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Spoiler Alert! Did HOMELAND Return to Form After Brody-Induced Disaster?

NOTE TO READER: This is not a recap, instead my Spoiler Alert! columns will serve as a more in depth critical review of specific episodes and shows as a whole. I always invite your participation in the discussion, so please feel free to leave comments below, or to reach out on Twitter @BWWMatt, just do me a favor and keep it civil, ok? Saul would want it that way.

The brilliance of the first season of HOMELAND lay in the fact that complicated people were making complicated decisions. We weren't presented with a black-and-white world where the good guys always wore red, white, and blue. Instead, we saw people wrestling with the same geo-political issues that our nation was dealing with at the time. It was confusing, it was dirty, it was dangerous, but it was captivating and unique. Since that first season, the show has devolved into one that no longer wrestles with big issues, it instead has been driven by the same thing that drives 95% of every other show on television; love.

There have always been personal stories woven into the HOMELAND narrative, but these personal stories were only compelling when their importance was amplified by the political backdrop in which they were framed; HOMELAND began to flame out when that balance was flipped. When show-runner Alex Gansa decided that manic-depressive CIA Agent Carrie Mathison and P.O.W. Marine-turned-jihadist-turned Congressman Nicholas Brody were star-crossed lovers, and no longer a devastatingly bad lapse of judgment, everything that followed strained every remaining ounce of credulity.

However, now that Brody is not only merely dead, he's really most sincerely dead, the question is, is it possible for this show's once-interesting characters to return to a stable enough footing that even their unpredictable decisions at least seem grounded in some sort of reality.

As Season Four kicked off tonight, a lot has changed; Carrie is now Station Chief in Kabul, Afghanistan, Saul is working in the private sector, and Quinn is still sulking in his moral superiority in Islamabad, Pakistan. However, despite these changes, the show hasn't completely shed the problems that Brody created.

In the first season, when Claire Danes' characters was one of the most layered and interesting on television, Carrie was full of all of the passion and depression that you would expect a bi-polar person to be. Now, due either to her anti-psychotic medication, or the fact that she watched the love of her life be executed, she seems unfazed by, and uninvested in, any of the horrors surrounding her, robbing Carrie of her most compelling characteristic, and in turn, robbing me of any emotional investment I had in her.

The first evidence that the old Carrie is gone is when we see her ignore her immediate reservations to ordering a bombing run against Haissam Haqqani; which turns out to be a mistake that results in the deaths of 40 civilians at a wedding party. The old Carrie, the Carrie that was hyped up on ambition and righteous indignation, would have demanded corroboration before ordering the strike; she would have created a conspiracy map with fuzzy pictures and string before ordering the deaths of people that she wasn't sure deserved it. However, stripped of her confidence, her emotions, and her crazy, Carrie behaves like the stuffed shirt that she once railed against, and okays the ill-conceived assassination.

Later in the first hour, Carrie and Quinn barely survive an angry mob that bludgeons Congressman Peter Russo Islamabad Station Chief Sandy Bachman to death, and despite being covered in the blood of a Pakistani rioter, Carrie chastises Quinn for being emotional about the murder of his boss. As he did towards the end of Season Three, throughout both episodes tonight, Quinn tried to remind Carrie that though there is an impersonal big picture to their job, to truly be successful in their mission, they need to maintain a certain level of professional morality. Unfortunately, Carrie was having none of that.

The final straw in Carrie's descent into emotional ambivalence was in her resistance to accept the fact that she gave birth to a red-headed love-child. Early on we are led to believe that she was moved from the safe assignment in Istanbul (that would have allowed her to bring daughter Frannie) to the Kabul warzone against her wishes. However, as the episodes play out, we realize that her sister Maggie is right that Carrie has lied and manipulated her way into dangerous postings all in an effort to distance herself from her daughter and maintain the rush that her job gives her.

Carrie has always been selfish, Carrie has always been destructive; but this is the exact opposite direction that I was hoping motherhood would lead her. I had hoped that Frannie would refocus Carrie on something more constructive than her reckless affair with Brody; that Frannie would reopen her eyes to the mess that she (and her career) had become, however, in the first two hours of Season Four, Carrie continues her reckless and destructive habits; on which her psychiatrist sister accurately calls her out.

