10/02/2013 04:42 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Homeland Is Back With a New Index of Our Post-9/11 Unease and Dysfunction

It may not have been the wisest decision to have Homeland Season 3 return the same night as what became a cultural epoch in the finale of Breaking Bad. Though Homeland's viewership was actually up from what it was a year earlier. But as untimely as the scheduling may have been in TV terms, in cultural terms, it felt very right for Homeland to return as the dysfunctional Washington milieu which gives to the show was about to become a national joke.

At its best, Homeland is an index of our unease and dysfunction around post-9/11 security and the consequences of our actions. And of course the actions taken in our name and that of 9/11 to further the pursuit of power.

At its worst, Homeland's a jaw-droppingly melodramatic soap opera. (Yet still very entertaining, at that.) As always, beware of spoilers.

By the end of Season 2, the show centered on the surprising yet inevitable love affair between the cracked genius CIA officer Carrie Mathison and the Marine POW hero/Al Qaeda terrorist/rising American political star Nicholas Brody. Then it all goes boom, CIA headquarters is devastated and Brody, who's gone rogue on his jihadist bosses, is fingered as the man behind the mass assassinations of much of the US intel/security establishment.

It was all a far cry from the brilliance of Season 1, as near perfect a season I've seen of any espionage series, including the British Spooks -- MI5 in the oddly PC-titled North American presentation -- in its heyday.

All of a sudden, in a rush -- though not so spectacular a Rush as the outstanding racing drama which went wide across the U.S. over the weekend -- Homeland is on a dramatically new course. Not just different, not a return to Season 1, as most of the characters are in very different places, but new.

And, in Tin Man Is Down, it all feels pretty right.

Not quite two months after Brody's SUV was used to car bomb the memorial service for Vice President/ex-DCI Walden, decapitating most of the country's intelligence and security leadership, Mandy Patinkin's steady and soulful Saul Berenson is acting DCI himself, though Oscar winner F. Murray Abraham as a legendary black ops guru shadows him a bit much for my liking, considering how he once had Saul so aggressively interrogated. (Career note: Not always best to try to impress by going to the same funeral as the 50 folks ahead of you in line for promotion.) Brody, given a Carrie-designed escape route after the big boom in Langley, is off in the fugitive zone, neither seen nor heard from. Those are two exciting choices, giving the ever critical Saul a chance to see from the inside how the calls he criticized were sometimes made, and giving Brody the chance to, well, stop being a big distraction.

Carrie? Well, Carrie is in a different but not altogether new place. She wonders what she missed, how she was played by Abu Nazir even as she relentlessly tracked him down. She blames, not the incredibly complex thicket of circumstance and personality, but herself. More specifically, herself on meds.

She's bipolar, she owns it, she now exults in it, seeing her malady as the wellspring of her freakishly on-target insights and analyses. Medication evens her out, by definition moving her back closer to the center of the crowd, away from the edge where she gains her insight.

She wants her genius back, even if her sanity goes, so she "self-medicates," as she tells her dad and fellow bipolar sufferer. Self-medicates, that is, with booze and whatnot, casual sex, and obsessive and freaky-looking wall charts again.

In Mandy Patinkin's very able hands, Saul has become my favorite character on the show, no small feat with the multi-award winning likes of Claire Danes's Carrie, always the main reason I've tuned in, and Damien Lewis's Brody in the mix. (Casting Lewis, the ideal American Army officer in Band of Brothers, as the soul-level conflicted Brody was a sheer masterstroke for Homeland.)

Saul is wise, warm, tough in a kindly sort of way, and, perhaps most importantly, one of those who know. His friendship for and mentorship of Carrie have been heartwarming to behold, which makes his decision to throw her under the bus before a Senate committee seeking to put even more pressure on a shattered Agency shocking and poignant. Perhaps all the more so because he may be right.

Or is he? At least we have a lot of information about Carrie and her issues.

Is Saul right in pulling the trigger on six simultaneous assassinations of folks said to have been involved in the Langley bomb plot? We know that the intriguing Peter Quinn, whose role in the show may grow with Brody more on the sidelines, at least at the start of the season, has his empathy and question-the-mission radar tuned up high.

The six targets, who are swiftly rendered beyond target status, are all apparently linked to a potential new big bad, Iranian Majid Javadi aka The Magician, who hasn't been seen in public for 19 years. (Hmm, I wonder if Saul knew him in the day.) A black ops honcho for the Shah, Javadi performs similar tasks for the Ayatollahs and was supposedly a close ally of Abu Nazi.

Would a Shah spymaster work with the Ayatollahs? Would an Iranian operator, a Shiite, work with an Al Qaeda operator, a Sunni? These things seem counter-intuitive. But we're at the beginning again, that massive bomb having blown quite a hole in the world of Homeland.

In Season 1, the show played its role as an index of our unease and dysfunction around post-9/11 matters as much of its action hinged on what turned out to be unique blowback to a disastrous drone strike. Instead of merely creating new jihadists in the Muslim world, as the too Obama Administration's too indiscriminately expanded program has done, this horrifying event created a jihadist in the Marine world, turning a stalwart American hero into an angry avenger, and a newly found Muslim one at that.

It's very early days in Season 3, but it may be that Homeland is again an index of our unease and dysfunction around post-9/11 matters with regard to the super-security state.

Carrie is under attack because she isn't part of the consensus around the Langley bombing. She threatens to become that most dangerous of things these days, a highly knowledgeable and effective whistleblower.

She's right about the Langley bombing. Well, at least we think she's right about it. But the imperative for what is left of the CIA is to act as though it has solved the mystery and to deflect public anger against another target. Blaming the unknown doesn't get that done, not 58 days after a national memorial service blew up on screens around the world at the headquarters of the world's most famous intelligence service.

So Carrie finds herself in danger of being ground under the heels of the super-security state. Surveilled without respite, detained without charge, for in essence being supposedly irrational -- which, let's not forget, she actually is at times -- she has little recourse and fewer rights.

It will be interesting to see how she gets out of this sort of box, the sort of box that polls show many Americans, in the wake of the Snowden revelations, fear finding themselves in some day.

Of course, she will get out of the box, this box, anyway. Or at least she will seem to. How true that is will hinge on how existential this show turns out being.

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