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WashingTelevision: Homeland Recap, Season Two, Episode One, “The Smile”

Carrie and Brody are both called out of retirement in the most eagerly awaited season opener since someone shot JR.

Damian Lewis as Nick Brody and Zuleikha Robinson as Roya in Homeland. Photograph by Kent Smith/Showtime.

Mellifluous tones of Mandy Patinkin, how we missed thee. No other larynx on earth can strike joy into the hearts of cable subscribers just by uttering “Previously, on Homeland” quite like you can.

A mere seven days after cleaning up at the Emmys, Homeland is back, and while last night’s episode might seem a little flat after the 90-minute adrenaline shot to the heart that was the first season finale, it was a fair welcome back for Carrie and company. After getting booted and publicly disgraced so unceremoniously by David Estes, everyone’s favorite bipolar CIA agent is found a year later after much anticipation doing something so wrong, so out of character, so filthy, that at first glance I had to check I wasn’t accidentally watching Cinemax. That’s right: She’s gardening.

Carrie’s post-spy life, it seems, involves plucking vegetables from dirt, forcing her family to get their global news from Sesame Street, and staring at a sign that says “BREATHE” in case her elevated lithium levels make her so relaxed that she accidentally passes out. She also teaches English as a foreign language but gazes secretly, longingly, at news sites when alone in her bedroom. This is a sign, y’all.

Because Homeland has apparently fast-forwarded to 2013, Israel has now bombed five Iranian nuclear sites and killed an estimated 3,000 people in the process, prompting riots Newsweek would have to check the thesaurus to be able to describe. The Ayatollahs are not amused, and Saul, wearing a sweet panama, is holed up in a US Embassy in Beirut watching people burn flags and curse his mother outside the gates. But not for long: His agents tell him a new source has come forward with information about a possible future attack on the United States (rewind to 2011 again). And even though their last unconfirmed asset blew up five of his agents, Saul is pretty convinced it’s a risk worth taking.

Back in DC, Brody is now a Virginia congressman, which is frankly terrifying—not because he’s a wannabe jihadist inhabiting the corridors of power as an insider, but because this is a man who weeks ago could only sleep on the floor while curled up in the fetal position. The Vice President, who is no less slimy after his hiatus, drops by and says that not only is the PTSD-afflicted, nightmare-prone, possibly alcoholic Brody doing sterling work in the House, but he’s also number one on his shortlist for the veepstakes. “Hell, yes!” says Brody, who obviously has not been noticing the level of scrutiny Paul Ryan’s been under lately. But Walden wants to talk vetting, and says, “What’d we miss, Nick?”

The obvious answer is “everything,” but Brody shares the sly cunning of his red-headed brother, the fox, and gives nothing away. He was in a Taliban hold for eight years! He didn’t have time to misbehave! Of course, this all depends on your definition of “misbehave,” but never mind. Meanwhile Saul is ducking out of his Beirut compound and ditching two men who’re tailing him to try to harass a woman in a hijab who clearly wants nothing to do with him.

Carrie’s quietly going about her business teaching English when Danny from last season suddenly interrupts her class, and the news isn’t good. Estes wants to speak to her, and even though Carrie in no uncertain terms tells Danny to tell Estes to GTFO, when she gets home, her sister tells her Saul’s been calling all day. And Estes is now parked outside her house in a not-at-all menacing SUV. Turns out the woman who didn’t want to speak to Saul is a legit asset recruited by Carrie back in the day via Julia Roberts movies, but off the books because Carrie doesn’t like books unless they’re blue and for teaching English. This woman has information on a possible retaliatory attack against the US, and Estes and Saul want Carrie to do her patriotic duty and find out what’s up. Maggie thinks it’s a terrible idea, but Carrie’s dad is like, YOLO, and within minutes Carrie forgets her vegetable lasagna and gets on a plane to Cyprus. Even though Estes never actually said sorry and is as much of a smug git as ever.

