When last we saw Carrie Mathison (played by newly-minted Emmy-winner Claire Danes), she was at possibly the lowest point a TV protagonist had ever been. Her bipolar disorder precipitated a nervous breakdown, but also the realization that former Marine P.O.W. Nick Brody (Damian Lewis) was possibly a sleeper agent working for a terrorist. Carrie was able to (indirectly) dissuade Brody from being a suicide bomber, and for her troubles, she was discredited, arrested, drummed out of the CIA and even forced to apologize to Brody, even though she was right about him all along. (I’m still indignant over that.)
Faith shaken in herself, she checked into a mental hospital and, while on the verge of receiving electro-shock treatments, remembered a tell-tale detail that confirmed Brody’s double identity. Then: BZZZT! Would Carrie remember the clue? And if not, what would Brody do with his new political connections?
The press material says that the “Homeland” season 2 premiere begins “months” after the finale, although given that Brody has been elected to the House of Representatives, it seems like at least a year. On the news, Israel has bombed Iran, but Carrie tries not to pay attention to international affairs. She’s living with her dad, although her sister seems to be around day and night. At one point she mentions that she has exams to grade, but when we see her students’ collegiate-style blue books, they’re written at a grade school level. We find out later that Carrie has been teaching English as a Second Language to adult immigrants, which makes use of only a fraction of her talents.
Meanwhile, her mentor Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin) is stationed in Beirut, although the scenes were apparently filmed in Israel. (“Homeland” is actually based on an Israeli series, “Prisoners of War” — coincidence?) The embassy receives a message of a possible terrorist attack from a woman who may be the wife of a Hezbollah officer. Saul goes to make a rendezvous with her, driving pass flag-burning mobs in the street, which provides imagery uncomfortably reminiscent of the recent attack on the U.S. embassy in Libya. Saul makes contact, but the woman will only talk to Carrie Mathison.
Meanwhile, Representative Nick Brody’s settles into his office at the capital when receives a visit from Vice President Walden (Jamey Sheridan). Walden plans to run for president and wants to float possibility of Brody as a running mate, but mostly as a means to use the war hero as a prop to sell taking a harder line on Iran. Brody doubts it’ll amount to much, but it sets off a media frenzy. Brody’s son (Jackson Pace) says he got “300 friend requests” that day. His daughter Dana (Decatur’s Morgan Saylor) proves more disgruntled, partly because she’s a teenager, but also because she knows her dad’s a secret Muslim and is clearly wrestling with demons behind his upbeat front.
Carrie takes a visit at her ESL class from a fellow agent, who says that her former CIA boss David Estes (David Harewood) wants to meet her. “Tell him to fuck off,” Carrie says. Yes! Now, it’s not Estes’ fault that Carrie has a form of mental illness, but he’s been a jerk about it in every possible way. At home that night Carrie takes a call from Saul and reluctantly agrees to meet with Estes, who’s waiting in a car across the street. Estes makes an effort not to be as much of a dick as usual as he makes the long walk up to the Mathisons’ porch. Carrie confirms that the source was hers, from years ago: “I ran her off book.” Estes asks her to come to Beirut for a three-day mission but makes it clear that she’s not getting her job back.
And Carrie agrees, her sense of patriotism outweighing her reluctance and her sister’s objections. The episode takes a big cliché — a mentally or physically wounded expert coaxed out of retirement to take one last case — and fleshes it out convincingly. On the one hand, being an intelligence agent is Carrie’s calling and life’s work. On the other hand, the job’s enormous stresses exacerbate her condition. There’s no obvious right answer, but clearly Carrie has to go back to the field for the show to go on.
