After the catastrophic events of season 2, Homeland finds itself in something of a sticky situation in which all of the various machinations it has undertaken in order to keep the dynamic between the psychologically unstable, but also brilliant CIA analyst Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) and terrorist sleeper agent/soldier/congressman, Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis) alive and well has meant the program may have undermined its own credibility with a portion of its audience.
Like it or not, Showtime executives ultimately call the shots when it comes to newly christened award factories like Homeland, and the prospect of obliterating that glorious shot at prestige for something as simple as the natural progression of said program's storyline is practically unheard of.
However, the first thing you may notice in the season 3 premiere, 'Tin Man is Down,' is that it operates entirely without an appearance from Nicholas Brody. Of course, Brody's been on the run since last season's devastating terrorist attack on CIA headquarters decimated the organization, leaving several key characters dead and the show without some reliable supporting actors. Those deaths, combined with Brody's absence generates a dearth of character that is widely felt and suggests a smart move on behalf of the show's creators: It generates a sort of palpable tension with regard to those like Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) and her mentor Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin), who, as the ones left standing, become the individuals primarily tasked with providing answers to the attack, as well as acting as potential targets of the all the finger pointing that's happening in the wake of the devastation.
The move also allows Homeland the opportunity to shift familiar dynamics around in one sense or another, and, hopefully, to explore the stories of several other supporting characters. Early on it's clear that the great F. Murray Abraham's Dar Adal will have a greatly expanded role in season 3, as it appears he's been brought in to serve as an advisor to Saul in the CIA. Additionally, Adal's protégé (and lover of olives) Peter Quinn (Rupert Friend) is back doing what he does best – i.e., taking point on the assassination of a key terrorist target. Honestly, Abraham has more to do in 'Tin Man Down,' while Friend simply facilitates the action/thriller portion of the episode, but considering both actors provided some truly memorable moments from season 2, it's good to see the series is rewarding them with (hopefully) expanded storylines.
But Brody's disappearance, and, of course, the broadcasting of his taped confession is felt well beyond the crumbling walls of the nation's intelligence community; it has hit most forcefully in the home of the family Brody left behind. With their father labeled a terrorist, a murderer and a traitor, the Brody family has also undergone a transformation of sorts – one that goes beyond the clearly physical transformations of child actors from year to year – and experienced dramatic events of its own.
For her part, Dana (Morgan Saylor) – who has long acted as a candid bringer of truth (for both her father and the series) – likely burdened by the traumatic events of last season that actually go far beyond the actions attributed to her father, suffered a nearly successful suicide attempt. The event, and the series' acknowledgement of it, is one of many palpable ramifications of what the previous season's climax left its characters with, and serves as a promotion of sorts, from supporting character, to one with perhaps a larger emotional role in the main narrative. As Saylor was a frequent highlight of season 2, this transition appears to bode well for the upcoming storyline.
That story is wisely positioned to examine the fallout from the attack that left more than 200 people dead at the end of last season and the primary suspect still at large. While certain aspects like the threat to dissolve the CIA seem drastic and maybe even unbelievable, the reactionary stance taken by those with less knowledge than the characters involved manages to support such dangers. And while those kinds of sweeping bureaucratic changes and governmental orders help make the stakes seem high in a different way than, say, the threat of yet another attack on U.S. soil, Homeland has always been a series that works best when it's tackling the personal consequences of such large, global events.
And in 'Tin Man is Down' anyway, the show again proves how the dynamic between Carrie and Saul, and all its various complications – interpersonal and otherwise – help to elevate a series that could otherwise become too focused on the pursuit of the bad guy. Saul finds himself saddled with an immense unwanted burden as a direct result of the bombing, while his semi-estranged wife has returned home to find him unwilling to take action in either his personal or professional life, because he's "waiting for the right answer to present itself." One such answer comes when Saul winds up throwing Carrie under the bus while being grilled by a congressional committee.
For the most part, it's compelling stuff, but the limitations of the ongoing story are still readily present. As interesting as Carrie is, will yet another season of superiors questioning her mental stability be enough to keep viewers interested? And while Brody's return has already been teased, aside from a sense of familiarity, what does the series have to gain from his continued role in the narrative? We have a long way to go, but hopefully, Homeland season 3 will have answers to these questions.
Homeland continues next Sunday with 'Uh… Oh… Ah…' @9pm on Showtime. Check out a preview below: