Judge Clark Douglas is a mole working for a competing review site.
Our review of Homeland: The Complete First Season (Blu-ray), published October 3rd, 2012, is also available.
It hits home.
"I was right!"
Facts of the Case
Note: This review contains spoilers for the previous season of Homeland. Proceed at your own risk.
During the first season of Homeland, bipolar intelligence officer Carrie Matheson (Claire Danes, Temple Grandin) made the alarming discovery that beloved veteran and former P.O.W. Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis, Band of Brothers) was actually a terrorist conspiring to assassinate the Vice-President (Jamey Sheridan, The Ice Storm). Alas, Carrie's attempt to prove this was a failure, as Brody backed out of his plan at the last minute and Carrie made some reckless decisions in an attempt to take down her target. As a result, Carrie was fired, a development that inspired her to seek intense psychiatric treatment.
Six months after the events of the previous season, a great deal has changed. Carrie is living with her father (James Rebhorn, The Game), has a low-key job as a teacher and her mental health is better than ever. She's not doing what she really loves, but she's stable and more or less at peace. On the flip side, Brody is enjoying his new job as a U.S. Congressman and is excited to learn that he's being considered as a potential Vice-Presidential candidate. However, his terrorist connections remain intact, and he receives frequent updates and small missions from a journalist (Sarita Choudhury, Lady in the Water) who works undercover for the shadowy Abu Nazir.
When the U.S. Government learns of an opportunity to capture Nazir in Lebanon, they call in Carrie for a one-time assignment—her credibility may be in tatters, but she knows Nazir better than anyone else. It's a limited return to her old life, but it's just enough to remind her of how much she's missed the thrill of the chase. Soon, Carrie finds herself back in Brody's orbit once again. Will she ever discover that her initial suspicions of him were correct? How much longer can he continue to keep his bosses in Washington and the Middle East happy?
The first season of Homeland was a tense, gripping season of television; a twelve-episode game of cat-and-mouse built on two tremendous, nuanced performances from Claire Danes and Damian Lewis. It quickly established itself as the best thing on Showtime by a pretty wide margin, and understandably won all sorts of Emmys the following year. However, it was difficult not to feel nervous about the show's future. Great as it was, the premise of the first season felt more like the premise of a miniseries than a show designed to run for multiple seasons. Much of what happened towards the end of the first season required a sizable suspension of disbelief, but it was presented with enough skill to keep that from mattering. Given time, would the contrivances of Homeland begin to overshadow the quality of the craftsmanship? After viewing the second season of the show, I have to report that the question remains open. The good news is that Homeland is still superb television. The bad news is that it still feels unnervingly like a show that could fall apart at any second.
To be sure, the first episode of the show's sophomore season piles on the convenient circumstances pretty heavily. I was rolling my eyes through much of that episode, muttering discontentedly as I watched the showrunners move their assorted pieces into place in a rather obvious manner. Ah, but then there's a scene that made me sit up and take notice. Carrie is attempting to lose a man who's tailing her through a Lebanese market. She wriggles here and there, donning different articles of clothing and slipping through different sections of the marketplace. Unfortunately, the man eventually corners her. Making a split-second decision, she knees her pursuer in the groin, shouts, "Help, something's wrong with my husband!" and slips away unnoticed as the crowd gathers around the injured man. As she departs, the most reckless, giddy, unhinged smile creeps across her face. It's a perfect moment of exhilaration and heartbreak, an expression that simultaneously signals how thrilled Carrie is to be back in her element and how quickly this life can wreck her newfound mental stability. I couldn't help but smile in a similar fashion: Homeland is back and it's still quite a rush.
While the second season certainly takes some missteps (there's a subplot involving Brody's daughter and the Vice-President's son that feels like awfully cheap melodrama, and the writers still seem uncertain of what to do with Brody's wife Jessica), it's mostly just as bold and riveting as its predecessor. As was the case last time around, the show demonstrates a willingness to swing for the fences by allowing major plot developments to occur much faster than you expect them to. Stuff I didn't think would happen until the season's conclusion had gone down by episode four, leaving plenty of time for the show to dig into exciting new territory and light the fuse on new storytelling bombs that will probably blow up much sooner than you expect them to. When the show is at the top of its form, it's reminiscent of Breaking Bad in both its ability to deliver nailbiting suspense and its willingness to shake things up dramatically at any given moment. However, Homeland falls just a bit short of that level of greatness, as it makes bad decisions just often enough and stretches the believability of the premise just far enough to prevent us from feeling that the captain's hands are always firmly on the wheel.
The performances remain nothing short of astounding. Both Lewis and Danes seem just a little more subdued this time around, as the fatigue of their respective efforts has worn them down and made them a bit more guarded. Lewis still manages to be as enigmatic as ever when we feel we know everything there is to know about him—his poker face has gotten so good that it's more or less impossible to tell when he's being sincere. Danes continues to deliver one of the very best performances on television; completely selling moments that might seem less-than-convincing in the hands of most other performers. The high point of the season comes in episode five ("Q & A"), which centers on a lengthy, riveting conversation between the show's two central characters—for all of its exciting developments, breathtaking action scenes and international intrigue, the show is never better than when these two are just talking to each other. Elsewhere, Mandy Patinkin (The Princess Bride) continues to do lovely, subtle work as Carrie's protective superior, while Morena Baccarin (Firefly) continues to turn a somewhat underwritten character into a real, sympathetic human being. There's also a stellar turn from newcomer Rupert Friend (The Boy in the Striped Pajamas) as a smart, analytical young agent.
Homeland: The Complete Second Season (Blu-ray) has received a stellar 1080p/1.78:1 transfer that looks about as solid as you'd expect a modern-day television release to look. Detail is strong throughout, depth is solid, flesh tones are natural, blacks are deep and inky—it's not quite a knockout like Game of Thrones, but there are no significant problems to report. Elsewhere, the DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio track is quite good, making a big impression during a handful of action sequences but purring along nicely elsewhere. Supplements include a pair of featurettes ("Return to the Homeland: Filming in Israel" and "The Choice: The Making of the Season Finale"), some deleted scenes, Damian Lewis' Super 8 filming diary and a bonus two-minute "prologue" to the next season (I found it kind of underwhelming, but your mileage may vary).
I'm still concerned that Homeland might fall apart at any second, and the direction the show seems set to take in its third season feels more than a little suspect. Even so, the second season repeatedly managed to sidestep some of my biggest fears and delivered another round of riveting, superbly acted television. It's not quite as masterful as the first season, but this is still unquestionably a high-caliber pay cable drama. Fingers crossed that it stays that way.
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