Brody takes an interview with D.C. journalist who seems vaguely reminiscent of Christine Amanpour, at least until she mentions that she’s a contact with Abu Nazir. Lewis gets a great moment conveying Brody’s panic that shows why the actor got an Emmy in the face of so much competition. Lewis’s eyes, the set of his expression, his antsy but subtle body language suggest that Brody hadn’t heard from Nazir since the season finale and was possibly hoping to never hear from him again: the old tensions seem to come rushing back. The journalist gives him an assignment: to break into Estes office safe and copy some codes, for some kind of reprisal to Israeli attack on Iran. “There’s a difference between terrorism and a justifiable act of retaliation,” says Brody, as if he’s trying to worm his way out of it.
At Dana’s new prep school, she attends a “Quaker meeting” in which the students express their feelings about the Middle East unrest. A jerky one goes on about how Muslims expect to go to heaven if they kill Americans, and adds that his father’s a government muckety-muck. Dana heckles him and blurts, “What if I tell you my Dad’s a Muslim?” Oops. At home afterwards, Jessica (Morena Baccarin) is furious over Dana’s outburst and the parents have it out. Jessica: “Why would she say such a thing?” Brody: “Because it’s true.” Boom.
Over the break, Jessica seems to have turned into a more appearance-conscious, less sympathetic politician’s wife. She goes to the garage where he privately prays to Mecca and trashes the place, looking for evidence of his religious practices. They have a great confrontation at cross-purposes: she snaps “These are the people who tortured you!” but he’s more concerned when she throws Koran at him: “It’s not supposed to touch the floor.” She finally blurts, “I married a U.S. Marine! This can’t happen!” Which indicates how his political prospects would fare if this news were confirmed.
Meanwhile, Carrie’s preparations for returning to the field do not go well. She has trouble remembering the details of her cover story as a Canadian traveler, gets snippy about her meals (“I don’t eat meat,” she snaps) and sleeps too much. She gets through the airport without incident, but at the hotel, when we see how she pitted-out her blouse, we get a sense of her nervousness.
Brody goes to the CIA office for an intelligence briefing with Estes, who happens to mention that when he started with the drone program, there were just eight, and now there’s eight to nine thousand. Drones killed Nazir’s young son Issa, an act that motivates Brody’s Islamist sympathies, making him willing to sneak into Estes’ safe. Brody’s journalist “friend” demands a statement from Estes, leaving Brody alone in the office. He finds the safe and the pertinent folder, and then copies down the codes in a little notebook. How low-tech! I guess Brody had to surrender his cell phone earlier, and didn’t have some kind of spy camera on his person.
Carrie goes to meet Saul at an open-air market, but Saul realizes he’s under surveillance and orders her to keep going. One of the spies follows after Carrie, and rather than abort the mission with her cover blown, Carrie declares, “I can lose this guy.” She winds her way through a bazaar, finds a dead-end, trades head scarves with another woman, and when the guy almost takes her at gunpoint, she disarms him and knocks him sprawling. Carrie flees and gives a huge grin, “The Smile” of the episode’s title. She’s getting a little of her own back.
At the Brody house that night, the Congressman wraps his Koran in a towel, kisses it, and buries it in the backyard. Dana comes to help him, rather reverently. The optics of the scene suggest that Brody’s going to stop being a practicing Muslim, despite what he believes in his heart, and his daughter respects him for it. Brody’s keeping his real self under wraps, while Carrie’s is re-emerging.
Just how many seasons can “Homeland” reasonably continue with Carrie as bi-polar CIA agent and Brody as an Islamist sleeper agent in the House of Representatives? The only way I can imagine it continuing is if Carrie and Brody start working together in some way — but how?
In Season One I had a suspicion that Abu Nazir arranged for Issa’s death himself as a means of winning Brody’s loyalty, and that Issa might not even be his real son. Maybe they’re not going in that direction, though. If Carrie remembers Brody saying "Issa," she doesn't say this week.
When Brody was searching Estes’ office, I was hoping he’d clumsily trash the place, like Inspector Clouseau or Austin Powers.
I found myself wishing that instead of Sheridan, “Homeland’s” vice president was Julia-Louis Dreyfus of “Veep.”
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