What more can you say about Showtime’s pulse-quickening political drama series, Homeland? Especially after the series won a slew of Emmys – including Best Drama Series, Actress in a Drama Series (Claire Danes), Actor in a Drama Series (Damian Lewis), and Writing for a Drama Series (Alex Gansa, Howard Gordon, Gideon Raff). Homeland’s second season kicked off on Sunday night with ‘The Smile,’ and I am happy to report that the series was able to pick up its riveting energy and exceptional affectivity exactly where they left off.
Following the intense and thrilling season one finale (one of the best season finales in recent memory), we jump ahead in time to find Carrie Mathison (Danes) rebuilding her life post-CIA, living with her father and sister and working as an English teacher. Meanwhile, Marcus Brody (Damian Lewis) is now fully embedded as a congressman, and is on the verge of being named the Vice Presidential candidate on (current) Vice President William Walden’s (Jamey Sheridan) ticket. We’re witnessing The Manchurian Candidate come to fruition here, which is both terrifying and intriguing at once.
Most of the episode taps us in to what Brody and Mathison have been up to in the time since we last saw them, as well as establishing new background stories (like Brody’s daughter adapting to her new school; his wife growing more suspicious of him after learning of his newfound Muslim beliefs). When watching Brody in his political life, you get the sense that he has grown accustomed to his new way of living, almost forgetting the sole purpose he is there in the first place. The same goes for Carrie, who seems to be moving on from saving the world – a job she felt would always be a part of her life. Both have grown comfortable and lax in their way of living until each receives an unwelcomed visitor, dragging them both back down into the world they just can’t seem to escape from. Brody is visited at the office by an associate of Abu Nazir (Navid Negahban) – Brody’s terrorist connection, who in the time that has passed has remained hidden – named Roya (Lost’s Zuleikha Robinson) with orders to get classified information out of the office of the Deputy Director of the CIA, David Estes (Carrie’s former boss, played by David Harewood). And in just a single moment where a small notebook is left on a desk, Homeland succinctly manages to bring back all of the spine-tingling edge of your seat drama we came to love in the first season.
On the flipside, Carrie is visited at home by Estes himself, who is requesting for her to travel to Beirut and reconnect with one of her past informers, the wife of a Hezbollah leader that has intel on an immanent strike on America. It is information that she is only willing to share with Carrie, which results in the department’s desperation to get her involved. Rather than jumping at the chance to return to service that you might have expected, Carrie reluctantly feels obligated to assist the department that fired her, knowing she will have to reteam with her mentor and friend, Saul (Mandy Patinkin). But once on the job, we see Carrie return like an impetuous addict to the world she was meant for with a single smile.
As extraordinary as the performances are from Lewis, Patinkin, and the rest of the cast, it is Danes’ performance that really makes this show work, leaving us breathless after each and every episode. I find it ironic that the episode is titled ‘The Smile’ (obviously in reflection to her return to who she is at heart) when it is through her eyes that Danes captures the heightened on-the-edge-of-sanity level of fever-pitched anxiety that Carrie dangles on. Just watch her eyes if you want to see how unstable, unpredictable, and out of her mind Carrie is, regardless of how right she might often be. It is perfection. It is why she won the Emmy. It is in large part why Homeland just might be the best show on TV.