9/29/2013, 9PM, SHO
The second season premiere of Homeland was called “The Smile,” and tracked Carrie’s reckless devotion to counter intelligence. No one is smiling in third season premiere “Tin Man Is Down,” and it seems unlikely anyone will be in the near future. Homeland wrote itself into a bit of a corner at the end of its second season, removing Brody from the board for the time being, and losing both its most problematic plotting and its most compelling character pairing in the process. Whether sending Brody away was the right call for the show remains to be seen, but it leaves us, like the characters, in a brave new world full of new threats, new adversaries, and new complications.
“Tin Man Is Down” functions less as a prologue to the third season and more as an epilogue to the second. A lot of plot threads were left dangling there, and while the episode does a lot to catch us up with what happened in the aftermath of the bombing on Langley, it doesn’t necessarily give us a sense of where the show is going from here. I commended last season for avoiding a multi-episode arc about Carrie getting back into the spy game (something that is virtually guaranteed to happen, since it is essential to the premise of the show), but this episode sets us up for exactly that here. It is hard not to wonder if the show is spinning its wheels a bit in the wake of its roller coaster second season. Homeland seems a little bit lost in the woods this week, as if it is not quite sure what kind of show it will be without the psychosexual chemistry between Carrie and Brody at its center.
The absence of Damian Lewis is keenly felt, even as the show ensured it was narratively essential at this point. For the past two years, Lewis has been giving one of the best performances on television, matching Claire Danes in frenetic intensity and reveling in Brody’s complexities and ambiguities. The show only hints obliquely at ways in which Brody’s absence might work in its favor, but I think there is real narrative potential here. One of the key themes of the show so far is the way it is impossible to ever really know someone, and with Brody out of the picture for the moment, many of our characters seem to be in some sense struggling with the question of just who Brody really is. The media and the government are convinced he is the perpetrator of “the greatest attack on American soil since 9/11,” but none of our characters are as sure. Carrie, of course, passionately believes in his innocence (though recall her initial reaction to the bombing and ask yourself how committed she is to this viewpoint). Saul needs Brody as a scapegoat regardless of his actual thoughts on the matter, which he is keeping close to the vest for the moment. And Brody’s family tries to avoid talking about him entirely, though I imagine their feelings will be teased out over the course of the season. These characters may be wallowing in their conceptions of Brody, but he doesn’t need to be present to remain as great a mystery as any person is to another. In fact, his absence renders him all the more unknowable, and thus, potentially, all the more fascinating for Homeland to meditate on.
Without Brody, of course, there’s a vacuum that needs to be filled, and this episode presents at least a few characters more prominently than it has in the past. With Saul’s ascendancy to Interim Director, Dar Adal (F. Murray Abraham) has become his right hand, and making him more prominent is an excellent choice. Abraham is a brilliant actor, and he makes Dar Adal a figure of great mystery who should fit well into this cast of characters. Already his ultimate allegiances are unclear, and Saul is given plenty of reason tonight not to trust him. He also manages to outplay Saul tonight by leaking information about Carrie to the press. Obviously, he denies this, and it is entirely possible he was not behind it, but by episode’s end, Saul is doing what Adal suggested and throwing Carrie to the wolves to save the agency.
“Tin Man Is Down” also makes clear that Quinn will be playing a larger role this season. The episode takes its title from his pulse-pounding assault on one of the perpetrators behind the Langley attack, and while the “twist” of having him kill the child he derailed the mission to save can be seen coming like the flashlight that cost the kid his life, it is still a potentially interesting storyline, even if its impetus leaves a bit to be desired. Saul is on the record as saying the mission was flawless, when we all know that was not the case. It isn’t clear yet what Quinn did after finding the body, but the ramifications of his murdering a child are likely to resonate throughout the season.
The episode also presents us endless layers of complexity in the Brody household. We learn that Dana attempted suicide, slitting her wrists in the bathtub without taking any substances, which shows she meant business. Morgan Saylor has shown time and again that she is capable of great things, and while the “Dana takes a naked picture and sends it to her still-hospitalized new love interest” story is already boring me, I have no doubt the show will give Saylor a lot of great material in the weeks to come, and I’m sure she’ll do wonders with it. Morena Baccarin gets less to do here as Jessica, but its clear groundwork is being laid. We find that the Brodys are broke, that Jessica’s mother has become heavily involved in their lives, and that Brody himself is something of a touchy subject. Chris (Jackson Pace), the Homeland equivalent of Bobby on Mad Men or Walter Jr. for most of the run of Breaking Bad (both Bobby and Jr. actually came to matter during the most recent seasons of their shows, but the comparison stands), is there, and probably mad he can’t ask his dad to play video games with him anymore, but other than the fact that Pace has grown immensely since season two, he doesn’t really resonate here.
The threat that looms largest over “Tin Man Is Down,” is the ludicrously unlikely idea that the CIA may be close to being shuttered in the wake of the bombing. This is the sort of bananas plotting that sometimes tanks the show, but here at least it highlights the political ramifications of every decision Saul makes in the hour, and insofar as it serves simply to complicate things for our heroes, I have no problem with this level of insanity. Madness is built into the DNA of Homeland, and at its best the show, like its heroine, uses this as a strength. Its not yet clear how the show will come together in the wake of the bomb it detonated at the center of itself last season, but its clear that the central performances will be as excellent as ever. Whether Homeland will recover its own tenuous brand of realism or flee further down the magic terrorist ninja rabbit hole is yet to be revealed (although an antagonist hinted at tonight is nicknamed The Magician, which may not bode well), but its likely that either way, what’s to come will be fascinating television.
- “We knew him as The Magician.” “The Magician?” “He liked to make people disappear.”
- “Just trying to make the correct call.” “Then make it.” Saul freely admits he doesn’t have the disposition for his new role. I wonder if Dar Adal will be angling to be named the next Director. A man with his past would be unlikely to get the job, but then, this is Homeland.
- I didn’t get a chance to mention it above, but Mira has returned from Mumbai. She and Saul are sleeping in separate bedrooms, and the status of their relationship is day to day. I’m glad to see Sarita Choudhury back, and I hope the show spends time this season exploring the Berenson marriage. Patinkin and Choudhury are both great here, and they have excellent and fascinating chemistry.
- “She’s blowing it.” “She got ambushed.” “It’s a distinction without a difference.” Dar Adal is full of these little bon mots.
- “A win would be nice. Another fuck up would be fatal.”
- “These people didn’t die because you were taking your meds.” “It was right in front of my eyes and I never saw it coming.” Yup, Carrie is back off her meds. If my theory that the structure of the show mirrors Carrie’s bipolar disorder (with season one being depressive and season two manic) holds, we may be in for a depressive season. Which, to my mind, is the mode the show works in better anyway.
- “Tell it to Beowulf, Grandma.” “I don’t know who that is.”
- “Make no mistake, you are doing, and have done, great harm to your country. Which you will pay for one day, I promise you.”
- “We are pragmatists. We adapt. We are not keepers of some sacred flame.” “Doesn’t have to be sacred. Just as long as we keep it lit.”
- “If she really meant to kill herself, she’d be dead.”
[notification type=”star”]73/100 ~ GOOD. “Tin Man Is Down” functions less as a prologue to the third season and more as an epilogue to the second. A lot of plot threads were left dangling there, and while the episode does a lot to catch us up with what happened in the aftermath of the bombing on Langley, it doesn’t necessarily give us a sense of where the show is going from here.[/notification]