Homeland 3.1: Rising From The Ashes

Homeland’s intense season premiere raises questions like ‘Are extra-judicial killings of terrorists justified?’, ‘Where’s the main character?’ and ‘Just what should you get in return for a topless selfie?’

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Homeland’s back, y’all. Time for some recaps. This week’s episode was the season three return, ‘Tin Man Is Down’. Spoilers follow.

The most striking feature of Homeland’s return was the ever-present feeling of absence. The absence of Carrie’s medication. The erosion of Saul’s morals. The subtraction of clothing from Dana. The absence of 219 Americans killed in the explosive season two finale. The gaping hole in the CIA headquarters at Langley. The absence of Nicholas Brody.

Homeland’s second season had its share of heart-pounding moments, but it also stretched plausibility to latest Tom Cruise-girlfriend levels. Wannabe terrorist Brody as a Vice President-hopeful Congressman? Killer wifi pacemakers? People very easily moving cars laden with explosives around CIA headquarters without being spotted? Its inconsistency and head-scratching plot devices often asked us to take a leap of faith too far.

However, the way it cleared the decks for season three was impressive to say the least, and, well, kinda crazy, once you think about it. Having built up Abu Nazir as a shadowy bad guy figure in both Brody and Carrie Mathison’s lives — an ever-present, mind-washing, terrorist demon-thorn in the side of America — it was bold to have him meet his demise. But it now leaves us with another shadowy bad guy figure named ‘The Magician’, meaning not only did Homeland’s writers do away with an exceptionally badarse antagonist, but apparently they’re now also getting inspiration for nicknames from The Incredible Burt Wonderstone.

Screen Shot 2 - the magician

“No sir, we don’t have word yet as to whether he wears a cape.”

Having divested themselves of the past, this episode’s echoing absence is the result of the twists and turns the previous season put itself through. It has left its characters with nothing but an ache for what was there previously — stability, secrecy, freedom, love — and in its place are vulnerability and accountability.

58 days after that car bomb blew large parts of the CIA and its top brass into the afterlife, the episode has a shell-shocked, PTSD feeling about it. Ex-Congressman Brody is suspected of the bombing and on the run; Saul Berenson (and his beard) has become director of the CIA; everyone else is trying to pick up the pieces of their blown-apart lives… and Carrie is off her meds.

Screen Shot 3 - meds

Carrie: “I’ma eat your face!” Dude on right: “She’s totally doing the crazy eyes thing, right?”

What this amounts to is a lot of exasperated Carrie fronting senate committees, some crazed notebook scribblings, some incomprehensible maps with string on them, some blind yelling that Brody is innocent, and Carrie being dragged from a restaurant by CIA goons after going tropical cyclone bi-polar on Saul. She blames herself for Langley, just as she somehow blamed herself for not seeing September 11. She’s lugging about more dubious imagined guilt than a Mumford & Sons record.

The best part is that now that we’ve witnessed her financially irresponsible buying habits regarding tequila — as well as banging random redheads that kinda-maybe-sorta look like Brody — we’re safe in the knowledge that even though Carrie seems together in her sharp suit, she’s as unpredictable as ever (and still toting a huge case of ginger-vitus*).

Screen Shot 4 - Map making

“Seriously, Carrie: drinking tequila and making maps are some pretty shitty hobbies.”

Still, that vacuum of instability also shows how infamy and intense family trauma can affect people not well-supported enough to cope. The revelation of Dana Brody’s suicide attempt was handled realistically and uncomfortably: her return home was excruciatingly awkward. Same goes for the silence that greets her terrible “optimist” joke at the dinner table, and her seemingly illiterate grandmother (Really, Granny? You’ve got no idea who Beowulf is? C’mon…) trying to pass it all off as an attention-grabbing stunt makes you wonder if Dana’s endless sulking and moping aren’t warranted.

Screen Shot 5 - Gran

“Gran. Beowulf was this Scandinavian OG in old Anglo-Saxon literature. He killed Grendel? Oh, forget it…”

As for her sexting skills… Well, they appear to leave a lot to be desired. The equation of her initiating the exchange with a topless selfie and only receiving an in-kind shot in return seems entirely unbalanced, right? But you can’t fault Shiva the Destroyer’s pulling power.

Saul, meanwhile, remains the moral rock upon which Homeland is built. His soliloquy on the role of the CIA — “We’re not assassins; we’re spies. We don’t kill our targets unless we have to.” — and his reticence to get involved in Dar Adal’s wetwork was telling. Homeland isn’t afraid to demonstrate the effects that ideological battles and remote warfare can have on its perpetrators, as well as their targets.

You can see those morals getting ever muddied due to circumstance, and you can see it plainly in Saul’s deteriorating relationship with his wife, Mira — their rumpled, strained tension is getting ever tougher to sit through. But it does display how his indecision is reflected across all aspects of his life, which now includes Carrie. He doesn’t *want* to throw her under the bus and ‘out’ her mental illness on TV, but it’s a decision he makes — as with the six Wizard Of Oz terrorist killings — for a perceived greater good. How long can Saul cope up there in front of a wall of cameras and hostile faces?

Screen Shot 6 - Saul

“Do you solemnly swear that your beard is the best on TV?” “I do.”

All this makes ‘Tin Man Is Down’ an effective, slow-burning return for the series. It deftly delves into a number of characters who are all coping with various stages of intense psychological trauma. Which means…

It’s time for our ‘Homeland: What’s Their Mental State Like?’ big board!

Mrs Brody: Dealing with going from the next Jackie O to being the next Skyler White.
Saul: Second guessing himself at every opportunity.
Peter Quinn: Destroying Luke Skywalker’s good name forever, after his designation of ‘Red 5’ and subsequent kid-killing.
Dana: Her jokes are as funny as attempted suicide.
Chris Brody: Probably wondering what his family being broke means to his dream of having a big TV.   
Carrie: Currently engaging in tequila-flavoured, red-headed self-medication.

Essentially, everyone is being broken down, just as Brody was. But with no Abu Nazir to brainwash them, they’re left to build themselves back up. The reappearance of Brody will shake loose the stronger plot strands that this season will be built on — if the main threat is that congress and Senator Andrew Lockhart will “close down” the CIA, we’re all in trouble — but the groundwork has been laid for more of the paranoiac, psychological arm-wrestles that Homeland executes better than most.

It was telling, though, that the Robert Frost quote outside Dana’s hospital was: “The best way out is always through.” In Homeland’s case, the ‘best’ way is never quite clear.

* Please note, your humble, handsome correspondent also totes a fiery red mane.

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

Follow the rest of his Homeland recaps here.