Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Review: HOMELAND, 2.1 - 'The Smile'

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

written by Alex Gansa & Howard Gordon / directed by Michael Cuesta

The best new drama of last year returns, laden with Emmy's from the preceding weekend. Homeland became a firm favourite of mine almost instantly and I was one of those who loved the excruciatingly tense finale—which, in my opinion, gave us enough of a climax while keeping the door ajar for more. This premiere was a fairly sedate hour compared to recent episodes in the show's lifespan, but that's okay with me. Rather like Breaking Bad, this is one of those shows that requires some patience in order for the thrilling pay-offs to work further down the line. What matters is the show can't be boring or predictable, and with actors like Claire Danes, Damian Lewis, Mandy Patinkin and Morena Baccarin it feels almost impossible for that to happen.

Six months after Nicholas Brody (Lewis) failed to detonate his suicide jacket thanks to a phone call from his daughter Dana (Morgan Saylor) that brought him back from the brink of infamy, it was very interesting to see where all the characters are in their lives. Brody accepted an offer to become a politician and is now a Congressman who's being linked to the Vice-Presidency; while Carrie (Danes) is recovering from electroconvulsive treatment and rebuilding her life away from the CIA, although she's called back into serving her country by former boss Estes (David Harewood) and mentor Saul (Patinkin) when one of their assets in Beirut refuses to talk to anyone but her. Providing some extra colour was the introduction of journalist Roya Hammad (Zuleikha Robinson), who works for terrorist leader Abu Nazir and wants Brody to steal a list of potential targets in the Middle East from Estes' office, and the reveal to Brody's wife Jessica (Baccarin) that her husband's secretly converted to Islam.

Last year's biggest concern was the chances of Homeland keeping its story going for a whole season. Many suspected it would fall apart once Brody's loyalty was decided on, but that wasn't the predicted stumbling block. Then, people became suspicious of how long Homeland's concept (a US war hero is working for terrorists) would remain viable over multiple seasons, and that's yet to be determined. But it's probably time we cut the writers some slack, because they appear to know what they're doing. We've lost some ambiguity with Brody's character now, but hopefully it'll be equally as fascinating to see him get pulled in two directions. He isn't a monster and doesn't want innocent people to die, but at the same time he knows the US government are responsible for war crimes in the Middle East that go unreported or get covered up, and strongly believes someone has to pay for this injustice.

The moral grey areas are what keep the show's heart beating and makes it so enriching and rewarding to watch. Is Brody simply a brainwashed puppet of Al Qaeda, or does he have a valid argument? It's to the show's credit that you still watch with a mixture of thoughts battling for supremacy. The link to his salvation still appears to be daughter Dana, who now shows great maturity in her beliefs about political issues (taking a statesmanlike position at a school debate about Iran; later helping her dad bury his Quran after it's desecrated when his wife throws it on the floor).

It was also great to see a very different Carrie, now she's spent half a year away from her job, recovering with her family after her bipolar breakdown. The needs of the show dictate that she has to get involved in the world of espionage again, and so far it's plausible enough that Estes and Saul would need her help with a tight-lipped CIA asset, but will she ever get her job back full-time?  Her condition won't magically go away, and it would difficult to swallow an exception being made in her particular case. The writers certainly have a problem to overcome, seeing as the show would crumble without a government agency connection. For now, I'm happy to accept watching a rusty Carrie out in the field helping Saul, and got a kick from the sequence where she burst into a broad smile after managing to lose a tail in a crowded marketplace; a brief flash that the old Carrie is returning.

Overall, "The Smile" was a confident and interesting return for the Emmy-winning Homeland, that now has a weight of expectation on its shoulders. You have to accept the unlikelihood that Brody would be so close to becoming the President's running mate in the next election (a mere six months after he even became a politician), and there's a chance the show will visibly struggle to get Carrie back into a position of authority, but one of the great things about Homeland is its unpredictability and, while it's only natural to have concerns and doubts, there's plenty of evidence the writers can maintain this story. I just hope Showtime don't spoil things by renewing Homeland way past its natural end-game, as it's still very hard to imagine this show going past three seasons. Or do I just lack vision?

30 September 2012 / Showtime