The exciting thing about reviewing a show like Homeland that is in its sophomore season is that it’s so incredibly full of potential. Unlike a new show finding its footing (which Homeland never had to do — it had one of the best drama pilots I’ve ever seen) or a show struggling to keep up with interesting narratives past its prime, I don’t think anyone would believe that Homeland had already peaked, or that it would provide any disappointments this year. Admittedly, it’s a show that might struggle to keep its central conflict (between Carrie and Brody) going for many seasons longer, but for now it’s still deep in verdant storytelling. After the first season’s heart-pounding finale, some (myself included) may have suspected that this year would start off with a slow roll or a subtle build. But nope, Homeland has returned with the stakes as raised as ever, getting our blood pressure up much too high for an opening episode. For more, hit the jump.
“The Smile” drops us a little forward in time from where we left off in in Season One — Brody is already comfortable as a Freshman Congressman, and Carrie is living a quiet and restful life at home with her family. Serenity doesn’t last long for either of them, though. Both are forced to start balancing conflicting parts of their lives and personalities.
Let’s start with Carrie, who appears to be recovering well (even though her father suspects her Lithium dose is too high — little moments like these and his mention of the side-effect of not being able to read when he was on too much Lithium that help make the show’s already exceptional portrayal of bipolar disorder even more competent and real). In my 5 Questions For This Season I wondered if Carrie would remember about Brody’s connection to Issa after her electroshock therapy, and it seems that so far that remains buried in her subconscious. As for her connection with the CIA, that return happened fast. She doesn’t have her job back, but they still need her because of the unique connections she made during her time there.
Though Carrie is (rightfully) at odds with her recovery versus her commitment to not just her patriotism but to what was her life’s work, what sort of “normal life” would she ever have otherwise? Without a focus on something to keep her brilliant mind occupied, what peace would she ever really find? It’s something her father clearly understands given his own battle with bipolar, and why he overrules Carrie’s long-suffering sister regarding the trip to Beriut. Is Carrie ready? Maybe not, as we see her struggle with her memory as well as her confidence, but could she ever reasonably turn her back on this life, either?
Brody faced similar quandaries this week, being split between his role as the most upstanding citizen in the country (so everyone believes) and being a terrorist. Or, as he is corrected about, not a “terrorist” but “someone who commits acts of justified retaliation.” That Vice President Walden has floated Brody’s name as a running-mate is no surprise, not narratively or within the real world. Perhaps not enough credit is given to Homeland‘s astute feel for politics, which correctly features a man who had to repeat the tenth grade become (potentially) catapulted to the second-highest office in the land on the wings of patriotism because he was captured and tortured in the line of duty (admirable, absolutely. But does that make him right for office?) That irony is the crux of the series, that a country’s actions (America or elsewhere) do have repercussions not just abroad but at home. Look at all of the informants on the series and in real life looking to help thwart attacks on America — they aren’t pleased with the way their countries, or factions within it, are behaving, either. There will always be two sides.
Homeland highlighted this dichotomy in a self-aware Quaker meeting at Dana’s school, where students stood up and were able to voice their opinions about terrorism and other extreme issues without judgement (except from Dana). But the scene was elevated from the preachy by Dana’s outburst that her father is a Muslim … played off as laughs by the other students, as is so often the case when Brody tells a truth about his own life. It’s so absurd to consider it has to be false, right? Except …
As for Homeland taking it slow to start the season, nothing could be further from the truth. We had Carrie feature in (finally) a real “spy thriller” situation where she regained her confidence by losing her tail in a breathlessly badass way. Elsewhere, Brody was tasked by a “friend of Nazir” to steal the codes for upcoming attacks from Estes office. Even though we could reasonably presume that Brody would get away with it, nothing is certain on Homeland. In the same episode we saw Brody have to admit his adherence of Islam to Jessica. Secrets come out. It wouldn’t be unheard of for Brody to get turned into a triple spy at this point. But Brody did get the information, but how long that will appease Nazir remains to be seen. Still, the sequence was heart-pounding.
Obviously, it’s far too early to tell how well Homeland is doing overall in its sophomore year, but if its premiere is any indication, we’re in for another fantastic ride.
Episode Rating: A
Musings and Miscellanea:
— Dana is always creeping around, isn’t she? Her brother is hardly so inquisitive. The moment where she helped her father bury his Qur’an was a really sweet and interesting one, though. Perhaps there is a part of her that knows that accepting her father and keeping him close keeps him out of trouble.
— Brody is so damn good not only at lying but at deflecting curveballs, as Walden says. The way he just calmly admits things to Jessica was so ace, and dismissing Carrie’s rantings as her being mentally ill … I still think Bryan Cranston deserved the Emmy for Breaking Bad, but damn, Damian Lewis is pretty amazing in how he plays the layers of Brody.
— One of the best things about Brody’s character is how he always mixes truth with lies of omission (or he tells the truth but, as mentioned above, it seems so absurd that no one believes it). Such great commentary on our prejudices, even positive ones. We believe what we want to believe!
— So now it seems we have moved out of Iraq and into issues with Israel and Iran.
— I imagine Carrie is probably quite a good English teacher.