The biggest success of last year’s fall TV lineup was Showtime’s Homeland, which earned praise from critics and was touted by President Obama as his favorite new series. It's also the first show since 1993 to win the Emmy for Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Drama in the same year (it also won Best Writing). But if the show’s rise was meteoric, its main character’s downfall was nothing short of calamitous. By the season finale, the mistreatment of Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) by everyone around her (the CIA, Sergeant Nicholas Brody, electrode-wielding doctors) was so egregious, so unjust, that there seemed very few ways the writers could craft a second season around her.
Might Carrie be vindicated by Brody’s acknowledgment of guilt? Chase down terrorist leader Abu Nazir as a rogue agent? Or join forces with surveillance expert Virgil (David Marciano) and solve crimes out of an unmarked white van, Scooby-Doo style?
As the new season premieres September 30, the title of the first episode of season two, “The Smile,” offers few clues. In it, Carrie—unceremoniously booted from the CIA—seems finally to be living a quiet life. She teaches English as a foreign language; she gardens; she even makes vegetable lasagna with home-grown produce for her family. Yet despite all this harmony, she scours news sites, eagle-eyed, from the privacy of her bedroom.
Brody (Damian Lewis), meanwhile, is now a congressman, making him—one hopes—the highest-ranking wannabe jihadist in the nation. Vice President William Walden, still hell-bent on running for President, tells him in no uncertain terms that he’s on his Veep shortlist and asks a simple question in terms of vetting: “What’d we miss?”
Where to begin?
Brody may think he has appeased Abu Nazir by offering to influence policy from within rather than blow up lawmakers, but his past comes knocking, this time in the form of a sultry British journalist (Zuleikha Robinson) with a standing reservation at Georgetown’s Cafe Milano, who reminds him of his commitment to Nazir. And suddenly, just like that, both Brody and Carrie are called back to active duty.
Homeland’s success last season was in no small part thanks to Danes, whose luminous, bug-eyed performance as a manic, hyper-perceptive CIA agent rightfully won her a Golden Globe Award (plus that Emmy). But part of the show’s fascination was the is-he/isn’t-he uncertainty surrounding Brody. Now that his true sympathies have been revealed, his character might be less compelling to watch, even if he’s as complex and clenched-jawed as ever. Stepping out of his shadow, however, is Jessica Brody (Morena Baccarin), whose picture-perfect life is disrupted in the first episode by a major revelation and who delivers her best performance to date as Nicholas’s wife.
As for Carrie, when the CIA finally does come asking for her help, it may not be in as groveling a fashion as many viewers would like, but it provides at least a measure of satisfaction. Then there’s a moment in the first episode in which Carrie offers a genuine, slightly terrified smile that leaves little doubt about what she really wants to be doing.
This article appears in the October 2012 issue of The Washingtonian.