“Homeland” has a lot to prove this season. The end of last season was lazy and contrived, and lost touch with the reality that had been painstakingly established in the twenty preceding episodes. Thankfully show runners Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon managed to reclaim some of their former glory in a season finale that upset the status quo and provided a riveting hour of spy drama.
Season three begins 58 days later after the finale. The CIA is in tatters after a bomb placed in Congressman/terrorist/double agent Adam Brody’s (Damien Lewis) car exploded, killing off most of the secondary characters that had outstayed their welcome. Carrie Matheson (Claire Danes) has smuggled him out of the country and lied about it, claiming that she had been knocked out by the blast. The other major player Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin) who was Carrie’s boss and the voice of reason throughout the first two seasons, is now the head of the CIA, and struggling with the new direction that the agency is taking.
“We don’t kill people. We’re spies. We turn people, we take advantage of them.”
To cover the intervening 58 days the “Homeland” writers have concocted an official inquest into the explosion that focuses on Carrie for most of the episode, and then on Saul just at the end. It’s an effective, but not necessarily clever way to refresh longtime viewers and catch up new viewers. The exact nature of Carrie and Brody’s relationship isn’t divulged, but it’ll be pretty obvious to new viewers that they had a strong connection and were very intimate.
The other big development in the premiere involves Dana, Brody’s daughter. I have always liked Dana, even though the majority of the internet loathes her entirely, and I enjoyed her subplot last year when she and the Vice-President’s son ran over a homeless man and didn’t report it. Their negligence tied in well with that seasons themes of privilege and abuse of authority. However, her plot in the premiere (that she made a serious attempt at suicide in the wake of her father’s disappearance and reported betrayal of his country) highlights the biggest issue that “Homeland” is going to face this season.
Brody doesn’t appear at all this episdoe. In fact, he won’t appear until the third episode, and when he does he will be far away from the action, cut off from everything else. Relocating a major character is always a difficult feat to manage, and based on their decisions last season, I don’t have enough faith in the “Homeland” writers to think that they can pull it off. Without having Brody around any plot about his family will always feel out of place and disconnected from the more interesting spy action, and Carrie’s plot lacks urgency. Watching Carrie and Brody try to figure each other out, and try to unwind themselves from the complicated web they spun together added an incredible amount of tension and unpredictability to everything on “Homeland,” and Brody’s absence makes for a much more low key episode.
Thankfully the spy action makes up for other lackluster qualities. After the death of terrorist leader Abu Nazir last season there’s a new bad guy named Majid Javadi that the CIA is after. They can’t find him, but they do have a lead on six of his men, who they can take out all together in one twenty minute window. The actual attack itself is well-done, especially an improvised raid on the titular Tin-Man by operative/shady character Peter Quinn, but it’s the lead up to the attack that really provides “Tin Man is Down” with some serious drama. Saul, comfortable, wise, and out of date Saul, can’t reconcile how the CIA is now a killing agency instead of a spy agency. Drone strikes and killing targets is what got them into the whole mess with Brody in the first place, and to watch Mandy Patinkin agonize over his decision grounded the episode for me in ways that Carrie’s hearing and Dana’s reintegration into family life didn’t.
Also one thing that I did find incredibly subtle were the shots of the damage done to the CIA building. There are only two shots, and they are in the background, one of Saul and Dar Adal walking into the building, and another of Saul looking out into the parking lot. The explosion weighs heavy enough on the episode as it is; I’m glad they didn’t linger on the damage.
“A win would be nice. Another fuckup would be fatal.”
For a season premiere, “Tin Man is Down” does everything it’s supposed to. Everyone is reintroduced and new important characters, such as F. Murray Abraham’s retired spymaster Dar Adal, get enough screen time to emphasize their importance. I also appreciate that Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa didn’t immediately throw us into another conspiracy, instead focusing on the fallout from last season. Still though, without Brody around, this episode feels incomplete, and lacks the tension and urgency required for a spy show.