Spoiler Alert: Do not read on if you have not seen Season 3, Episode 1 of Showtime's "Homeland," titled "Tin Man is Down."
"What did the optimist say when he jumped off the building?" asks Dana Brody two-thirds of the way into the opening episode of the third season of "Homeland." "So far, so good."
Amid the helter-skelter plot twists and screeching tension of the opener, it was reassuring to know that "Homeland" is a show that has remained true to the image of Saul Berenson, the character who provides its moral heartbeat: stubborn, curmudgeonly, and aggressively joke-free.
Two months have passed since the bombing at CIA headquarters at Langley, which killed 219 people and has been dubbed America's "Second 9/11." Nicholas Brody is now the Most Wanted And Simultaneously Most Unlocated Man in America, Dana Brody has attempted to commit suicide, Jessica Brody has dusted off her old accounting textbooks in a bid to save the disgraced family from financial ruin, and Carrie Mathison, stood down from the CIA, has stopped taking medication to deal with her bipolar disorder and switched to tequila instead. Following the death of David Estes in the bomb blast, Saul Berenson has been named director of the CIA, where he spends a lot of time holding his head in his hands, talking to Salieri from "Amadeus" (or Dar Adal, as he is otherwise known in this show), and walking around the corridors of the intelligence agency, breath and sphincter seemingly held in, with a singleness of purpose that suggests either that he is on a mission to save the world, or that he is in desperate need of a bathroom break, or both.
Meanwhile, the Senate has launched a closed-door inquiry to investigate whether the CIA was negligent in the run-up to the bombing and Peter Quinn, that scheming heartthrob of the international sniper set, has holed himself up, chest and abs duly oiled in the manner of top-level intelligence agents everywhere, in a room in Caracas, where he is building a bomb. Where is Brody? Will the CIA survive the fallout from the Langley bombing? What is the purpose of an intelligence agency, anyway? What is the price of loyalty, the cost of betrayal? What is love? Why is Quinn building a bomb and when will he put a shirt on? And in a knife fight between Salieri and Inigo Montoya, who will emerge victorious? All of these questions were raised within the first few scenes of this incredibly dense opener. Ten minutes in and we ourselves had started to look a little like Saul -- depressed, in need of a scotch, and so terribly, terribly burdened by the world around us.
But let's get to our main character, Carrie. With Brody out of the picture, the episode focuses on Carrie as the Second Most Wanted Person Everyone Wants To Yell At. "You are hiding something ... You are doing, and have done great harm, to your country, which you will pay for one day, I promise you," the Chairman threatens her. After 14 years at the CIA, and as the designated point person on Abu Nazir, Carrie is also blaming herself. "If you're asking if he outsmarted me, yes he did. If you're asking if I will ever forgive myself, I won't," she shakily tells the Chairman, who kind of looks like a more attractive version of Dick Cheney.
We find out that Carrie has ditched the lithium because, as she tells her concerned dad, she was only "half" there: "It was right in front of my eyes, and I never saw it coming." So Carrie is back to her "Beautiful Mind" scheming ways, mapping out all of the places where Brody may or may not have been in the past two months based on "reliable" reports. (Really? When did the National Enquirer become a "reliable" source?). Turns out, Brody -- or redhead dude who bears a striking resemblance to him -- is actually picking up chicks at the liquor store, talking to Carrie about Costco as she piles up the bottles in her bin. She takes lookalike Brody home with her and they have angry sex, which is the only kind of sex Carrie seems to have.
We jump to a group therapy session, where Dana -- suddenly liberated from the emotional albatross of the ankle-length combat boots that had done so much to stunt her personal development in Season 2 -- is folded into a comfy-looking armchair in a pair of ballerina flats. "I'll make lists," she says, in a voice that is at once knotted, coquettish and pissed-off-sounding, the flirty trill of the troubled teenage rebel on the cusp of her sexual awakening (or are we reading too much into things here?). The dramatic change in shoe-wear is harbinger of an even greater revelation to come: Dana is returning home from hospital after she tried to slit her wrists, a cry for help amid the persistent harassment of the Brody family that has followed the outing of her father as a suspected mass murderer. As she leaves the clinic's grounds and prepares to rejoin her family, she has just enough time to exchange one last kiss with her new paramour, a fellow patient who looks less like a psychiatric case than a middle-aged boyband member. More than anything about loyalty or the warped psychology of counter-terrorism, the show's main message at this point seems to be: you look around hospitals these days, and you can find some really, really good-looking people.
On returning home, Dana has a weird exchange with her grandmother about how she can't have dinner because she needs to do homework on "Beowulf" (what kind of sadist sets analysis of an Old English epic poem as homework for a troubled kid who's just tried to kill herself?), then retreats to her bedroom, removes her top and bra and, framed by the sunlight pouring through the corner windows, snaps a naked selfie on her phone, which she immediately shuttles along to her new boyband boyfriend.
