With Breaking Bad, Boardwalk Empire, and Mad Men several seasons in and continuing to hit their stride, it’s safe to say we’re living in a golden age of television. Sure, for every Don Draper there’s a Honey Boo Boo, but if you appreciate rich, character driven-dramas, artfully designed period pieces and daring writing, it’s a good time to watch TV.
Last fall, Homeland was the new kid on the block, a political thriller that initially drew comparisons to 24 or Sleeper Cell. While the subject matter and high-tension scenarios do come from the same clay, viewers and critics alike instantly recognized that this was something different. Adapted from the Israeli show Hatufim, Homeland follows a rescued prisoner of war, Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis), who has been more or less turned against his own country and works for al-Qaeda. Amidst elections, terrorist plots, tense family reunions, and a severe case of posttraumatic stress, Brody somehow keeps the secret from everyone, save one.
One of the strongest female protagonists to grace our screens, Claire Danes’ Carrie Mathison is both Brody’s foe and confidant. As the volatile, slightly unhinged CIA agent, Danes plays Carrie with a raw honesty that explores bipolar disorder in a refreshingly human way. As Carrie circles closer to the truth about Brody, her job, relationships and sanity rapidly unravel – leaving her a broken woman by the first season’s end.
With its gripping story, multilayered characters, and career-making performances by Danes and Lewis, (not to mention the subtle charm of Mandy Patinkin as Saul Berenson, Carrie’s mentor and only ally), Homeland nearly swept this year’s Golden Globes and Emmy’s. As one of the most anticipated shows for the 2012 fall TV season, it has some lofty expectations to meet. Can the hit drama top its first season and develop from a ticking time bomb to its full potential?
If the season premiere is any indication, the answer is a resounding yes. When we last left our struggling heroine, Carrie had finally lost faith in her own reason after failing to prove Brody’s true allegiance. In a desperate bid to start over, Carrie submitted herself to shock therapy – erasing any minor detail that could have proven her right. Meanwhile, Brody’s suicide bomb plan had gone south. Instead of the easy way out, the conflicted would-be terrorist signed up to change the United States from the inside, as a congressman.
Fast-forward a few months and Carrie seems much more stable. She spends her days teaching ESL, gardening, living with her overprotective sister (Amy Hargreaves) and kooky dad (James Rebhorn). Congressman Brody has slyly slid into office with a big toothy grin and a cheerful patriotism that just might earn him a Vice Presidential nod. It’s as if the events of last season had never transpired – no illicit affairs, no bomb threats or rogue snipers. Everything seems as it should be.
Of course, what sort of psychological thriller would Homeland be if it didn’t shake its characters to the core? Brody, settled into a peacetime lull, finds a new co-conspirator in Roya Hammad (Zuleikha Robinson), an American journalist who also pledges her allegiance to Abu Nazir (Navid Negahban). The intriguing double agent convinces Brody to do some Alias-style spying on the CIA to prove to Nazir that he’s still on board. This new line opens up so many doors for Brody’s character, who could have easily fallen into a one-dimensional trap of, well, the reluctant villain.
Danes is still the true star of the show, and fans were most eager to find out how Carrie would be drawn back into the mix. When an off-the-record source in Lebenon tells the CIA that she will only talk to her recruiter, David Estes (David Harewood) has the nerve to ask Carrie back – just this once. Danes demonstrates with one facial expression why her work as Carrie is so breathtaking to watch. From her shock at Estes’ audacity to the look of utter elation as she stalks the streets of Beirut on her first mission back, Carrie’s immense scale of emotion reverberates through the audience, leaving them on the edge of their seat and rooting for Homeland’s flawed protagonist.
With a fresh crop of captivating stories, the sophomore season of Showtime’s political thriller shows no signs of slowing down. To its fans' delight, the first episode has already set a new course for its characters, wrought with danger and deceit at every turn. Can Carrie ever rejoin the CIA after her nervous breakdown? How far will Brody go to prove his allegiance to Abu Nazir? And most importantly, is it Sunday yet?
Why We Like It: rich, character-driven stories, amazing performances by Claire Danes, Damian Lewis and Mandy Patinkin