October 1, 2012



HOMELAND:  Sunday 10PM on Showtime

WHERE WE WERE:  Wincing, as bipolar CIA agent Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) underwent electroshock therapy, which we knew was going to make her forget the proof she had that former POW, current Congressional candidate and all-around American hero Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis) was actually a deep-cover terrorist, working for Abu Nazir (Navid Negahban).

WHERE WE ARE:  Enough time has passed so that Carrie, no longer institutionalized but let go from the CIA after her meltdown last season, is trying to lead a quiet life, staying with her parents–her father (James Reborn) is also bipolar, so he knows what she’s dealing with–while teaching a class in English As a Second Language to Arabic-speaking students.  Meanwhile, Brody has won his Congressional campaign, and in fact the current Vice-President, William Walden (Jamey Sheridan), himself a former head of the Agency, is floating Brody’s name as a potential VP candidate when Walden runs for the big job.  This delights Brody’s wife Jessica (Morena Baccarin), who’s very much enjoying her new celebrity life, but not his teen daughter Dana (Morgan Saylor).

If Carrie tends to her garden and teaches, there’s no show, so… a former potential spy that Carrie had been cultivating when she worked in Beirut half a dozen years ago has come forward to say that she has information about a possible terrorist attack on the US, but she’ll only discuss it with Carrie.  So very warily, David Estes (David Harewood), the honcho who fired Carrie, and Carrie’s mentor Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin) bring her back temporarily for a quick visit to the Mideast, which is heating up even more than it usually is because Israel has (with American approval if not support) recently attacked several Iranian nuclear development facilities.

Meanwhile, Brody is dealing with his own “I thought I was out–but they pulled me back in” situation, when reporter Roya Hammad (Zuleikha Robinson) approaches him for an interview and turns out to be a representative of Abu Nazir, who wants Brody to break in to David Estes’s safe and copy a list of potential targets in the US.  This wasn’t what Brody bargained for last season, when he agreed to use his influence to provide high-level political pressure on behalf of the terrorists’s cause, but Roya convinces him that with Israel’s bombings, the area is now in a state of war,and it’s no time to be squeamish.

It was something of a miracle that Homeland high-wired its way through a first season that seemed likely to slip too far in one direction or another in virtually every episode.  Every time you thought the series was about to become too melodramatic, contrived, soapy or reliant on action sequences, it proved that it knew exactly what it was doing, and remained thrilling, intelligent entertainment to the very end of its season finale.  The 2nd season premiere, written by (US) series creators Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa, and directed by Michael Cuesta, is mostly back in fine form, although there are a few nagging doubts.

The Carrie plotline couldn’t be humming along better.  Danes, of course, is already giving a classic performance, and her mix of terror, bitterness, desperation and glee throughout the episode at the thought of getting back into the game was glorious.  The episode was titled “Smile” in honor of the expression on her face at its conclusion, when she’d successfully beaten and eluded a pursuer (against Saul’s orders, of course), and that blissful, possibly out-of-control grin was genuinely something to see.  Brody’s story, though, felt a bit shakier.  Did it really make sense that Abu Nazir would risk such a unique asset, one with access to the highest possible level of the US government, on a safe-cracking exercise?  Had Brody been caught–and he was exposed with that safe open for a very long time–there could have been no possible excuse or cover, he would have been burned forever.  And the specific risk seemed crazy high, dependent entirely on Roya’s ability to flirt with Estes and no one looking in on Brody when he was red-handed. Gordon and Ganza will always carry a bit of the 24 taint with them–a giant hit show but one addicted to implausibility–and this felt a little like a Jack Bauer move.

In fairness, the rest of the Brody plot was handled far better, particularly the tangled relationship between Brody and his wife and daughter, the latter of whom blurted out that Brody is in fact a Muslim (much to Jessica’s furious shock), and then in a very ambiguous scene helped him to bury the Koran Jessica had thrown on the floor.

Homeland is trying to do something few American television series would ever even think of attempting:  telling a story rooted in character, reflecting believable political reality and providing edge-of-the-seat suspense all at the same time.  It’s such a tough feat that pulling it off once won the show a deserved Emmy.  The suspense this time around will be as much about the show’s ability to maintain that quality as its narrative.


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."