While I caught the Homeland bug last year like many of you, I had a reservation. Not one about the first season itself, which offered compelling, moreish and unpredictable (yet credible) drama, but about the show's longevity. Built around a riveting is-he-isn't-he concept, the series was initially driven by the ambiguity surrounding a rescued soldier who might be a turned-by-the-baddies sleeper agent. And while most people would just sit back and enjoy this unreservedly, I found myself worrying that the concept couldn't be stretched for more than a season.
Happily, it seems like I was wrong. It's early days but even the latter stages of season one moved beyond the simple premise into a more stretchable will-he-won't-he situation - and the show remained gripping regardless. With season two's feverishly-awaited opening, The Smile, showrunners Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa concentrate on setting things up for the run ahead, but they do so in a way which suggests that Homeland is far from the one-concept pony I mistakenly pegged it as. More intelligent and well-crafted Obama-era spy thrills, here we come.
That said, Homeland is the sort of series which takes its time to build towards remote-clenching tension. Not quite to the same ultra-measured degree as the also-splendid Breaking Bad (which, for the last few years, has typically ‘built’ for four or five episodes), but it’s far more patient and carefully-crafted than the actiony likes of 24 (“The Thinking Man’s 24’ is quite a good comparison for this show). Here, the order of the day is very much that duty once again comes ‘a calling, as both Claire Danes’ Carrie and Damian Lewis’ Brody are called upon by the respective causes that they thought they’d put to bed. Spoilers, for anyone seeking intel, are to follow.
Following the (quite literally) shocking treatment which she received after her bipolar frenzy and subsequent binning from the CIA (ungrateful beggars), Carrie has taken to gardening. But while she’s pretending to be content with her new life, cooking vegetable lasagnes and teaching English to foreigners, we know that the life and spark from her is missing. But in true Michael Corleone style, just when she thought she was out, the CIA pull her right back in, as an old asset with vital intel is refusing to speak to anyone who isn’t Carrie. Stick that in your deep-voiced pipe and smoke it David Harewood’s Estes.
Soon enough she’s back in the foreign field (not permanently mind you, let’s hope that writers find a semi-plausible explanation for that), with dark hair, contacts and a jittery disposition which hints that she’s struggling to readjust. In one gripping sequence, however, we see Carrie outsmart a pursuer through headscarf misdirection and expert knee-to-groin tactics, but what’s more impressive is a small moment afterwards. Walking away, the former agent’s face lights up as we see the life and spark return to her face, and the ever-impressive Danes plays the moment brilliantly. Quite why she’s not regarded more highly in the industry is genuinely beyond me.
As for Congressman Brody, he’s – alert! Slight plausibility crack ahead – on the verge of a run at being vice-president (just go with it). Thing is, it turns out that Abu Nazir isn’t quite finished with him and soon has a go-between issuing Brody with some morally-questionable orders. This, it seems, will be the direction that season two will take for his character as a whole, with Damian Lewis’ soldier-turned-politician caught between a moral rock and a Nazir-influenced hard place.
On the home front, this inevitably ends up causing problems too, with Brody’s increasingly-unlikeable wife Jess (Morena Baccarin) blowing her lid when daughter Dana (Morgan Saylor) lets slip that daddy practices another religion. It’s here that the brilliance of Homeland is really evident, as scenes like the one where Brody has to decide whether he tells Jess the truth or let Dana come off as a liar make for top-drawer drama. Elsewhere, there are a few other excellent scenes too (such as Carrie’s let-not-bother-being-polite reunion with Estes), so not bad for a season opener. My only complaint? Not enough of Mandy Patinkin’s Saul and his mesmerising beard.
But what about you guys? What did you make of it? Do you think Homeland can last now that there’s less ambiguity surrounding Brody? Or do you think this new ambiguity will do just fine?