Claire Danes is back in "Homeland's" season premiere (Showtime )
When we last saw "Homeland’s" ex-CIA operative Carrie Mathison, she was strapped to a hospital bed for electroconvulsive therapy, about to have the crucial puzzle piece between Brody and Abu Nazir she had worked all season to find wiped away from her memory. The premiere of Season 2 begins with Carrie working peacefully in a vegetable garden, her sister and father looking on nearby. It’s been a number of months in "Homeland" time, enough for Brody to get elected to Congress, Dana to switch schools, and Jess to turn from reluctant to gung-ho about the politics thing. For Carrie, gone is the Advil bottle, replaced by a neat and well-stocked pill holder. Gone, too, are her ambitions of foiling terrorist plots. She’s been teaching English as a second language, a gig that seems not coincidentally to mirror Brody tutoring Nazir’s son in English — somewhere in the back of her brain, perhaps Carrie has held on to the connection that fueled Nazir and Brody’s relationship.
In a bit of extraordinary timing, the political intrigue on the show has to do with erupting protests all over the Middle East thanks to an Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear facilities. In Lebanon, amid a sea of burning American and Israeli flags, Saul has a lead on someone who might have information on the next attack, the wife of a Hezbollah district commander who Carrie cultivated as a source years ago. This is the way that Carrie gets drawn back in. This woman refuses to speak to any operative except Carrie, which means that Carrie gets a visit from David Estes in the middle of the night. The acting in "Homeland" is often excellent, and the scene between Carrie and David was tersely and brilliantly done. Humiliated, frustrated, barely containing a reservoir of rage, Carrie agrees to fly to Beirut to meet Fatima.
Seeing Carrie ill at ease in a dangerous situation is a real shift from last season. Even at her most manic, Carrie was almost always confident, charging ahead even at the risk of losing her job. In Beirut, Carrie is visibly nervous, arriving at her hotel with pools of sweat under her arms. It takes a near-disaster to get her back to herself again. Though Saul advises her to give up and get arrested by two men tailing her, Carrie pulls a quick switch in the marketplace and escapes, a gleeful smile flickering on her face as she
heads to the safe house. Could the tail have been an agency operative testing Carrie’s readiness? We’re not likely to find out, which is part of the joy of "Homeland": very little gets underlined or spelled out, leaving a vast puzzle for the audience to sift through.
Brody, meanwhile, learns quickly that his political ambitions don’t mean he’s exempt from Abu Nazir’s plotting. Vice President Walden, coasting toward the convention, has floated Brody’s name as a potential running mate. That’s good news for him, and for his family. “Guess how many friend requests I got today? 300!” Chris brags. But a visit from a pretty journalist, Roya Hommad, is a reminder that he’s not off the hook from Nazir’s plotting. Roya gives Brody a mission: Steal the list of targets from Estes’ safe; prove whose side you’re really on. Brody’s faith has been sufficiently shaken that he takes some convincing, but mentioning the slingshot he made for Isa’s 10th birthday did the trick. Brody copies the list into a notebook when Roya creates a distraction at the agency.
All is not quiet on Brody’s homefront, either. Dana, transferred to a new school, can’t suffer fools gladly. When someone at a Quaker meeting — who, as it happens, is the son of the undersecretary of State — goes on a rant about the “Arab religion,” Dana snaps at him. “What if I told you my Dad was a Muslim?” she asks before retreating, saucer-eyed, into silence. It’s a scene that’s a bit on the nose for "Homeland" until the last revelation, when it reveals the layers that this show is based on. Watching "Homeland" is an exercise in mental acrobatics. Of course not all Muslims are terrorists, and painting Islam as a source of violence is naïve and dangerous. But, actually, Dana’s father is both a Muslim and a potential terrorist.