The early critical narrative about Showtime’s “Homeland” was “Okay, this is a great pilot, but how do they make it work as a series?” Then it was, “Okay, it’s great so far, but they’re going to screw it up in the end, right?” By the end of the season, it was – mostly – “Well, that was a terrific finish, but what do they do for an encore?”
As “Homeland” – now the reigning Emmy winner for Outstanding Drama Series, and for the fantastic performances by Claire Danes and Damian Lewis – returns for its second season on Sunday night at 10, I think those of us who were satisfied all the way through the first season need to have a Coke and a smile and shut up already about the possibility that somewhere, at some point down the road, “Homeland” producers Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon might screw things up. Sure, they might, but you can say that about nearly every good or great show on television, and most of them did at some point. “The Sopranos” had Vito’s trip to New Hampshire. “Deadwood” had the theater company. Many “Mad Men” fans will cite Megan Draper’s prominence as one of the reasons “Homeland” won that Emmy and broke the “Mad Men” streak.
TV shows can and do make bad choices at some point. But having seen the entire first season of “Homeland,” and now the first two episodes of the new season, I’ve accepted that this is a consistently excellent show, and that the only tension I’m going to feel when I watch each episode isn’t about whether Gordon and Gansa are going to do something stupid,(*) but about whether Danes’ mentally-unstable ex-intelligence agent Carrie Mathison will, or what Lewis’ war hero-turned-terrorist Nicholas Brody will do next.
(*) This is the point at which I acknowledge that some fans of the show were decidedly not happy with the season 1 finale. I already went on at length about why I was okay with the malfunctioning vest, the convenient phone call, etc., in my finale review, so I won’t rehash that here.
I don’t want to say much about the new episodes here (I’ll continue to review the show weekly), because a lot of the fun of “Homeland” comes from the surprises. I’ll say that they have to do some work to get Carrie involved in the plot again after the events of last season (on yesterday’s podcast, Dan rightly compared it to how CTU always kept bringing Jack Bauer out of retirement), but there are still moments where Danes, Lewis and Mandy Patinkin get to remind you of how brilliant they were a year ago, there’s still that unbearable sense of tension and there’s still a lot of moral ambiguity. It’s still “Homeland,” and it’s good.
Back Sunday to discuss the premiere.
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org