‘Homeland’ Review: Season Three Premiere Reboots the Show

By  · Published on September 30th, 2013

‘Homeland’ Review: Season Three Premiere Reboots the Show

As far as I can recall, there was no theme song for Homeland’s season three premiere. That seems appropriate – it’s in line with the fact that, with Brody in hiding and the CIA in tatters, the Showtime drama is undergoing an identity crisis. For the first two seasons, Abu Nazir, Homeland’s Osama Bin Laden, was the show’s Big Bad. Then Nazir was killed. Now what?

For the first half of “Tin Man is Down,” it seemed like Marid Javadi, an Iranian terrorist responsible for arranging the bombing that took out over 200 senior CIA officials in the second season finale, might step into Nazir’s shoes. But showrunner Alex Gansa has promised “something that’s smaller, that is sort of a little more John LeCarre” for the series’ third year, which might mean something more inwardly focused: the point of the CIA.

The Langley bombing occurred two months ago, and the rubble still stands as a rebuke to the intelligence agency for failing to foresee the event – Congress is forcing the CIA to sleep in the bed it wet. As the spy bureau’s acting director, Saul now carries the burdensome responsibility of not just rebuilding and redefining the organization, but defending its actual existence.

This storyline initially seemed far-fetched to me, but I eventually came to accept it. I’m no government geek, but it’s not as if the NSA, the FBI, the State Department, the military, and/or any number of Blackwater-like private “security” companies couldn’t eventually fill in the CIA’s gap. But the show hasn’t done a good enough job of making the threats to the agency’s existence – the CIA isn’t a real-life target of certain members of Congress in the way, say, the EPA or the Department of Education are. We only see the egg on the agency’s face, not who would gain from its dissolvance.

Despite Homeland’s bravery in tackling the thornier issues of the day, the show rarely gets cited for its commentary on the War on Terror, even though it began as an head-thumpingly obvious critique of unmanned drone strikes. With the show’s pulpier elements – like Carrie and Brody’s affair – tabled for the time being, a reboot of the show would be the perfect opportunity to put forward some serious opinions. That might be where the third season is going: I loved Saul explaining what’s in his heart early in the episode – “We’re not assassins, Mira. We’re spies. We don’t kill our targets if we don’t have to” – then going with his head anyway later in the episode by killing Mavadi’s cell. What he’d like for espionage to be – and what it’s demanded to be by today’s political climate – are two vastly different things. If the show could tackle the way the schism between the agency’s ideals and the public face it needs to show in greater depth instead of merely giving Saul a fleeting pang of guilt, it could finally get taken seriously as a show about something more than fatal attraction between two people who should know better. If that’s the “smaller” direction season three is taking, I couldn’t be more thrilled. But we’ll see.

But Saul following his head instead of his heart also means throwing Carrie under the bus. In front of Congress, he testifies, “The case officer in question has a history of erratic behavior. She’s been diagnosed as bipolar, a condition she concealed from her superiors for more than ten years.” Though it was framed as revenge against being cursed out by Carrie in a restaurant, I don’t think Saul would be petty enough to oust Carrie that way – not for that reason. Given the father-daughter relationship between the two, Saul’s betrayal should have wrenched the heart. I mean, sure, it was painful in a way that a skinned knee is painful – viscerally, but with the comforting knowledge that the hurt will disappear soon.

After all, Carrie’s been fired before, and was brought back under the radar. She’s not taking her meds. Won’t she just have another big relevation, like she did at the end of the first season with the Nazir rainbow on her wall, and then be folded back into the CIA again? (As long as we’re on the subject of things the show’s already done, hello, little boy killed as collateral damage.)

Meanwhile, seemingly on a completely different show, Jessica and Dana are dealing with the aftereffects of being related to Brody. (Hash it out in the comments: who’s done more damage to his wife and kids, Walter White or Nicolas Brody?) With the exception of that after-school-special storyline about watching the road while you’re driving, I’ve been as engrossed by the Brody ladies’ arcs as any other on Homeland. But this episode drove them right into Stupidtown and hit-and-ran the show’s credibility during the joyride. Dana’s suicide attempt makes total sense, but she seems way too smart and jaded to send her boyfriend a sext, especially when she was hounded by a bunch of media vultures just half an hour ago. (Is he going to turn out to be a TMZ employee?) And Jessica’s going to dust off her accounting degree now? What was she doing during the ten years Brody was missing?

I’m honestly excited to see how the show will reinvent itself with so many shake-ups in the cast. But the Brody family has to be tied more strongly to the Carrie-Saul battles somehow before it becomes a vestigial appendage. And if the CIA really is staring down the barrel of a gun, the show has to make me believe there are actually bullets in the chamber.