Fresh of a triumphant showing at Sunday night’s Emmy Awards, Homeland – which won statues for Best Actor and Actress along with Best Drama, unseating Mad Men from its four-season reign – is set to return this Sunday (Sept. 30) at 10 PM ET/PT on Showtime.
When we last saw CIA agent Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) and American POW-turned-terrorist Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis), Carrie was about to undergo electroshock therapy to treat her bipolar disorder, while Brody’s failure to detonate his suicide bomber vest had landed him in hot water with terrorist overlord Abu Nazir.
As we head into season 2, here are five things to look forward to in the upcoming season (SPOILERS follow):
1. The Memory Problem
Just as Carrie was gearing up for ECT in last season’s finale, she flashed back to a memory of her in bed with Brody earlier in the season, when Brody said a name – “Issa”– in his sleep. Issa was the son of Abu Nazir, whom Brody had tutored in English while in captivity. Issa died as a result of a drone strike authorized by American Vice President Walden, who later claimed that no children had died in the attack. During a manic episode, Carrie became convinced that the death of Nazir’s son was the impetus behind his resurgent terrorist activity, but hadn’t connected Issa to Brody himself. By the end of the finale she had become disillusioned by her conjectures and had grown skeptical of her obsession with Brody’s guilt, both of which contributed significantly to her decision to undergo ECT.
Carrie’s illness has negatively impacted her personal life in the past, but she believed that her obsessive, manic tendencies were imperative to her job performance. Where her personal failures could not motivate her to seek treatment, professional failure certainly could. Unfortunately, by the time she remembered Brody’s night time revelation, it was too late to stop her treatment, which commonly induces memory loss. Though it’s a pretty safe bet that Carrie won’t remember the critical connection between Brody and Abu Nazir’s son at the beginning of the season, we can expect her to get her memory back bit by bit as the season progresses. When will she remember this vital piece of information, and how will it shape the way the plot unfolds?
2. Brody’s Political Career
Brody came agonizingly close to taking out himself, the vice president, and an array of
other important American political figures trapped together in a bunker in the wake of a coordinated attack on one of the vice president’s aids. He got as far, in fact, as flipping
the switch – and the bomb didn’t go off. He managed to get the vest wired right, but the
delay was costly: He then received a call from his suspicious daughter, begging him to
come home, and ultimately couldn’t go through with his plan to destroy himself.
He later spun his cold feet as a political opportunity to a furious Abu Nazir: since various
politicians have schemed to get him into office, why not go along with their suggestions
and do more damage to the system from within? Nazir tentatively accepted his proposed
course of action – frankly, he didn’t have much of a choice.
It’s fair to assume that much of the upcoming season will revolve, narratively at least,
around Brody’s political rise – that’s certainly what the promotional materials suggest,
anyway. This will mean spending lots of time in close proximity with the man he loathes
so much that he almost killed himself to destroy him – Vice President Walden – which
will presumably lead to some tense scenes and a serious conflict of interest. And then
there’s what Abu Nazir will actually ask Brody to do – and whether, this time, he’ll be
able to go through with it.
3. Mole or No Mole?
Showrunners Howard Gordan and Alex Gansa both wrote for and produced the post-9/11
television staple 24, which dealt with similar thematic material – terrorist threats against
the United States – in a much different way: where 24 was sensational and implausible
to the extreme, and advocated a hard right-wing ideology toward counter-terrorism
(its gleeful endorsement of torture was distasteful at the time but has aged particularly
poorly), Homeland is far more ambiguous. By devoting half of the show and a great deal
of sympathy to the character who might technically be called the “bad guy,” Gordon and
Gansa have forced viewers to think hard about what exactly it means to be a villain.
Despite their philosophical differences, however, Homeland does share much common
ground with its predecessor, and when the question of a possible mole within the CIA
came up midway through the season, viewers of 24 had ample reason to be suspicious:
that show was notorious for using moles as a progressively more ridiculous plot device
over the course of its many seasons on the air.
Suspicion fell on Mandy Patinkin’s Saul Berenson, Carrie’s mentor at the CIA, who –
among other things – failed a lie detector test and might have slipped a prisoner a razor
with which to kill himself. The question of his trustworthiness was not directly addressed
or resolved last season, and will probably play a role in the episodes to come.
I’ve never bought Saul as a mole: his affection for Carrie is genuine and palpable, and he
simply doesn’t have much of a motive for working for the other side, at least not one that
I can see. But it’s certainly not impossible that Gordon and Gansa will fall back on their
old wheelhouse of tricks – let’s just hope they employ them less gratuitously this time
4. Will They or Won’t They?
One of the most exciting aspects of Homeland’s first season was its writers’ willingness
to blow through plot developments that most shows would spend seasons building up to,
chief among them the sexual tension between Carrie and Brody. The real frisson between
them was troubling, given that it was preceded (and informed) by Carrie’s voyeuristic,
illegal invasion of Brody’s privacy, and it is to the show’s credit that they pushed its
consummation forward so quickly – mid-way through the season – without somehow
absolving Carrie of her moral failings.
When Brody inevitably discovered that Carrie had been spying on him, their brief affair
turned tragic: though he understandably wanted nothing more to do with her, it became
increasingly clear to viewers that she had developed a real emotional attachment to him.
Her conflict of interest complicated her pursuit of him professionally – to put it mildly.
Though Brody seems to be a man newly dedicated to his family, it seems unlikely that
the show will fail to capitalize on the incredible chemistry between Danes and Lewis.
Whether or not they’ll find themselves romantically entangled again is up in the air, but
there’s no doubt that the personal tension between them will drive much of the action in
the coming season …
5. The Problem with Plot
… which is, in a way, both Homeland’s greatest strength and greatest (potential)
weakness. It excels where 24 was generally weakest: in the complex and nuanced
development of its characters’ psychological states. Particularly in the first half of the
first season, the writers very rarely took any steps to explaining to the viewers why
the characters were doing the things they were doing; it was up to us to figure out
what certain lines, expressions, and decisions signified. Brody and Carrie are both
fascinating, rich characters, and the show’s greatest triumph is its success in making
them emotionally sympathetic even while their actions are morally dubious or outright
The careening plot was also thrilling, but you get the sense, watching that first season,
that it’s perpetually on the verge of running off the rails. Gansa and Gordon have spoken
publicly about the fact that they don’t plan the entire season out before beginning to write
episodes – a revelation that will come as no surprise whatsoever to viewers of 24, who
grew used to increasingly ludicrous plot twists as each season passed the two-thirds mark.
The plot of Homeland is not exactly believable – it’s isn’t entirely unbelievable, either –
but it definitely worked to support the character arcs, and not the other way around.
The show is at its weakest when the writers attempt to provide facile explanations for
the characters’ motivations, which generally serve to turn characters toward plot instead of plot toward characters. Brody’s turn to terrorism in the wake of Issa’s death, for
instance, made for what was easily the weakest episode in the first season. It felt like the
writers were taking a schmaltzy, sentimental shortcut to move the audience as rapidly as
possible from Brody the War Veteran to Brody the Terrorist. Though they for the most
part avoided this kind of easy maneuver, the audience’s sense of being out at
sea is not encouraging. Unlike the likes of Breaking Bad and Mad Men, which provide
the feeling – real or illusory – of following a predestined course, Homeland is volatile,
tactile, ever-changing. That’s part of what makes it such exciting viewing – so long as the
writers manage to save it from imploding in on itself.