When Homeland was awarded just about every major Emmy this past week it meant a few things (some of which you can listen to on our Waiver Wired Podcast, ‘A Short Commercial Break’). For starters it meant that, though Homeland’s first season was spectacular, the Emmy’s made a huge mistake by overlooking Breaking Bad and Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad’s 4th season was one of the best in the history of television). But the award also welcomed Showtime into the realm of elite television, recognized Claire Danes’ incomparable performance (there really isn’t another female lead this unique and well drawn on TV) and upped expectations for Season 2. After last season’s heart pounding finale one might understand if the writing staff wanted to get things started slowly to build towards another explosive (pun-intended) finish but they had other things in mind with the excellent premiere, “The Smile.”
Season One of Homeland worked so well because the writers managed to pace the central conflict perfectly. The question, “Is Sgt. Nicholas Brody, returning POW and war hero, actually a turned terrorist” played out over the course of the entire season and Damian Lewis (Brody) kept you unsure of the character’s motives at all times. This was exponentially complicated when Carrie, the agent obsessed with revealing the truth, got too close and developed a complicated relationship with her target. The big question coming into this season, for me at least, is how does the show stay afloat with the central question answered? In a way they managed to ask the same question away but in a very different context.
“The Smile” opens a moderate amount of time after the events of the finale. Carrie is recovering from the electro shock treatment she received for her bipolarity and her short term memory loss has erased the last second revelation that she was right about Brody. Brody, on the other hand, has advanced from newly elected Congressman to potential Vice Presidential candidate. We know from the events of last season that he plans to use his new influence to aid terrorist Abu Nazir but the details of this arrangement aren’t clear until he receives a visit from “a friend” who, much to Brody’s stammering chagrin, confronts him about his obligations in his office and asks him to steal some information from David Estes’ (Carrie’s old boss) office. Brody emphatically reminds the woman he won’t aid in the death of innocent civilians but she reminds him of Isa’s death. Brody’s initial response to the woman was wonderfully acted as he tried desperately to seem nonchalant and shocked before becoming more panicked. The question now seems to be how far Brody is willing to go in his new role. His loyalty to his family was part of the reason he survived the finale of last season and it’s complicated his place as a politician/terrorist insider. Though terrorist may the wrong word, his “friend” reminds us when she says there’s a difference between terrorism and “justified acts of retaliation.” It’s redundant to point out that Homeland is dealing with current issues but the show really does have its finger on the pulse of modern conflict. The collision of politics, fanaticism, war and the people who control all of it are at the heart of the show and it has a real knack for it.
Carrie’s story is a bit sadder. She’s starting to get her life back together, teaching english to arab speaking immigrants, tending a garden and living with her family. Things seem like they might be okay for our intrepid CIA agent until an old contact shows up out of the blue telling the agency they’ll only speak to Carrie. Against his better judgement the criminally underrated Saul (Mandy Patinkin) asks her to give three days of her time back overseas helping with an operation. It’s a tidy solution to the “how will Carrie be involved question” but it has a lot of dramatic juice because she’s clearly not in a stable enough place to take on this sort of task and she holds a lot of animosity towards her former employer. By the end of the episode she starts to get her groove back, losing a tail via a swift knee to the crotch and walking away with an unhinged “heeeeeeeeere’s johnny” smile. That smile was a small character moment but it was a reminder of what makes Claire Danes so fantastic in this role. She is so expressive with her face and covers a huge range of emotions with believability while balancing a great balance of strength, skill and vulnerability.
“The Smile” started things off in a very positive direction that has me excited for future episodes. I’m not sure what will inevitably bring our two leads back together but each is embroiled in plots that have my attention and will highlight what makes these two characters so great. Nicholas Brody’s very ineresting brand of lying and confusing loyalties is enhanced by his new political office and avoids retreading last season. Carrie is now on the loose in a job she was both missing and not remotely ready for. Homeland‘s got its Emmy and it’s not letting go without a fight.
Questions Going Forward
- Brody’s moody teenage daughter, Dana, can tell something is up, but just how much does she know? The scene where father and daughter bury the Koran was oddly sweet and showcases the shows complicated morality. Will she catch on, after all Carrie technically told her the truth, or is she just going to be the catalyst for Jessica figuring out something is up?
- Why did Carrie’s contact suddenly emerge after all these years looking to talk? Is her information of an attack for real?
- Who is this terrorist reporter lady and how does she fit in going forward?
- Two hair questions: Does Claire Danes looks better as a brunette and if so will she keep the new color? And will Jessica opt for the short hair from season 1 or revert to her Firefly days when she was everyone’s favorite space hooker?