The roller coaster that is "Homeland" (8 p.m. CT Sept. 29, Showtime; 3 stars out of 4) soared to great heights in its first season by capturing viewers with complex characters and a believable terrorist conspiracy, then plummeted to backlash levels last year with its improbable plot twists.
The trajectory doesn't exactly shoot upward in the first two episodes of Season 3. But that's almost inevitable. This is the kind of story that almost works best as a one-season proposition. The cat-and-mouse game between bipolar CIA operative Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) and POW turned al-Qaida agent Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis) can last only so long before it starts to feel forced. Carrie was the only one who believed he was a terrorist. But once she accused him, she chased Brody into bed while he became a Congressman. She then doubted him long enough to capture him before bedding him again.
Now she's defending him in the wake of the bombing of CIA headquarters at the end of last season. She's back to doing what she does best: blubbering—this time while facing a congressional panel clearly hunting for a CIA fall gal. Her lips quivering and eyes darting, Carrie proclaims her support for Brody, whom she believes had nothing to do with the attack.
There are only so many times viewers can watch Carrie go off her meds or Brody's narrative-killing daughter, Dana (Morgan Saylor), annoy the crap out of her mother (Morena Baccarin). (Actually, any side plot involving Brody's family seems to slow things down.) The mystery man doesn't even appear in the first two episodes.
Maybe his early absence will pay off in the end; I hope so. The slooowly-paced first two episodes offer enough action and intrigue to keep me riding a while longer.
Writers Alex Gansa and Barbara Hall wisely begin the season with Peter Quinn (Rupert Friend), who has become one of the series' more fascinating characters. Last season we were never quite sure where Quinn's loyalties lay. His motivations are just as murky in the opener, although we get a clearer picture within minutes—at least for now. Friend has a way of hiding just enough beneath the surface to keep viewers guessing, even though his character's motives appear to be pretty clear.
They also give Chicago native Mandy Patinkin, who plays Carrie's mentor, Saul Berenson, a chance to show his understated but considerable skills. Saul, who is acting CIA director after the bombing death of David Estes, is forced to skirt the line of moral ambiguity more than he would like as far as Carrie is concerned.
"I won't throw Carrie under the bus," he snaps at shady CIA operations director Dar Adal (F. Murray Abraham).
"Then just jump up and down on her really hard," Adal responds, not even joking.
That sets Danes up with more opportunities to turn on the waterworks, wobble her chin and make us celebrate Carrie's crazy. But I'd rather see Carrie knuckling down to find Brody—or at least prove to her CIA cohorts that, again, she is the only one who has gotten it right.
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