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'Homeland' season premiere ratchets up the tension

'Homeland' returns for season two with a jump in time and intriguing plot developments.

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Meanwhile, Carrie responds to a request by Estes for assistance with the kind of reaction one wouldn’t expect, considering the way she was removed from the CIA. While Nazir’s request of Brody is treason, it feels downright simple compared to Estes asking Carrie to travel to Beirut and gather intelligence from the wife of a Hezbollah leader. The work means drudging up painful memories and emotions; it means working with Saul (Mandy Patinkin), and getting information about an imminent attack on America out of a source Carrie kept off the books and hasn’t seen in years. It means everything Carrie sacrificed so much to suppress comes flooding back to the surface once more.

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But Brody’s battle is increasingly set at home. His wife, Jessica (Morena Baccarin), has moved past accepting her late husband’s sudden resurrection, and begun enjoying the profile that comes with being the wife of a man whose name is suddenly a hair’s breadth from the presidency. So when Dana (Morgan Saylor) outs him as a Muslim, to the disbelief of her class, but later, again to Jessica – a fact that Brody confirms – it’s clear the truth that separates the two distinct halves of Congressman Brody is beginning to dissolve. And once again, as it is with Carrie, Brody finds himself at war with the person he is now, and who he once was.

Homeland does many things very well, but one of them is the show’s awareness of just how long certain revelations must wait before they’re made known by its characters. Brody’s keeping a lot of secrets from his wife, but this one defines him. More importantly, Jessica’s response makes who she is clearer to the audience. She’s no longer an ancillary character who Brody has to keep secrets from; she’s now an active participant in keeping truths about her husband from the public he serves. The writers know that building tension is great, but sooner or later, if its not released – even in little doses – it has a tendency to go flat. The trick to keeping certain areas of apprehension high is by relieving the pressure every so often.

This, in turn, serves to highlight Homeland‘s ability to give its plots multiple threads to explore, while still managing to pull those threads into a cohesive line by the end of most episodes – that’s no simple feat, as often even the best serialized dramas opt to leave various threads dangling to be picked up (or not) several episodes down the line. The show is also blessed with an abundance of talent that, although it doubles up on two of the more popular forms of television characters right now, e.g., the unreliable protagonist and the morally ambiguous central character, manages to offer something unique and compelling about both. To their credit, Danes and Lewis are equally superb and affecting in their roles.

Most importantly, though, it’s the way Carrie and Brody manage to surprise, even when the audience is given information the CIA doesn’t. Having questions about your characters are the kind of questions a good series wants to have. There’s still plenty we don’t know about Brody and Carrie. And what’s most intriguing is the way both characters are tempted to lead the audience down the road of predictability, but wind up surprising. As Brody proclaims to be something other than what people perceive him as, the same can be said for nearly everything on Homeland.

Kevin Yeoman blogs at Screen Rant.

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