From this dawn of sexuality, we are immediately transported to sexuality's twilight, with Saul caught deep in anguished conversation at home with Mira, his estranged wife. Saul is afraid that with the CIA on the nose in Washington, the congressional inquiry will lead lawmakers to demand the very dissolution of the agency. "They'll revoke our charter," he says, pushing the words from the back of his mouth with that characteristic lack of movement in the lips. This is one of those moments where the episode fails in its core mission, the one thing it has to do to keep viewers interested -- to be believable -- and flirts with total implausibility; intelligence agencies fail to spot things every day, but that doesn't mean governments use that as a pretext to disband them altogether. Sure, go ahead and dissolve the CIA; um, then what?
It's the one patently silly part of an episode that otherwise makes good on the promise of the first two seasons, and it obscures the small masterpiece in dramatic staging that follows. Mira tells Saul it's been two months since she got back from Mumbai (recall that in Season 2 she, ah, went to Mumbai) and they still haven't discussed their faltering marriage. He mumbles something unsatisfactory in reply and she tells him to follow her upstairs to bed. But it turns out they're sleeping in separate beds; she helps his shoes off and kisses him good night, before leaving him fully clothed and alone, the camera lingering pathetically on his middle-aged paunch. From Dana's topless selfie to Saul's double-shirted gut in bed alone at night: the contrast reminds us that this is as much a show about the itch of human flesh as anything else.
As Saul dithers over the future of his marriage, Mira tells him, "Your inability to make a decision is paralyzing you." The whole episode, in a sense, is about Saul's ability to make decisions, and whether they turn out to be good ones. At the beginning of the episode, Dar Adal tells him that "we can't be seen haranguing before the National Security Advisor." Saul answers: "I'm just trying to make the right call." Dar retorts: "Then make it." Shortly after his conversation with Mira, we see Saul giving the green light on Operation Tin Man. When the operation takes place, the stakes are high. The team has 20 minutes to execute six coordinated strikes over three continents on a network of terrorists involved in the Langley attack (the highest op of which is Tin Man). Quinn is set back from executing the Tin Man by a child in the car (when he later realizes he has killed the child by accident, we see an emotional Quinn questioning the moral justifications of his job. Expect to see more of this). Saul hesitates, but refuses to move forward without Tin Man in the picture. Again, Dar pushes for action ("five out of six ain't bad") but Saul doesn't budge. He holds his wedding band as he watches the operation fall into place with just two minutes left on the clock with success. This was Saul's decision, and it was a good decision.
But the operation to kill off six civilians who helped perpetrate the attack on Langley backfires against Saul in court. Saul announces in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee, in a now-open hearing (no explanation on how or why we've gone from closed to open doors in the space of a single episode): "Yesterday, we took the decisive step to bring those to responsible to justice." The chairman responds with skepticism, saying he finds the timing strange and that the CIA is attempting to distract from the main cause: "poster boy" Nicholas Brody and the CIA's inability as an organization. The chairman interrogates Saul about a newspaper report on an "anonymous CIA agent" who had an affair with Congressman Brody. Here again, Saul is forced to make a decision: He rats out his former star protege in court. Once-stalling Saul has acted in the affirmative for a second time, but whether or not this was a good or bad decision, time will only tell. It's definitely bad for one person, though -- Carrie. The show ends with a close-up on her face, chin a-quiver, crying: "Gah. Gah."
Questions we had that were answered:
- How long do we have to wait before the first chin quiver from Carrie Mathison? 1 minute and 55 seconds.
- Will we see America's Most Wanted Man in the first episode? No.
- Does Carrie still work for the CIA? Hell no.
- How long before we get a tracking shot of Saul walking through the corridors of the CIA that would suggest that he's both determined and slightly constipated? Not very long.
- Does Carrie still hold the torch for Brody? Judging by the Brody lookalike she had sex with, we say yes.
- Does the media blame the Brody's family for what he's done? Yes.
Questions we still have:
- What happened to Dana's boots?
- Um, did Dana's brother suddenly become someone else? Dude looks way different.
- Now that Estes is gone and Saul spends most of his time at work in conversation with Dar Adal, is it government policy for the CIA to be run exclusively by middle-aged men with goatees?
- Is this the beginning of a season-long war between former mentor-and-protege Saul and Carrie?
- What the heck happened to Jessica Brody's boyfriend, Mike?
- Who really is leaking documents to Congress? Even though Saul says that the counterintelligence move is straight out of Dar's playbook, Dar says it isn't him.
- Will Quinn be revealed this season as the two-sided spy the show has always hinted he was? Recall in Season 2 that he was never quite trustworthy. The ominous shot of him at the beginning of the episode constructing the bomb continues to cast a shadow of doubt on him. How many more elliptical and suggestive scenes like that one will viewers be able to handle before character ambiguity fatigue sets in?
- Just how realistic is it really that the CIA could be dismantled? (Note: according to Homeland showrunner Alex Gansa, it's a "very live possibility.")
"Homeland" airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on Showtime.
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