Homeland season 2 episode 1: The brilliant show returns with this slow-burning opening (SPOILERS)

by Matt D

I think it’s fair to say that the majority of people who watched it were completely gripped by Homeland season one, as we all had our theories on whether or not Damien Lewis’ Nicholas Brody was in fact working for Al-Qaeda.

By the end of the series we found out that he was indeed working for Al-Qaeda chief Abu Nazir as he wanted to avenge the death of Nazir’s son whom he tutored and bonded with.

In the series’ final episode Brody was tasked with blowing up himself with the vice president but a call from his daughter Dana changed his mind and he decided instead to bring the government down from the inside, after being elected as a congressman. Meanwhile Clare Danes’ unstable CIA agent Carrie’s mission to bring down Brody was discovered and she was unceremoniously fired from the agency, eventually deciding to get help for her bipolar disorder. As Carrie was about to undergo shock-therapy treatment she suddenly remembered Brody calling out the name of Nazir’s child while they were in bed together.

So with all this going on you would think that series two would start off with a bang, maybe Carrie would remember Brody’s secret or we’d come close to finding out who the mole was in the CIA. Whatever your theories about how the series was going to kick off were, I don’t think it would be seeing Carrie picking vegetables in the garden for the lasagne she was to make for her family later on that day.

Six months on from the events of series one, Carrie is now living in her family home watched closely by her overprotective sister, who worries so much that she won’t let their father have the news on while Carrie’s in the room, however their dad thinks that Carrie’s too distant due to her lithium levels being too high. Carrie’s days now are taken up teaching English as a Foreign Language to mature students and following the sign above her mirror which tells her to ‘breathe’. Carrie is essentially a shadow of her former self but that’s all about to change when she discovers that David Estes wants to meet her to discuss a matter of national importance.

This matter has to do with an uprising in the Middle East after Israel bombed five nuclear sites in Iran and the US government continued to back Israel meaning the threat of an attack on American soil was more than likely. The action then heads to Beirut where Saul is at the US embassy, when he receives a call from a mystery woman who wants to talk to the CIA however it is revealed that she only wants to talk to one person …… Carrie.

In a conversation with Estes, Carrie reveals that the woman is Fatima Ali the wife of a high-ranking Hezbollah commander who she trained up to be an undercover agent but was transferred to Baghdad before discovering whether or not she was an asset. Carrie eventually agrees to travel to Beirut against the wishes of her family, however during her training in Cyprus she struggles to remember basic information about the character she is portraying once she gets to Beirut. As Carrie is about to meet Saul he realises they are being followed by the Lebanese police, who instruct her to hand herself in, instead she decides to try and outrun them. Here follows a chase scene which ends with Carrie escaping seemingly back to her old ways as we see her expression change to a massive smile.

Brody meanwhile is enjoying life as a congressman while wife Jessica has also bonded with the significant other of Vice President Walden. Walden approaches Brody and offers to float his name as a potential Vice Presidential candidate when he runs himself runs for the presidency. It’s an offer Brody accepts.

Later he meets journalist Roya Hammad who turns out to be another undercover operative working for Nazir who instructs him to find the encryption key that will unlock a database of potential targets for an attack on the US which is hidden somewhere in Estes’ safe. When in the CIA, Roya creates a distraction by questioning Estes about the matter in the Middle East, while Brody successfully retrieves the key however it seems that the journalist may be able to get further information after planning a date with the CIA chief. The only member of the Brody clan who doesn’t seem to be enjoying their new life is Dana, who is completely miserable at her new school and during a debate blurts out that her father is a Muslim.

Jessica believes Dana is just saying this to get attention but after attacking her daughter Brody tells her that Dana wasn’t lying and in turn Jessica starts to wonder if what Carrie told her was the truth. The final scene of the episode sees Brody burying his Quran after Jessica desecrates it. This scene has some emotional poignancy after Dana offers to help her father with the burial.

It’s a testament to the script of Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa that this series starts incredibly slowly introducing us to where our two central characters currently are in their lives. I love how Carrie is now kept in a protective bubble by her sister one that is eventually burst by the return of Saul and Estes to her life, something that once again changes her character.

I also enjoy how the Brodies, with the exception of Dana, have suddenly become this political family with Jessica especially enjoying the perks of being the bosom buddy of the Vice President’s wife. In addition it was good to see Saul out in the field having spent most of series one trying to calm Carrie down or attempting to persuade his wife to stay with him. Here in Beirut we see another side to the CIA veteran. The tension is gradually built up in two scenes the one in which Brody attempts to find the encryption code in Estes’ safe and the one in which Carrie attempts to evade the Lebanese police officers in the market. It is this latter scene that is also incredibly shot with the sights and sounds of the market perfectly captured as we worry for Carrie’s mental state however by the end of this chase we can see that she is back to her old self.

Obviously Carrie’s story is incredibly told by Clare Danes whose facial expressions are incredible. It starts with a vacant stare in the opening scenes perform transforming into a confused look when she is being trained in Cyprus before getting her swagger back in the final scenes.

Damien Lewis has also slipped well into politician mode and despite essentially being the villain of the piece I still find we’re routing for him not to get discovered with the files. Of the supporting cast Mandy Pantikin is great as Saul while Morgan Saylor continues to impress as Dana, especially in the final scenes.

Overall I don’t think anybody will be disappointed with this opening episode, which is extremely character-based to begin with, however still allows for several tense scenes. As you would expect the acting, production and writing are all top notch with several story arcs being set up for the upcoming episodes. The big questions are will Carrie remember what she thought about Brody and what will happen when the pair meet again?

Are you excited to have Homeland back? What did you think to this opening episode? Leave your comments below.