TV

Can Homeland’s Third Season Propel It To TV Greatness?

With enough Carrie cry-faces, they might get there.

Ahead of its Season Three return next week, our series recapper Jaymz Clements looks back at last season’s developments and how they’ll impact on the much-anticipated new season of the hit show. Spoilers follow.

Homeland occupies a curious position in the hearts and minds of the viewing public. No one can say definitively whether it’s good, great, middling or ‘other’. Which is strange, because in the golden era of serial drama TV, we generally have an idea as to what echelon a show fits into after a couple of seasons.

Will it be an all-timer like The Sopranos, Breaking Bad and The Wire*? How about simply consistently pretty damn great, a la The West Wing, Game Of Thrones and Deadwood? Or kinda ridiculous, but still decently watchable like Dexter, The Walking Dead or Sons Of Anarchy? Or the willfully off-the-rails WTF of Lost, The Killing and True Blood?

Well, Homeland’s Season Three, which premieres on September 30 on Network Ten, will most likely decide that.

The CIA-vs-terrorists, double agent-spy thriller certainly doesn’t lack for intensity. Homeland builds immense tension by limiting its scope to the interactions between characters whose true intentions we only ever get glimpses of, yet the results of their actions have far-reaching (and often deadly) consequences. Given its backdrop of post-9/11 America and all the associated issues — the perceived constant threat of terrorism, racial profiling, religious fervour, returning veterans, remote killings via drones, the limiting of civil rights, the immense powers given to clandestine government agencies — it can be adrenaline-inducing viewing.

Where it sometimes fell down though is in the impenetrability of some of its characters (hey, Damien Lewis!) and the step-too-far narrative leaps of faith we experienced in Season Two. Some random anonymous dude can hack into a wireless pacemaker? Black Ops killer-guy Quinn not killing Brody when ordered to? Carrie and Brody having the most uncomfortable-looking physical chemistry since anything involving Katie Holmes? Hmm.

So, picking up our collective jaws from where the enormous body count of last season’s finale left them — not to mention the question of who was actually responsible for that ending — the set up for Season Three is more enticing than a plate of fried chicken at Walter’s Waffles.

Character catch-up: What’s up with everyone in Homeland at the moment?

Brody: Now on the lam as the world’s most wanted terrorist, after being fingered for bombing the shit out of CIA headquarters. This gives the show a bit of room to breathe, and Brody’s family won’t be constantly forced into hanging out with him and calling him by his last name. (It’s still weird that Mrs Brody calls her husband ‘Brody’, right?)

Carrie: Investigating the bombing and Brody, and likely throwing crazy googly eyes at someone.

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Saul: Acting Director of the CIA after everyone else got blown up, and still toting the best beard on TV.

The Perpetually Wronged Mrs Jessica Brody: Just how conflicted and exasperated can the Perpetually Wronged Mrs Brody be now? Our guess is ‘very’.

Xbox-loving Chris Brody: How much Xbox will Xbox-loving Chris get to play? Will the TV he plays it on be big enough?

Sulky Mumbly Dana Brody: Everyone thinks her dad’s the worst terrorist ever and her boyfriend maybe got blown up… If you thought Sulky Mumbly Dana sulked the hell outta scenes she was mumbling in last season, JUST THINK HOW MUCH SULKING AND MUMBLING SHE CAN DO NOW.

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Staunch Marine Mike: Will Staunch Marine Mike continue staunchly banging Mrs Brody and ruffling Xbox-Loving Chris’s hair, or will he be hunting down his ex-best mate?

CIA head dude, David Estes: Blown to shit in that bombing.

Black Ops Peter Quinn: Presumably making judgement calls about who’s bad or not, and then killing them. Also, probably hunting Brody.

Dar Adal: Eating at Walter’s Waffles for lunch on a Tuesday, and being all Black Ops and badarse.

Mmm, waffles.

Pfft, Leslie Knope wannabe.

Virgil and Max: Probably wire-tapping a celebrity for TMZ on the side.

Abu Nazir: Dead, and given the Osama sea-burial treatment.

The important stuff: Why does this season have so much potential?

What the upcoming season hangs on is how Claire Danes handles Carrie. The character has to move beyond the ‘increasingly frantic, mentally ill, career lady who improbably loves Brody and sometimes tries to OD on chardonnay and prescription drugs… but somehow still worked for the CIA’  description we’ve been given so far. Giving her more screen time with the calming presence of Saul will hopefully help, as she deals with tracking down the on-the-run Brody and no doubt being the scapegoat for the Langley bombing.

Also, there’s Brody himself: separating him from being a glad-handing congressman and turning him back into a marine trying to evade capture is a masterstroke.

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So, the scene is set. Homeland is at its best when it’s covering grey moral ground, the stuff that comes up whenever someone uses the phrases ‘extra judicial killing’, ‘greater good’, ‘drone strike’ and ‘America’. That this questionable moral ground is the backbone of the show gives it tremendous scope to push the boundaries of its narrative and characters, and make us question ours. That’ll be the biggest factor towards deciding whether Homeland is good or great, as it continues to tie our heads in knots figuring out not only Brody, Saul and Carrie’s motivations, but also our own.

If Season Three manages to build on the moral quagmire and sheer intensity of its sometimes head-scratching first two seasons, Homeland would firm up exactly what echelon it sits in. To go from good to great is, after all, a big step.

*For the moment, Mad Men is in its own echelon between the first two (don’t fuck it up, Weiner). Also, this is obviously a super quick breakdown of serial dramas into echelons; relax if your favourite TV show ever isn’t mentioned.

Homeland Season Three is getting fast-tracked to TEN each week, with the premiere episode airing on Monday September 30 at 8:30pm.

Jaymz is a New York-based writer (originally from Melbourne, and the former Editor of triple j magazine), super-yacht enthusiast, hi-tech jewel thief and Bengal tiger trainer. He enjoys wearing monocles, finely spiced rum, constructing pillow forts and zip-lining from Hong Kong skyscrapers. You can find him on twitter via @jaymzclements