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This story first appeared in the Oct. 4 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
As a critic who had enormous and ongoing issues last season with Homeland — the creative descent that started early in season two was a startling development given the greatness of season one — nothing was more encouraging than getting the first two episodes of season three and having a lot of faith restored.
Not only does Claire Danes reaffirm her Emmy win with a magnificent performance in each episode, Mandy Patinkin continues to deliver some of the best work of his career as Saul and remains, until proved otherwise, the new anchor of this series. And that’s the caveat that needs to be expressed here. The trouble with Homeland last season was twofold: It lost its grip on reality by turning into a high-class version of 24 — not a compliment — and as it spiraled into nonsense, the emphasis shifted to the romance between Carrie and Brody (Damian Lewis).
Not only wasn’t any of it believable, that creative decision seemed to jeopardize what a lot of people found most intriguing about Homeland in the first place — the terrorism angle. They weren’t tuning in for a love story. Especially not a ridiculous one. But as season three begins, a lot of worries are tossed away.
In the wake of the bombing at Langley that left the CIA devastated (and embarrassed), Saul is the acting director. Carrie is in the crosshairs of a Senate subcommittee, and it’s pretty clear from her early scenes that stability is not her strong suit. Brody still is missing — and I give the Homeland creators and writers a lot of credit for leaving him out of the first two episodes entirely.
The early emphasis of season three is exactly where it should be — on Saul and Carrie. While the latter spirals (and again, Danes’ performance is stellar), Saul is being crushed by having to make decisions where the options are bad and unpleasant. His relationship with Carrie is handled deftly with the usual Homeland sense of efficiency (few series burn through story as quickly as this one). Early results appear to suggest Homeland is back on track.
Bringing those characters to the forefront and giving them a lot of scenes in the first two episodes has strengthened the series. The writing and acting in the first two episodes are exceptional. Let’s hope this continues, because it’s once again thrilling to watch this show.
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