Dana is causing trouble as usual, although we can’t really blame her, because the idea of a pre-school Quaker meeting where everyone has to not interrupt everyone else to allow for contemplation sounds miserable. In other words, is this supposed to be Sidwell Friends? And in an argument with a douchey kid who Dana calls out for being a douche because no one understands conflict in the Middle East like she does, she accidentally lets slip that her dad is a Muslim. Everyone gasps, but then some other kid says, “Yeah, and mine’s a Scientologist,” and everyone laughs because it’s hilarious.

But Brody can’t worry about her because a sexy journalist with an English accent whose face is inexplicably always shrouded in darkness has come into his office and asked to speak “privately,” and she means “privately.” She sends Brody Abu Nazir’s best, which at first causes him to sputter in mock outrage, but before long he realizes she’s actually sent by Nazir to recruit him back into the “killing lots of people at once” fold. But he thought he was doing his job by being a congressman! “And I’m sure some part of you hoped it would end there,” the sexy journalist, Roya, says with a patronizing look.

All these parallels between Carrie and Brody both being called back into active duty at the same time? They’re intentional. While Carrie is in Cyprus trying to memorize her fake identity’s favorite Canadian hockey team (because the dang electroshock therapy ruined her memory forever), Brody is breaking into Estes’s office safe under Roya’s orders and retrieving encryption codes that’ll help Nazir go about his mass-murdering business.

In Estes’s office, which has a lovely Photoshopped picture of him and Condi sitting on a shelf, Brody manages to get the codes thanks to Roya, who creates a diversion by questioning Estes about the five nuclear sites and offering to take him to dinner at her standing Saturday table at Cafe Milano. And the only reason this scene is interesting is because Estes was told he had to meet with Roya by a “DCI” or communications person at the CIA who I now think is the mole. Remember the mole? We still don’t know who that is, and hopefully we’ll find out at some point.

But even after all this mad safe-busting, Brody also has to deal with Dana, whose mother is yelling at her over and over again for telling everyone her father’s a Muslim. Why would you say that, Dana? Why? Why? Why? “Because it’s true,” says Brody, just to stop all the haranguing.

Jess is understandably horrified, and it’s some of the best acting Morena Baccarin has ever done, particularly when she runs into the garage and finds Brody’s Koran, and he freaks out when she throws it on the ground. “It’s not supposed to touch the FLOOR,” he yells, sounding a bit like he’s missing the bigger picture here, and suddenly Jess is wondering if that crazy CIA lady yelling things on her front lawn was quite so crazy after all.

Said crazy lady makes it to Beirut on her fake passport, even though she looks so nervous she could only be (a) hiding something or (b) holding 50 pounds of heroin in her small intestine. But she gets to the Commodore hotel, nearly cries, and then stops when she sees a fruit basket sitting on the table, even though it isn’t even an Edible Arrangement. There’s a letter attached, addressed to “KATE,” with a cell phone and information about a meeting with Saul. Carrie calls him when she’s on her way, but Saul is no slouch and spots the same sinister men from earlier watching him.

Saul tells her to allow herself to get taken by them, which is creepily reminiscent of, well, Taken. But Carrie knows she can get away from them, despite the fact that they “make” her and chase her into a souk. She steals a new green headscarf, knees one of them in the goolies, and gets away, and then she smiles for the first time in the whole episode and the title suddenly makes sense. The smile, FTR, is fleeting, terrified, but genuine, kind of like a teenager who’s just lifted his first Playboy from a 7/11.

Brody buries his Koran with the help of Dana, who frankly is seeming more and more like a prime recruitment target for Nazir’s youth league. And we’re left with the following questions:

1) Who is the mole? I’m going to ask this every week until we find out.

2) Is VP Walden as much of a moron as he seems?

3) Homeland can’t afford to film in friggin’ Farragut Square, but they can build an entire Lebanese market from scratch?

4) Is it just me, or is Brody’s indoctrination starting to wear off? He seemed totally over Abu Nazir, even when his beloved Issa was brought up. Obviously, he’s still devoted to Islam, but he seemed much less infatuated with the idea of killing people than he did last season.

5) Carrie’s a vegetarian now? And we’re supposed to care about that why?

What did you think of last night’s episode of Homeland? Let us know in the comments.

  • Williford

    Love that these recaps are back, almost as much as I love that this show is back

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