SPOILER WARNING – CONTAINS DETAILS OF HOMELAND SEASON ONE AND THE FIRST EPISODE OF SEASON TWO
The first season of Showtime’s Homeland was one of the most popular and critically acclaimed dramas in recent times, so it’s no surprise that the second season has been so widely anticipated. The twists and turns of the first series, combined with its gritty realism made Homeland stand out from some other hammed-up American shows and gave a stark view of American life and politics, pointing out some common prejudices and exposing the hypocritical hype machine that American politics is. Claire Danes divided opinion as the obsessive and insane Carrie, while Damian Lewis as Nicholas Brody was dark and mysterious – a complex and morally ambiguous character that won Lewis the ‘Best Actor’ award at this year’s Emmys. The first season’s complex and thrilling plot was a refreshing change from the usual patriotic, macho American shows such as 24: It was brutal and tense without being over-the-top or contrived. The second season has a tough act to follow.
Season two starts with Carrie picking vegetables from her garden, and smiling serenely to her family – a new and improved Carrie after her nervous breakdown at the end of season one. She seems to have mostly lost her mental side, and is on drugs to take the edge off. Her understanding father and well-meaning sister are very happy with her recovery. Meanwhile, Sergeant Brody is now Congressman Brody with dark wood office furniture and a shiny new suit. The Vice President asks him to be his running partner in the next presidential election. His family are proud of him, and everything seems to be going so well. The main characters have mostly recovered from last season’s exploits and are all living their own separate lives in peace. But of course, it doesn’t last long.
One of the things Homeland does so well is to suddenly crank up the pace. The first surprise comes through (in typical Hollywood style) a sinister British character with ties to the first season’s antagonist Abu Nazir. This is the point that regular Homeland viewers start licking their lips. The suddenness and boldness of this character’s arrival is fantastic. She arrives and the tone of the story immediately turns from a tame family drama to the thrilling espionage fare seen in the first series. Homeland is not afraid to make the shit hit the fan.
The tone of the story immediately turns from a tame family drama to the thrilling espionage fare seen in the first series
Carrie’s story in the first episode is perhaps the most interesting. Her swift change from idyllic and peaceful English teacher to snappy, psychotic mentalist reveals that in reality, not much has changed. After some superficial protests and minor bitterness, she gets pulled back into front line duty by the CIA source. Her rustiness and apparent nervousness disappear after she is chased through the streets of Beirut, rekindling her love for the job. The reappearance of her neurotic smile shows that the insane genius Carrie is not too far off.
Homeland wastes no time in getting the main story back on track – re-establishing Brody as the sleeper agent reluctantly controlled by Al Qaeda, and Carrie as the neurotic CIA operative that made them both such interesting characters. Brody’s reluctance to carry out the orders of Abu Nazir and Carrie’s impending revival as the prodigious CIA nutcase bring back the main themes of the first series, but with the added developments of Brody’s new position as Congressman (and soon-to-be Vice President), and Carrie’s apparent rehabilitation. The episode manages to convince us that Brody’s connection to Abu Nazir is still an imminent threat, and that the connection between Carrie and Brody is still there through the source in Beirut. Carrie and Brody start the episode worlds apart, but by the end could be set to meet again. The story’s main aspects have stayed the same, but the stakes are higher.
This episode shows off some of the themes that helped make the first series so up-to-date: The display of ignorance and intolerance by some of the characters and the show’s ability to make a fictional story seem so current. Mrs. Brody’s reaction after discovering her husband’s faith is how the show points out this mentality. The understanding and compassion of Brody’s daughter here and in the final scene are also great additions to the storyline, creating new tension within the Brody household. The scenes of protest in Beirut are impeccably timed too, showing that the show’s producers aren’t afraid to mimic reality.
Homeland’s dark suspense and well-developed characters are still very much intact from last season. The first episode reminds us that there are still a lot of twists and turns to come, including re-establishing the volatile relationship between Brody and Carrie. Season one’s unpredictability and complex story made it one of the best things on TV and I for one can’t wait for the second to get going. Setting up a new season is never easy, but this episode lays the foundations for a potentially amazing story. We thought Homeland couldn’t get any better. If this episode is a sign of things to come, it just might.
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