Showtime's Homeland may have achieved some sort of record for greatest fall from grace for a TV series. The first season may have been the best-crafted season of any television drama (although Breaking Bad's season four gives it a run for its money). You had Sergeant Nicholas Brody, a returning war vet and terrorist, and the only person who thought he was dangerous – CIA agent Carrie Matheson — who nobody could believe because of her erratic behavior. Was he a killer? Would she get him? Or sleep with him? Or both? The whole season kept you on the edge.
Unfortunately, the producers and writers didn't know what to do with the main characters in Season Two. Nicolas Brody's ambivalence and hand-wringing didn't make for good television. In Season One, all the characters were clearly driven and knew what they were doing, even if the audience didn't. In Season Two, there seemed to be more introspection with all the characters, and the love affair between Carrie and Brody which was doomed to begin with. So the tension was much less. Unlike Seasons One, you didn't feel like you were hurtling toward something bad and you couldn't stop. Not that the entire season was bad — the "Q&A" episode may have been the best of the whole series — but it didn't pull the charactors as tightly as the first season.
Fortunately (without spoiling things too much), Season Two ended with a huge game-changing shocker — well, it was in the penultimate episode — which had the effect of rebooting the series in a way. What would Homeland do with its clean slate?
The season opener this week bodes well for Season Three (spoiler alert). Brody did not appear at all. Presumably, he'll be back at some point, but right not, it's good that the series is sticking with what works — a dysfunctional CIA, and new enemies. Saul throws Carrie under a bus, and it is painful to watch, but we know that the story always gets interesting when Carrie is isolated. Plus, as perversely pleasing as it is, she's off her meds (trying holistic treatments), and her bipolar Dad seems to play a bigger role. We know the series always goes to a new level when Claire Danes is allowed to give us instability, and making us wonder if she's being unstable or really smart (for her part, Carrie thinks that being under lithium may have blinded her to missing key clues that would have uncovered the terrible tragedy that ended Season Two). Yes, the photos with strings are back out.
We still hang around Brody's family, and although his daughter Dana remains an interesting character, we're not sure why. It's a bit unfortunate, because there probably was some more meat there in Season One for Brody's wife… but if Brody takes a back seat this season (and he really needs to), then so does his family.
But the Brodys notwithstanding, the writers seem to know they can't replicate Season One with the same cast of charactors. What role Brody ultimately plays remains to be seen. But so far, so good.