Homeland Season 3: Picking Up the Pieces

These days, we talk a lot about the changing face of the television landscape. The new narrative around TV revolves around things like season length, serialization and, of course, serial killers. However, a new issue has to the fore that people (read: the Internet) are obsessing over: plausibility. No matter the show’s genre, quality, or cache, the issue of plausibility of the latest heist, mission, meth cook, or dragon birth will taken on by someone with a tumblr account and a thing for details.

Nowhere have the Agents of Plausibility been more active than around Showtime’s Homeland, which premieres its third season this Sunday at 9 PM. The show itself began on a completely absurd premise: What if an American POW was turned into a prison while in captivity? From there, the tension got cranked up to 11 as we watched an unbalanced spy track, interrogate, and have sex with a man who seemed depressed and damaged to the point of no return. The show rode some incredible performances while playing with ideas of spying, sex, religion, and the family. Though the AoP tried to ruin the first season finale for us all, the decision to have Nicholas Brody disarm the vest made a lot of sense in the moment. Regardless of how people felt about the finale, the season as a whole was one of the top premiere seasons in drama history. It was good enough to unseat Mad Men at the Emmys, and the show probably deserved it.

What further surprised about the first and parts of the second seasons was the rate at which Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon chewed through plot. The show surprised audiences not just with its quality, but with its off-kilter sense of timing. The show chunked what we thought we knew about television structure out the window with Carrie’s lithium. When you added these elements to Damian Lewis’ incredible performance, the Claire Danes tour de force, and Mandy Patinkin’s beard, the show was on its way to carving out some space in the television pantheon.

So what happened? Well, several things, but not all of them are the fault of Gordon and Gansa. For starters, Damian Lewis gave the performance of his life, won an Emmy, and immediately hamstrung the show’s creative brass. When it came out that the Showtime higher-ups were behind Brody’s stay of execution, decisions that were made by the creative team to start to make more sense. It’s one of the most difficult things about making television in 2013: Finding a way to please network brass while staying true to the story you want to tell. We’ll never know exactly what Homeland had planned for Brody if they were left to their own devices, but now we know they didn’t get the chance.

Granted, not all of Homeland’s problems in season 2 came from the outside. Gansa and Gordon decided to bet big on the Carrie-Brody doomed love affair and missed the mark completely as a result. The two leads definitely popped on screen, but the show we were watching wasn’t about a romance. It probably would have been okay if Brody didn’t still exist in the ether somewhere. Without the opportunity to move on from Brody, it’s going to be difficult for the show to move forward.

That’s what makes the opening two episode to season 3 interesting. The shadow of Nicholas Brody has become like a car wreck: The show has a destination in mind, but it can’t help but leer at the carnage. Given the poor ending to season two, I don’t think anyone would have complained if the Brody saga was mere background noise. Instead, we get government hearings and Claire Danes forced to crank up the Carrie Mathison Crazies. The first two episodes hammer home the point that someone has to pay for the CIA bombing from the end of season two. Sadly, it’s the viewers who will ultimately foot the bill. Some interesting things are happening as a result of the investigation, but it only serves as a reminder of the head-slapping ending to its previous season. Even things that should be really interesting fall a bit flat. The idea of the people who are left behind by the Nick Brody is a fascinating one to explore. It’s emotionally affecting, but it does call for a lot more lines for Dana and Chris Brody. Though I don’t mind the Brody children, no one left season two clamoring for more Dana Brody. If you did, then congratulations! You will enjoy the first two episodes immensely.

Still, I wouldn’t be the TV Equals resident Homeland apologist if I didn’t mention the good things that have come in the show’s first two episodes. The show has introduced several new characters, but few have the possibility to be more valuable than Fara, an Islamic, head scarf sporting analyst. Her race-baiting introduction to us is pretty cringe worthy, but Nazanin Boniadi’s performance throughout the episode override the early scene. Her chemistry with Mandy Patinkin is immediate, and their relationship could prove to be an interesting dichotomy to the one Saul has with Carrie.

Speaking of Saul, I can’t speak highly enough about Patinkin’s performance in the early going of the season. He’s always grounded the show with his steady, understated performance. Now, as head of the CIA, we’re watching a truly conflicted Saul, and Patinkin is brilliant in his portrayal. The man loves his country and Carrie Mathison, and those two things may prove mutually exclusive. Watching him struggle with that issue while investigating the world’s newest bad guy (called “The Magician”) is a treat to watch.

Homeland may never return to the dizzying heights of season one. However, these first few episodes do offer a glimmer of hope for the show. Whether it flickers out or burns brightly remains to be seen. If nothing else, it’s going to be interesting to watch the show try.