Homeland: TV Review

The Emmy-dominating series returns for its second season without missing a heart-pounding beat. If the rest of the season can hold this frenetic pace, viewers will be absorbing one the best high wire acts put on the small screen

The first two episodes of the Showtime series -- which won several Emmys, including best drama series, at September's awards show -- cement the show's reputation for action, smarts and intrigue.

The biggest worry -- by far -- about Homeland is whether the series can sustain the high-wire act the writers, producers and actors pulled off virtually every episode last season. Homeland ran through so much plot in that first season the effect was both dizzying and impressive. The allure of the series was the constantly heightened tension and the disbelief when the writers deftly and dramatically got themselves out of the corner they painted into.

You may remember that season garnered Homeland an Emmy for best drama, one for Claire Danes as best actress, another for Damian Lewis as best actor and yet another for best writing. What the Emmy voters are saying so forcefully here, in case you missed the hammer coming down, is that Homeland is the best show on television.

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That's debatable and shouldn't even be broached until season two is over and in the books. As of Sunday night, season two is just beginning. Having watched the first two episodes made available by Showtime, this much is clear: Homeland is as riveting and addictive as when we last saw it, kicking off with no lull in the pulse-pounding action. At least in the first two episodes, whatever doubts there are about keeping the plates spinning is put to rest. Both hours fly by, the plot of each is energetic, complex and addictive. Better yet, Danes and Lewis immediately put exclamation marks on their Emmy victories with a couple of outstanding performances. 

This is the textbook way a series wants to return after dominating the industries highest awards just a week earlier. You couldn't have scripted it better.

The beauty about the first season of Homeland is that it ended in a gloriously oblique manner, like an excellent book or movie. The is-he-or-isn't-he question regarding Marine Sgt. Nicholas Brody (Lewis) then became will-he-or-won't-he in the finale. Working backward, we know that Brody didn't blow up the vice president and a room full of top-level diplomats. But that didn't mean he dropped his allegiance to Abu Nazir (Navid Negahban), nor his newfound Muslim religion. And poor, fighting-the-crazy CIA agent Carrie (Danes) was right but proved wrong, and she vaporized off our TV screens biting down on a mouth guard as electroshock therapy kicked in.

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Had the whole thing ended there, it would have been a sublimely satisfying way to go out.

Ah, but this is television. The story continues. And that's where the worry -- still lingering around even if the first two episodes are fantastic -- begins to kick in. Is this pace sustainable? Is the believability sustainable? Will Homeland have to hit the brakes in some way to reign in the speed of it all? Well, those questions were asked of Breaking Bad and it hammered home the brilliance against all odds. Now it's Homeland's turn.

As season two begins, Carrie is being cared for by her father and sister, living life slowly and teaching English to foreigners. She's out of the CIA, of course, and apparently happy with that decision. But she's pulled back in (at least temporarily) when one of her valuable assets in the Middle East steps up with important information but will only tell it to Carrie.

Now that he's a United States congressman, the question about Brody is how far he's willing to help Nazir, a leader of al-Qaeda who has an almost mesmerizing power over him and whether helping makes Brody a terrorist or not. One of the central conceits to Homeland is the interior battle inside Brody. He turned but didn't act on the most important request asked of him by Nazir. It was the sound of his daughter's voice that brought him back from the ledge. What he's fighting is the return of that person -- that Marine who went to war -- with the man who vowed revenge for the senseless killing of Nazir's son (who was under his tutelage) Nobody said loyalties were clear cut and uncomplicated.

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Season two will not only have to find a way to get Claire back in the fold (there appears to be a plenty good plan for that) and to keep the warring internal battle of Brody's loyalties as complex and ruinous as possible. They are tearing the man apart and nobody wears that stress better than Lewis.

Then again, nobody knew where season one was going even when they thought they did. So to guess at motives in season two might be equally absurd. Perhaps it's best just to sit back Sunday night and the rest of the season and see if the writers and producers can duplicate the impossible all over again. Here's to the effort, at least.

Email: Tim.Goodman@THR.com