For me, I lost nearly any compassion for Carrie's emotionally fragile state when it appeared that she contemplated drowning her daughter in the bathtub to rid herself of any parental obligation. While we know that Carrie is mentally ill, and her infanticidal impulse passed quickly, that crossed the line from unstable to psychopathic, and it makes it very hard to invest in her as a person with any sort of moral authority.

With all of that being typed, despite having a central character that barely resembles her earlier self, there is a certain freshness that is felt in the two-hour season premiere. There are definite elements that feel reminiscent of the first season; Sandy navigating the streets of Islamabad not knowing that his cover had been blown was extremely suspenseful television, and the storyline centered on Aayan Ibrahim (LIFE OF PI's Suraj Sharma) reminded me that this show once thrived on emotional and political complexity.

Aayan is a Pakistani medical student and the lone survivor of the wedding bombing who loses his entire family, but refuses to give into the violent calls for revenge. His emotional reaction to the death of his mother and sister is heart-breaking, and his resistance to his roommates call to upload the wedding footage is admirable. When confronted by a reporter he tells her that while the Americans are murderers, so are the people that killed Sandy. The fact that he moved over a dozen cases of medicine from his apartment to his girlfriend's family's farmhouse makes me wonder what else Aayan has planned, but his early resistances to revenge despite his heartache makes for compelling television.

One last thing that gave me hope that the new season would have a consistent narrative, happened in the middle of the first hour. As Carrie was partaking in a bit of day-drinking and baseball, First Lieutenant J.G. Edgars approaches her, and after informing her that he was the one who dropped the bombs on the wedding party, he tells her that she, and the rest of her ilk, were all "F*cking monsters!" As we see Carrie reeling not from his words, but from his disrespect, we come upon a study group where Aayan's roommate declares that all countries, including Pakistan, are run by mad men. These consecutive moments, combined with the knowledge that Sandy was being protected by CIA Director Lockhart as he traded classified state secrets for the locations of high-value terrorist targets, makes me hope that our band of Not-So-Merry Men and Women will again find a way to buck conventional, self-preservational wisdom and eventually do the right thing for the right reasons.

Over all, the first two hours of HOMELAND's fourth season felt like an unfulfilled opportunity to reclaim the show's glory. Yes, the political intrigue that Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winner Tracy Letts' Lockhart might have been complicit in treason is interesting; and Aayan's journey after losing his family will undoubtedly take many turns after his roommate uploaded the footage that proved the Americans bombed a wedding; and of course Mandy Patinkin will still be a vital cog in the season, but when it comes down to it, this is still Claire Danes' show, and if the writers can't craft a believable, sympathetic protagonist, this once shining example of television potential might go the way of Congressman Brody.

Things That Make You Go Hmmmm...
1) The opening scene seemed to borrow the incongruous jazz soundtrack from ABC's BLACKBOX.
2) Would Showtime not pony up the money to pay to use "Happy Birthday" on air, or does CIA protocol require the singing of "For He/She's a Jolly Good Fellow" for all celebratory occasions?
3) It was a little sad to see Carrie's dad only referred to after actor James Rebhorn passed away earlier this year.
4) Was that Clint Howard (Ron's younger brother) playing Saul's new boss Aaron?
5) Now that Saul and Mira live in New York City, was anyone else hoping that Saul would give up espionage and try his hand at the stage?
6) I know she will be back in Episode Three, but I was disappointed that we didn't even get a glimpse as to what Fara was doing now.
7) Do you think Aayan's roommate was able to steal his wedding footage by hacking his iCloud account? A lot of that been going on recently.
8) Despite all evidence to the contrary, I am still holding out hope that Sandy's super-secret asset is Annet Mahendru from THE AMERICANS.
9) Tony-nominee Adam Godley (who was fantastic in Roundabout's ANYTHING GOES) looks way too much like a member of the British Royal Family to pass as an American spy.
10) What does it say about a show that has its only sane, sympathetic character end its season premiere bloodied and scared for his life?

So, was HOMELAND back to its first season form tonight? Or were you let down by the very unsympathetic way that Carrie was painted? Let me know what you think in the comments below, or on Twitter @BWWMatt. Also, don't forget to follow @BWWTVWorld on Twitter and Like us on Facebook for all of the latest TV news, reviews, and recaps.

Photo Credit: Joe Alblas | SHOWTIME

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