Well, well, well. Sunday night is easily the craziest night for high quality television, but the only show I’ve been truly waiting for with bated breath is Showtime’s Homeland. Last year I named it the best show in the first annual Bitch Awards (TVAngie named it second best) and last week the show took home the Emmy for Best Drama. So clearly the show’s sophomore season would never be able to live up to the hype, right?
Let’s bitch it out…In many ways Homeland is a show about two people: Claire Danes’ Carrie Mathison, the former CIA agent who suffers from bipolar disorder and Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis), the man who would be vice-president. Both are electrifying in different ways, and I often spend my time watching the show waiting for the next time they’ll interact. Although it doesn’t happen in the second season opener, the two are clearly on a collision course back into each other’s lives, though the details of the how and why aren’t immediately clear.
For this opener I find myself once again drawn to Carrie. The scenes in which she refuses to speak with David Estes (David Harewood), the man who embarassed and fired her last season, are powerful for demonstrating just how deeply she identified with her job at the CIA. Carrie has convinced herself that she has no place in that world, even though she practically locks herself in her room just knowing that there’s conflict brewing in the Middle East in an earlier scene.
What ‘The Smile’ does best is re-establish the relationships that make Homeland work: the way Carrie calms down whenever she speaks or sees her mentor, Saul (the incomparable Mandy Patinkin) is a prime example. A lot of the premiere is spent on this kind of character “heavy lifting” – reminding us who these people are and why we want to spend 50 minutes with them each week.
The relationship between Brody and his daughter, Dana (Morgan Saylor) is another example of this. She was the one who prevented him from detonating the bomb in the S1 finale and in the premiere she’s there for him again: in spirit, defending Muslims at the posh new high school she’s forced to attend, and physically, at episode’s end when she helps her father to bury the desecrated Qur’an. It’s telling that she doesn’t judge her father’s choice of religion, exemplifying the polar opposite point of view of her mother, Jessica (Morena Baccarin). I love that the show makes us side with Brody during their confrontation in the garage: Jessica comes off as intolerant and power hungry (which essentially means we’re sympathizing with a terrorist! But Lewis makes it work!).
Taking a step back, Jessica’s reaction is understandable for someone caught unaware. It is telling, however, that she reiterates that “it [his Muslim worship] can’t happen”. She reacts as though his faith and his beliefs can simply be set-aside, which is ironic considering she’s suggesting he do the same thing for her faith and beliefs – in things like the American Way, and the Marines, and the country’s political system.
It’s an interesting contrast, but on a purely character based level, I wonder if this is the show planting a seed about Jessica’s future. I don’t think the show’s going to tip its hand about where its going, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Jessica becomes a casualty in Brody’s affairs with Abu Nazir (Navid Negahban, seen only in photos). She’s already well on her way to distrusting him, so it could just be a matter of time before she discovers something incriminating.
- Where Carrie’s scenes are frequently chaotic and confusing (especially the close-ups of her face as she goes through customs in the Beirut airport), Brody’s have a calm serenity, even as his world comes crumbling down when ‘journalist’ Roya Hammad (Zuleikha Robinson) comes calling on behalf of Nazir. I quite like Hammad, who makes a strong impression in just a few scenes. I particularly liked her handling of Brody’s wishy-washy attitude towards immediate action, reminding him that they’re at war and he needs to pick a side. Very George W. Bush, there, Homeland
- Carrie’s Beirut handler, General Joy Mendez (Valerie Cruz) is also a strong addition to the show’s roster. It’s hard to get a feel for who she is, but I like that she’s empathetic but still tough on Carrie, which is exactly what the former CIA agent needs until she’s reunited with Saul. Looking forward to getting to know Mendez better moving forward
- I know we’re due to see more of Virgil (David Marciano) – Carrie’s spy friend – but he doesn’t appear in the episode. There’s also no sign of Mike (Diego Klattenhoff). I’m far more invested in Virgil’s relationship with Carrie, and never warmed to Mike, who felt like an increasingly unnecessary complication in the latter half of S1. I’d be fine if he didn’t return
- Love that Carrie’s cover is a Canadian. It’s pretty funny to watch her breeze easily into Beirut using it. Who would ever suspect a Canadian, right? We’re awesome people
- Finally, the titular smile: after a pursuit through the streets of Beirut, Carrie fights back instead of giving herself up (a move that could compromise the mission). I feel like some people might have found the moment cheeky, but seeing Carrie’s confidence and sense of self return in the form of a quick smile after gaining the upper hand makes all of the painful scenes back in her sister’s house so much more meaningful. Not only can she still do this without compromising her mental health, she’s good at it
And that’s the premiere, folks. Was it worth the wait? Are you satisfied with the direction Carrie and Brody’s storylines are going? Did you shudder over Jessica’s Islamaphobia? And how will Carrie’s contact tie back into Nazir and Brody’s run for VP? Speculate away in the comments below.
Homeland airs Sundays at 10pm EST on Showtime