepting the mission is clearly a bluff. Put that scene on your Emmy reel, Claire! Off to Beirut!
Before we head overseas, Carrie’s dumb sister tries to stop her from leaving. If you’ve seen Shame, and paid attention to what happened beyond the whole Michael Fassbender penis thing, you might remember that Carrie’s sister could be seen putting on a necklace in the Standard hotel while nude; not such an upstanding citizen after all, you little prostitute! I hope this show keeps up Carrie’s relationship with her father; it’s a smart and nuanced father-daughter dynamic characterized by shared insanity, and it’s never played for sentimentality. They’re both off their rockers and they both revel in that danger. Good stuff.
Brody meets with a reporter named Roya, who has a killer accent and… is part of Nazir’s system. How many people does Nazir control at this point? The man is unstoppable! Isn’t there an easier way to successfully terrorize that doesn’t involve funneling all assets through Brody? I am not a mastermind when it comes to the details of global terrorism networks, but I feel like Roya could do some pretty mean damage on her own. Brody promised Nazir that he would only work through influence, not violence; Roya gives that stupid mentality a big N-O, and demands that Brody crack a safe at the CIA during his meeting the next day. Roya, along with Nazir, believes that there is a different between simple violence and retaliation. Brody doesn’t even have a choice.
Showtime gives us a brief reprieve from all the power playing for a peek into DC prep schools, and this could not be more realistic. I went to Catholic school in the Hispanic suburbs surrounding DC, but I knew kids that went to school with “Quaker Meetings” and political big-wig brats and scary teachers with weak spines. What we learn from this little outing is that every male in Dana’s school looks a little bit like a girl, and that Dana is a lose cannon when it comes to unleashing her political ideals and secret family nuggets. Dana lets fire the fact that her father is a Muslim, which is turned into a joke instead of landing as a crazy revelation. Dana, zip the lip! Make sure Dad doesn’t kill you! I like Dana because she sometimes feels as zany as Carrie’s eyes. Which is a big compliment, coming from me.
Next: Bring on Brunette Carrie.Carrie is now a brunette with dark eyes, and she has to go by the name of Kate. However, Carrie has been out of the game and had her brain fried, so her memory-slash-general-CIA-skills are a little… rusty. Carrie is also a vegetarian and sometimes sleeps until 2:30 PM; Homeland has to build a new foundation for Carrie’s character because who knows where this woman stands? I think we can all agree that Carrie is not really in control here, because she is still a definite mess. You can’t solve mental illness that easily! Especially when the well being of the United States is very much at stake. Saul is nervous about Carrie’s mental state (as he should be), but everyone continues to push forward in an attempt to complete the mission. Can Carrie be trusted to hold it together?
Back on U.S. turf, Brody is starting to unravel a little. Remember when he did that weird sex stuff with Jessica? I didn’t like that. I also was watching that scene with my parents (we watched the first season together, I apologize for nothing), and I think I started crying. Jessica thinks Dana was saying crazy drug things when she mentioned that her father is a Muslim, but Brody drops the bomb that he is actually Muslim and practices his faith in the creepy garage. The creepy garage is also the one place where Carrie forgot to install her secret illegal cameras, and for all we know Dexter Morgan may also have been operated from that sacred space, so there’s that. Jessica is terrified of Brody, terrified of his weird faith, and terrified of the things that Carrie screamed on her front lawn a few months ago. CARRIE IS MENTIONED IN THE BRODY HOUSE. Uh oh. Not good.
The next day, Brody heads to CIA headquarters for his meeting with David Estes, and he successfully jots down the codes Roya needed from him. Homeland is bound to put nuclear weapons into play this season, and I honestly hope they are all heat-missiles honed for Roya! I love Roya’s accent but her I hate her everything else; Brody always needs top-notch sleeper agents pushing him towards “success,” and I don’t know why I always cheer for Brody when he succeeds at rifling through secret information and remembers to pick up his journal containing the illegal codes at the very last second. Deep breaths.
Carrie has gone through her wholly unsuccessful pre-Beirut training, and her eyeballs are beginning to show more and more terrified energy as she passes through the Beirut airport with her doctored passport. Carrie is trying to keep things under control, but her first meeting with Saul is intercepted when scary men trailing Saul also notice Carrie; one of the men races after Carrie through a local market, but Carrie is smart enough to dump her ultra-secret cell phone in a random dumpster and bolt. We keep getting brief glimpses at the damage that Carrie’s “surgery” has done to her memory, but Carrie handles being tailed like the pro she was; after buying a new headdress from the market, she checks a handheld mirror before her pursuer is in range. Carrie takes him down in one practiced kick, screams that her husband needs help, and bolts from the market.
This scene would be important just to show Carrie turning into her badass world-class agent all over again, but Claire Danes elevates the material by flashing an erratic, unpredictable smile as she hurries from the scene. Carrie is such a brilliant character because she is so achingly real, and because Claire can so readily access every single one of her emotions. It’s wholly terrifying and beautiful, because Carrie seems so naked. That brief moment, her giddy recollection of a lost lifestyle, is everything that Carrie represents, and the biggest smile stretched across my face as well. Carrie is back. Claire Danes is doing something important by creating a heroine so openly broken. All hail the Queen of Television (further evidence: My So-Called Life and Temple Grandin).
Back home, Brody buries his Quran, as Jessica threw it on the floor during her enraged search through the garage; Jessica is not the Little Miss Understanding as she’d have you believe. A piece of Brody’s religion has been desecrated, and it must be buried. Dana helps her father, and the first episode of the second season of Homeland comes to a quiet end. We received a rather downbeat premiere here, but ultimately Homeland is showing that while the structure of the show feels like a political thriller, everything important happens in the little moments and little relationships. The chess pieces are in place. Fear rippled through the entire episode, as almost everyone was pushed to accept something very much outside of his or her comfort zone: fear of the unknown, fear of the foreign, fear of honest pain. Carrie and Brody are bound to collide again as the season continues, and their reunion will be explosive; these are two people of endlessly overlapping layers, played by two actors that are endlessly unpredictable in where they can go. I can’t wait to ride this rollercoaster with you all, especially if it ends with Dana wearing an oversized tie-dyed hoodie while strapping a bomb vest to her chest during a family vacation in Gettysburg. Many Patinkin, HOLLA.
[Photo Credit: Kent Smith/Showtime (2)]