TV Review: ‘Homeland’ Starts Second Season with Perfect Episode

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CHICAGO – We’ve all had creative buyer’s remorse. You recommend a band to your friend and their new album sucks. You post about your love for a TV show and the next episode jumps the shark. And so Emmy voters who chose Showtime’s “Homeland” as the best drama on television may worry a bit as to whether or not the program still deserves that title at the start of its second season, which debuts tonight, September 30, 2012 at 9pm CST. Worry not dear Academy members. The second-season premiere of “Homeland” is absolutely stellar, one of the best sophomore starts that I’ve ever seen in the way that it refreshes the show without feeling repetitive or completely rebooted. It is exactly what you want from a season two premiere and one of the best hours of TV of the year to date. Television Rating: 5.0/5.0
Television Rating: 5.0/5.0

Here’s where this review gets difficult. The Emmy Award-winning season of “Homeland” is surely being viewed right now by many people who have just caught on to the show due to its recent press and either picked up the freshman year on Blu-ray or DVD or ordered it On Demand. And so I don’t want to ruin the intricate plotting and delicate secrets of that season. However, it’s impossible to completely talk around where “Homeland” is at to start season two. So, if you’re still in season one and trying to figure out where the program is going, bookmark this review and come back later. The rest, jump below the image.

Photo credit: Showtime

Still here? If you’re like me, you’re wondering how on Earth the creators of “Homeland” can match that first season in intensity without feeling repetitive. You’re also probably wondering where the show goes, particularly with the character of Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes), whose house of cards collapsed last year to the point that there’s no way she can just go back to work for the C.I.A. How can she become the protagonist again? And where does the life of Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis) go from here now that the suicide plot from season one is over and it appears he’s more likely to try and change the system from within than to blow it up?

Photo credit: Showtime

The fact is that the first season of “Homeland” could have been a mini-series. A P.O.W. is turned by his love for a child and then saved by his love for another one while a troubled C.I.A. Agent watches her life collapse as she tries to track him. But instead of rebooting in season two, the writers of “Homeland” wisely pick up not far from where they left off in terms of character. Once again, we have a character in the Middle East — this time it’s Saul (Mandy Patinkin) — who has a connection that could reveal a plot to destroy the United States. The problem is that Saul’s contact will only speak to one person — Carrie.

And Carrie’s not doing so well. She’s recovering through the help of her family but she’s trying to find normalcy away from smart bombs, spies, and drones. So calling her back into action may not be the best thing for her mental or physical health. Danes is pitch perfect here as a character who seems like she wants to save herself but feels like she needs to help save the world first.

Meanwhile, Brody learns that his name is being floated as a Vice Presidential candidate. Where do Brody’s allegiances lie? And will the people who he worked for in the past accept the argument that he will no longer do their bidding in the future? And the fact is that Brody still has a family (including the underrated Morena Baccarin) who don’t know all of his secrets. Keeping major secrets from your family long-term? It’s not so easy.

The 2012 premiere of “Homeland” got me thinking about what we really want from a second-season start. The show needs to feel familiar so it doesn’t veer too far off the track about why we liked it in the first place but we also don’t just want an updated version of year one. In many ways, a show like “Homeland” needs to just slightly turn, taking the characters in a new direction that doesn’t feel like a reboot entirely. “The Sopranos” second season, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” second season, “The X-Files” second season, “LOST” second season — they took what worked in season one and built on them in ways that felt both new and of a whole with the first season. “Homeland” starts with such creative fire, passion, and drive that it looks likely to do the same.

“Homeland” stars Claire Danes, Damian Lewis, Morena Baccarin, and Mandy Patinkin. It returns on Showtime on September 30, 2012 at 9pm CST. content director Brian Tallerico

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