‘There’s no bigger task than protecting the homeland of our country’*
Homeland, the ground breaking American television drama and psychological thriller series from Showtime, that took the viewing world by storm in 2011, is back for its second season. Engaging at a very deep level, and wonderfully intelligent, two of its leading actors Damien Lewis (Marine Sargeant Nicholas Brody) and Claire Danes (CIA operative Carrie Mathison) took out Emmy awards this year for their roles in Season 1, as did the series for Best Drama. It also received the Golden Globe for the Best Television Series Drama. Developed for television by Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa it is based on an Israeli series Hatufim, created by Gideon Raff. The third feature role of Saul Berenson, the ultimate CIA professional, is played by actor Mandy Patinkin. He is Carrie’s mentor. He handles the complexity of his character in fine style and both Lewis and Danes paid tribute to his abilities and the inspiration he provides when winning their awards. The opening episodes of Season 2 are set months following the dramatic event that ended the first series and so don’t read on unless you wish to take on board some of the highlights of its first few episodes.
The first series began with Carrie feeling positive about herself and the role she was playing in helping to flush out the identity of would be terrorists in the Middle East and those attached to establishing terrorist cells in America. This was despite being handicapped by the vagaries of her own mental health. When Marine Sergeant Nicholas Brody, who has been incarcerated as a prisoner in Iraq for some eight years was suddenly released, she followed the return of this American soil with interest, observing his body language and how he answered direct questions. Brody had been held mostly in the dark and in a tiny cell over the eight years and something in his manner and deportment convinces her that he has been ‘turned’ by Terrorist leader Abu Nazir, played by Navid Negahban. If it’s true then a hero who has come back from the dead will be an important asset to Nazir, because he will be held in high esteem when he returns home to America.
Convincing others that she was right about her assumptions was Carrie’s challenge all the way through Series 1. Her mentor Saul had desperately tried to follow her reasoning and offer his support. However she became so obsessive in trying to prove her theories by illegally spying on Brody’s home life and other odd behaviour so that in the end he was forced to dismiss her findings as well.
Brody meanwhile was endeavouring to carry out a plan to kill the American Vice President. He was going to blow up a bunker where the Vice President was forced to hide with his staff, following a ‘faked’ terrorist attack stage managed by Brody so that he would be gathered up in the chaos and confusion and confined along with everyone else, but wearing a bomb under his suit he planned to explode.
Little did they all know how close they all were to dying that day, but viewers did.
What Brody hadn’t counted on was that his re-established relationship with his now teenage daughter, who was only a little girl when he was captured, would have such an impact on his sensibilities and a commitment to his new found cause of avenging the death of dozens of little children in Iraq by an American bombing raid.
One was Nazir’s son whom he had been teaching English and grown fond of, who Nazir is prepared to ‘martyr’ for the cause, although Brody does not know that.
His daughter has discovered he converted to Islam while he was away and she phones him at the precise moment he is about to carry out his dreadful act of martyrdom. Hearing her voice has an immediate impact on his actions and he quietly aborts the mission, acting as if nothing has happened despite having a bomb strapped to his body.
By the end of the final episode of Series 1 Carrie is dismissed unceremoniously from her position at the CIA, much to Saul’s chagrin and her surprise. She is without doubt one of the best operatives he has ever trained and in the past he has always believed in her vision, but like everyone else he knows she has damaged her credibility.
He also knows that in trying to get close to Brody she had had a brief affair with him, resulting in her developing deep emotion feelings. We were left with the final images of Carrie being taken into a psychiatric clinic for ‘shock therapy’, an appalling technique she hopes will help her put aside her obsession once and for all.
As Season 2 opens Carrie has now placed herself into a mind numbing routine of growing and gathering vegetables daily in her father’s garden, virtually becoming very like one in herself. Gone is the excited confidence, replaced by a shiftiness, fear and the dread of ever having to leave the security of this new place she has created for herself to be.
Brody meanwhile has been very busy, getting himself elected a State Senator and gaining the trust of the very same Vice President, whose life he was previously going to end. The VP tells Brody he is going to have a crack at being the next President of the United States and invites him to run as his prospective VP, an opportunity Brody’s former Islamic extremist colleagues find a very attractive option.
They urge him to accept. They are pleased with him diverting a US operation that was attemptin to assassinate Nazir.
Brody’s wife Jessica played by Morena Baccarin is not so sure about this new role, but once she gets into the swing of moving in high status circles she also starts rising to the occasion. She certainly looks the part when she is asked to take part in arranging a big dinner to aid war veterans and have her handsome heroic husband speak to high ranking supporters.
Carrie meanwhile is being co-opted to join Saul on a mission back to Beirut, based on intel received from a deep cover operative she had personally recruited years before.
The ‘mole’ will not trust anyone else but Carrie in the CIA with the information she has gathered quietly over the years. Apprehensive, Carrie reluctantly agrees to go along with him, terrified about what being drawn back into the spy world will mean.
She has to cleverly elude capture in a crowded market place when on her way to meet Saul, which gives her a great buzz.
She then secretly meets her ‘mole’ without involving anyone else, again to Saul’s great annoyance because he was supposed to be present so he can back up her take on what happens.
Carrie gets her agent to agree to be extracted back to America out of harm’s way after learning about the very explosive intel, knowing she will no longer be safe undercover.
Saul is cross because Carrie brings the first part of the operation about on her own, against all his instructions. He is worried about her ability to just ‘take orders’ However he decides to proceed. When he and a small CIA team take Carrie to the agreed rendeavouz to pick up the agent they come under heavy fire and attack from the terrorists.
Carrie risks her life, rushing back into the house under fire, because she knows any intel left behind in what turns into a hastily planned extraction may be damaging.
She gathers up all the documents she can find, plus some CD’s and throws them all into a cloth bag she finds lying on a chair in the apartment. She manages to elude her would be captors and with the help of a colleague they all flee.
They have to split up and leave Beirut separately and Carrie arrives back in America ahead of Saul. She doesn’t know that when he’s examining the intel he finds a USB, a computer memory chip hidden in the actual lining of the cloth bag. When he views a video it contains he is overwhelmed about what he discovers. He knows how dangerous it is and just how grateful he is that Carrie unknowingly risked her life to retrieve it, because it vindicates her first assumptions.
Officials at the airport know that Saul’s a top official in America and despite his having diplomatic immunity they conduct an illegal search of his briefcase. They find a USB hidden in the lining of his case and confiscate it. Saul however has anticipated their moves and uses the clever ruse to smuggle the real USB out of Iraq under the intense scrutiny of their invasive search. He knows that all they have is a blank.
He comes straight from the airport to sit with Carrie, before he allows the top brass at the CIA to see the video that is on the USB. He believes she is entitled to view it first. This incredible turning point for Carrie comes at the end of Episode 3 of Season 2.
Saul does not know that she has reach desperation point and tried to commit suicide not long before he has arrived by ingesting huge quantities of her medication. Thinking better of it she has forced herself to throw up and has fallen asleep exhausted until he pounds on her front door. She was in despair again after being turned away from debriefing the CIA team leader about the mission she successfully brought to a conclusion. Being out of the company is much harder than Carrie thought and she longs to be back on the team.
Brody’s wife is also all alone, waiting for her husband to arrive at the big dinner after a side trip to his office he tells her. She’s looking sensational and was feeling so confident. She wanted to be proud of their new found relationship, but then she becomes increasingly nervous at his failure to appear. She doesn’t know he’s been called away to help one of the members of his terrorist ‘cell’ evade imminent capture. He’s assured by his contact that he will be back in time for the dinner with the Vice President, after all what can go wrong? He only has to pick the man up and deliver him to a rendevouz point, so it should be straightforward. But it’s not. Brody’s car gets a flat tyre and a whole new chain of shocking events are put in motion.
It’s a total disaster and besides, he’s so late now that he cannot possibly make it back for the dinner. When he does not appear, despite phone calls and promises, Jessica has to give the speech herself. She does so brilliantly and wins everyone over to helping veterans of war. When arriving home escorted by Brody’s former best friend Marine Captain Mike Faber, the man she was about to become engaged to when her husband returned from the dead, as they are about to go inside and enjoy a nightcap Brody arrives soaked through and wet to the skin. Mike diplomatically exits stage left and Brody gives Jessica a wild explanation she is unwilling to accept, and she storms inside their recently rediscovered relationship now very broken.
Meanwhile Saul goes straight from the airport to wake Carrie up so that he can show her what he has discovered on the secret file. Before he left for the assassination attempt on the VP months before Brody had stood in front of a camera in his house basement, dressed in his military uniform to explain his actions knowing he was about to die.
Little did he know the tell tale video would end up as it now has in CIA hands.
As this incredible story continues, so does the fine acting by the three amazing lead actors of an incredible ensemble cast. They have certainly upped the ante and our expectations of what fine television drama is, and should be all about. Homeland, a highly recommended television event.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle 2012
*George W Bush, 43rd US President
Watch Season 2 Trailer – Looking Ahead from Showtime
Developed by Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa
Starring Clair Danes, Damian Lewis, Morena Baccarin, David Harewood, Diego Klattenhoff, Jackson Pace, Morgan Saylor and Mandy Patinkin