Episode Title: "The Smile"
Writers: Alex Gansa & Howard Gordon
Director: Michael Cuesta
Previously on "Homeland":
From the very beginning of “Homeland,” it was clear that Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) had mental problems that called her judgement into question. As a member of the CIA, Carrie did everything she could to prove that former prisoner of war, Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis) had been turned by the terrorist, Abu Nazir (Navid Negahban). And if that meant illegally spying on Brody and initiating an extramarital affair with him, then so be it.
By the end of the first season, it all came crashing down on her and it cost Carrie her job and a good deal of her sanity. But the cruelest twist of all was that Carrie only realized that she was right about Brody before undergoing electro shock therapy that could erase that knowledge from her mind.
“Homeland” season two picks up about six months later, with Carrie largely on the road to recovery as an English teacher while the Middle East rages over Israel’s attacks on Iran’s nuclear facilities. It was a very “of the moment” touch by the writers of this episode, Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa. Perhaps “Homeland” takes place in a closer alternate future than we would like to contemplate.
As much as Carrie created a lot of her own problems, it was still cathartic to see her tell off her former lover and CIA superior, David Estes (David Harewood) and his underling, Danny Galvez (Hrach Titizian). Although Estes ultimately gets Carrie to commit herself to his task, only Carrie’s mentor, Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin) manages to get her to hear him out. Apparently, Carrie’s former asset, Fatima Ali (Clara Khoury) has information about an upcoming attack on the U.S. and she will only speak to Carrie about it.
Even though Carrie was seemingly getting better, it’s clear that she was a shadow of her former self. For most of the episode, the old Carrie is missing, as she seems uncertain about her own ability to do the job laid out by the CIA.
One of the reasons that Claire Danes took home the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress a week ago is that she is able to pull off Carrie’s mental state through its various stages. We see the struggle in Carrie’s face when she can’t even remember simple details about her cover story. But more importantly, we see Carrie’s inner strength return with a euphoric smile after she outwits and incapacitates her pursuer in Lebanon. Whatever else Carrie is, she is great at her job.
Back on the home front, Brody is now a congressman who is somewhat improbably a potential running mate in the next Presidential election despite less than six months in office. Current Vice President and Presidential candidate, William Walden (Jamey Sheridan) basically offers Brody the chance to be Vice President if he makes it through the vetting process.
Brody’s wife, Jessica (Morena Baccarin) obviously seems to be enjoying his rise to power, perhaps because it allows her to overlook Brody’s indiscretions with Carrie. And while Brody’s son, Chris (Jackson Pace) is practically invisible in this episode, his daughter, Dana (Morgan Saylor) gets the spotlight and runs with it. At first, Dana seems like a normal sixteen year old girl who is somewhat surly towards her parents. But at her new school, Dana feels defensive about her father’s adoptive religion and she accidentally blurts out the fact that he’s a Muslim.
It should be pointed out that Dana said that in response to some fairly racist and borderline genocidal words from the V.P.’s son and no one really took her seriously. But Jessica was livid about it. Brody’s response was the most heroic thing he’s done in some time. Rather than let his daughter continue to suffer her mother’s wraith, Brody admits that he is a Muslim. This only makes Jessica more angry as she verbally assaults him and desecrates his hidden Quran.
Damian Lewis and Morena Baccarin made that confrontation come to life, especially with the expression on Brody’s face when the Quran hit the floor. It almost seems like the only reason that Brody and Jessica are still together is for the sake of the children… and because Jessica likes the idea of being the Vice President’s wife. Jessica doesn’t seem to be an overly vain woman, but she does seem to like the taste of power. And Brody has definitely hurt Jessica with his lies and indiscretions.
But the conflict does bring Brody and Dana closer together as she helps him bury his Quran in the backyard. Now if only Brody could bury his other secrets so easily. It was only a frantic phone call from Dana that convinced Brody not to use his suicide vest to take out the Vice President in the first season finale. However, Abu Nazir hasn’t forgotten about Brody or the hold that he has over him.
A beautiful journalist named Roya Hammad (Zuleikha Robinson) approaches Brody on Nazir’s behalf and gives him a mission to prove his loyalty. Brody is told to retrieve critical intelligence from the safe in Estes’ office which may help Nazir plan an attack. Although Brody vocally states his opposition to attacking innocent targets, he ultimately relents and carries through with the mission. The staging of that scene by director Michael Cuesta was suspenseful and gripping, especially when Brody briefly forgets a critical detail. Lewis also displayed a masterful ability to make Brody appear to be deeply worried while still focused on his task.
By the time that “The Smile” was over, I was hoping for a few more minutes to continue the story. That’s the mark of a great season premiere. It’s been suggested that “Homeland” has become the successor to “24,” but the writing on this series is much tighter. The human moments are also well played, particularly Carrie’s farewell hug with her father and Brody’s increasingly complex relationship with his family. Carrie and Brody haven’t even come into each others’ orbit yet, but the lingering effects of their affair are still there. Brody is in for a major surprise if he thinks that Carrie is out of his life forever. His comment about Carrie being locked away in a mental institution seemed like wishful thinking on his part.
Above all else, “Homeland” is very exciting to watch in a way that few TV series can match. And the second season is already off to a very strong start.