First, a confession, so everyone knows where everyone is situated: contrary to what seems to be conventional wisdom, I did not find the second season of Homeland to be an unwatchable travesty. Too much of Dana and the snotty VP’s kid? Sure. Some occasional inscrutability? Fine. Not enough Saul? Always, always, always. But Brody is still one of television’s most fascinating enigmas, the battle between tenuousness and strength in Carrie remains riveting, and the “second 9/11” at Langley was an unexpected and effective reset button for the show—one whose effects are still being felt, two months later, as season three begins.
Those events are, of course, revisited in one of the show’s typically exhaustive “previously on Homeland” summaries—this one running nearly three minutes. (If there were ever a polar opposite of those laughably vague “On the next Mad Men” promos, it’s these.) They haven’t even started repairs and rebuilding at Langley—punishment, acting director Saul says, to which his new right-hand man Dar Adal replies, “Punished, Saul? They wanna put us out of business.” (F. Murray Abraham will apparently be more prominent this season, and good for that.)
Part of that process is the predictably contentions hearings with Senate subcommittees, the first of which finds Carrie testifying in a closed-door session. In it, both those present and those of us watching are brought up to speed: it’s been two months, Brody’s whereabouts are still unknown, and, as we might have expected, things are going to get sticky for her. First, the ringleader, Senator Lockhart (played by Tracy Letts, the brilliant writer of August: Osage County and Killer Joe), has gotten his hands on the memorandum detailing the deal the CIA made with Brody (“I’m asking her just how cozy the CIA was with a traitor who went on to kill 219 Americans”); it’s clearly been leaked, activating that dusty old subplot. Letting on how much the agency knew when is tricky enough; the truth about her relationship with Brody isn’t going to last much longer.
The uncovering of that truth is, frankly, a juicy bit of business that I wouldn’t have minded them pulling out a little longer; as a character, Carrie is at her most interesting when she’s thinking on her feet, improvising and sweating, so her taking the Fifth feels like an easy out and the leak about the affair plays as too much, too soon. But it does get her and Saul going at each other, which promises some explosive interactions, from the pointed “Brody was your operation, Saul” to the more direct “Fuck you, fuck all of you.”
Questions of pacing aside, this is all pretty good stuff. The other half of the episode is shakier. It’s clear early on that we’re not going to see much of Brody, for the time being, but at the very least, a check-in would’ve been welcome (and it doesn’t seem nuts to have expected one, presumably at the conclusion, or some similarly dramatic point). With him out of the picture, we’re stuck with his dull ol’ family. In the months since we last saw them, Dana attempted suicide, and while she may’ve gotten better in the hospital (that remains to be seen), she did find a skeezy new boyfriend to send naked selfies to, and, presumably, to take up too much screen time.
It’s not that these scenes are without interest—the question of what a presumed terrorist’s family holds together (emotionally and financially) is a fertile one, and the moment where Dana registers that Jess redid the bathroom (and Jess’s expression as she realizes it) is a mini-symphony of guilt and regret.
But it’s hard for the show to maintain a balance between the familial melodrama and all the tri-continental assassination operations and blowhard Senators and Saul just cold throwing Carrie under the bus (“She’s unstable… she’s been diagnosed as bipolar, a condition she concealed from her superiors for over ten years.” Shady, Saul). With the psychological complexity of Brody’s character and the startling intensity of Damien Lewis’s acting removed from that mix, Homeland may be in for a wobbly third year.