The new season of Homeland has begun, but for many of us the hangover from last year's nonsensical series remains. A show that started out with so much promise quickly turned in to an absurd action thriller full of unbelievable storylines and unlikable characters. With ears still ringing from the explosion at CIA headquarters in the second season finale, Homeland has a lot of work to do to regain its accolade as the thinking person's 24.
Perhaps it made sense then that the third season premiere, Tin Man Is Down, was a subdued and sober episode that spent time exploring the consequences of Langley being attacked and Brody (Damian Lewis) being exposed as a traitor. Carrie (Claire Danes) finds herself in the firing line as she faces a Senate Select Committee looking in to how the CIA failed to stop the attack. Lambasted for her actions and accused of being at fault, Carrie struggles to maintain her composure and not blurt out her belief that Brody is innocent of the atrocity. As someone who is obsessed with stopping terrorists and protecting her country, the attack is not only a professional embarrassment but also a personal bruise on her own failings. As Senator Lockhart (Tracy Letts) states, "How can the CIA protect others when it can't protect itself".
In Carrie's reasoning, it was the medication that was blinding her judgement, and so staying off the pills will allow her to regain her focus. Whilst she initially appears on top of things, the cracks soon start to emerge. First she has rough drunken sex with a stranger who looks strikingly similar to Brody, before exploding with rage at a newspaper leak saying that an unnamed female agent slept with the now fugitive. Her splenetic attack on Saul (Mandy Patinkin) and his colleagues do her reputation no good, especially when her former mentor is struggling to keep things under control in his new position as head of the CIA.
Whilst it's a shame that one of the Brit contingent, David Harewood, bowed out at the end of season two, it's great to see Saul step into his shoes as the chief of the intelligence agency; providing us with even more of his beard-stroking mutterings than usual. He now has the mysterious Dar Adal by his side, played with calculated menace by F. Murray Abraham. Whilst adding a revered actor such as Abraham to the main cast is good for the show, his character seems too obviously shadowy and manipulative by Saul's side.
A retaliatory strike on six CIA targets has been orchestrated, and Saul is left with the difficult decision of choosing whether or not to execute the plan. This allows for our only moment of action in the episode, as Quinn (Rupert Friend) in full James Bond mode, infiltrates a Venezuelan secret base before ruthlessly murdering the target. The killings aren't glamourised, and when Quinn spins round to shoot someone behind the glass doors, it turns out to be the child of the target. It's a surprising twist, providing the show with some much-needed uncomfortable questions over the extent the CIA should go to protect its citizens. As each target - Tin Man, Lion, Scarecrow - is taken down, does this leave the triumphant CIA as the wicked Witch of the West?
Revelations and Betrayals
Also under intense scrutiny is Brody's family, who have struggled to cope with the shocking revelations of the former war hero. Dana's suicide attempt, and subsequent rehab, is another interesting direction for the show to take. Her sexual attraction to one of the other teens there is less so, and we'll have to hope it doesn't end in anything like last year's exasperating hit and run story. It's also a shame that the suicide attempt was revealed through clunky dialogue, with every conversation amongst Jessica, Dana and Chris continuing to seem strained and artificial.
Unfortunately, the 'lithium lecture' that Carrie received from her father was equally clunky. We know what the CIA officer is like when not on meds, so why did we have to be reminded the effect is has? Contrast this with the subtle way we saw Saul crack under pressure before taking out the targets and betraying Carrie. The head of the intelligence had promised to not throw Carrie "under a bus", but in the end he sacrifices his protégé to save the skin of the intelligence agency. With the Senate committee now aware of both Carrie's relationship with Brody and her bi-polar disorder, her career, and friendship to Saul, appears to be over.
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