September 30, 2013

THE SKED Season Premiere Review: “Homeland”


HOMELAND:  Sunday 9PM on Showtime

The obsessive charts are back up on Carrie Mathison’s living room wall, and while that may not be good news for Carrie, it’s great for the rest of us.  After a divisive second season that turned too much on 24-style action and Abu Nazir’s tortuous plan to make Nicholas Brody a patsy for the bombing at the CIA, HOMELAND has returned looking much like the extraordinary drama it was for its first season and a half.

The strength of Homeland comes not from dazzling plotting (at which, last season suggests, it doesn’t excel) but in the weight it gives to the human cost of espionage.  We rejoin the story about 60 days after the CIA bombing, and find a cast universally devastated by the fallout of the attack.  Carrie (Claire Danes, already back on her award-caliber track) blames herself for missing Abu Nazir’s plot, and has decided it was the fault of the lithium she was on for her bipolar disorder and the way it muffled her thinking.  Determined not to let that happen again, she’s stopped taking her medication–she’s “self-medicating” with a mix of exercise, sleep, tequila and anonymous sex, much as she was when she had her last relapse.  Her father (James Rebhorn), who has the same disease and knows the signs, can’t budge her from her ill-advised plan.

Making matters worse:  as Brody’s case officer, Carrie is the chief witness before a Congressional committee headed by unsympathetic Senator Andrew Lockhart (new regular Tracy Letts, winner of Tonys as an actor and as writer of August: Osage County).  Lockhart is ready to shut down the CIA and put its agents in jail, and someone at the Agency–suspiciously pragmatic Dar Adal (F. Murray Abraham), back as a senior advisor at the Agency, swears it’s not him–is leaking damaging information about Carrie to the committee and the press, disclosing Brody’s secret immunity deal and his sexual relationship with Carrie.  Suddenly she’s the patsy.  In the episode’s shattering conclusion, even Saul Berenson, her mentor and the show’s moral voice, now the precarious interim CIA Director, throws her under the bus to the committee, despite having sworn he never would, while she watches his testimony live on TV.  One can only imagine what this will do to her.

The script, written by Executive Producer Alex Gansa and Co-Executive Producer Barbara Hall, takes a very interesting tack in largely splitting the hour’s focus between Carrie and Brody’s daughter Dana (Morgan Saylor).  Dana experienced her father’s apparent guilt in the CIA bombing (she’s also aware he nearly set off a suicide bomb in the Vice President’s bunker) as a very personal betrayal, and she attempted suicide afterwards.  Now she’s out of the clinic (where she met a boy almost certain to be bad news), and apart from her personal issues, she has to deal with her mother Jessica (Morena Baccarin), the family’s financial problems and a complete loss of privacy.  Equating Carrie and Dana as the show’s poles of suffering–two bright, troubled victims of Brody and events beyond their control–brings a different angle to the show, and to Brody.  (Damian Lewis doesn’t appear in the episode, although he’s still a cast regular.)

Even the episode’s big action scene comes with a price.  In order to start restoring the reputation of the Agency, Saul reluctantly agrees to an operation to simultaneously assassinate six senior members of a new Al Queda cell, and the part of the attack we witness is carried out in Caracas by Peter Quinn (Rupert Friend).  The operation is a success, Quinn goes all James Bond on the terrorist and his entire security team, but the collateral damage is terrible:  he also unwittingly murders his target’s young son (just as Abu Nazir’s son was killed in a bombing).

Danes and Patinkin continue to be phenomenal, but the entire cast, especially Baccarin and Saylor, excels.  Lesli Linka Glatter’s direction is gripping whether the scene is an extended dialogue sequence like Carrie’s Congressional testimony, or the rapid-fire attack in Caracas.  Even without Brody on the scene, the emotional pull of Homeland is enormous and its tone seems to be restored.  It all promises a season of one of TV’s top series back at its best.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."