These are the days after. Everything now is measured by after. – Don DeLillo, Falling Man
I wasn’t going to do this, Basketcases. After Homeland literally blew itself up last year, I danced the “It’s not me, it’s you” solo on these pages, vowing never to take the thing back.
What changed my mind? Several things.
The first United States government shutdown in 17 years. I watched the third-season premiere in the first 24 hours of Washington’s self-imposed time out (does anyone really think this will stop the tantrums?). I now think this might be the best time to watch. The upside-down feeling of American life right now reverses the impact of Homeland’s central conflicts: there’s a contemplative beauty to the opening scene of a guy building a bomb, while the Congressional-committee scenes feel like fantasies from a well-lit wonderland where people in power get along. I felt like I was watching everything happen from inside a bottle. Which is appropriate, because of …
Crazy Carrie. She’s back! Lying under oath, refusing her meds, energetically banging a hot ginger from the supermarket, Carrie Mathison is at her nutty personal best. “It’s all good,” she insists, when her worried Dad mentions the empty bottles of tequila in the trash. He’s right to be concerned – a quick glance at Carrie’s notepad tells us that – but she swears she’s under a doctor’s care. We haven’t met Doctor Tequila yet, but I sincerely hope we will.
The Brody children are also back. Dana Brody’s still doing her 50 Shades of Grumpy bit, with much more feeling this time. She reacted to her Dad’s departure with a suicide attempt, and she’s been in some kind of residential care ever since. While the reunion of the Brody siblings is sweet and genuine (“Hey dingus.” “You are”), Dana’s not all the way better yet. The moment she’s alone, she sends a topless selfie to the boy she met in group therapy. As we know, the topless selfie is the International Distress Signal for kids on TV and in movies: there’s trouble ahead for Dana.
Saul Berenson. With Brody off Unabombing in the Canadian woods or haunting a souk somewhere, Saul is firmly in command: of both the CIA and Homeland itself. And Mandy Patinkin seizes the moment, letting us see what covert operations would look like in the hands of someone with a conscience. “We’re not assassins,” he tells his wife. “We’re spies. We don’t kill our targets, we redirect them.” Saul. Darling. Have you met the United States intelligence community?
The rise of the wives. Jessica Brody is now a single mom, having to work for the first time since before the kids were born, still fighting the intrusions of paparazzi and government surveillance. Mira is also back at home with Saul. Despite their issues, she’s a gently rational presence in the mess his life has become. And it is a mess: he’s leading a government agency in the aftermath of a disaster, grieving the loss of hundreds of his colleagues while defending the agency from accusations of enemy collusion. He has no good choices left.
Life on the downside. The sense of dilemma is strong on Homeland. In every scene, we’re watching people move through their lives under the weight of non-negotiable burdens. Dana, Chris, and Jess don’t want to be associated with disgraced Brody, nor do they want to still love the man who left them, but there they all are. Quinn doesn’t want there to be any collateral damage when he hits his targets, but he still ends up killing a kid. Patient Saul (“I’m waiting for the right answer to present itself”) wants to do the right thing for the agency, but he doesn’t want to throw Carrie under the bus. None of these people will get what they want. They all know it. It’s a dark view, but it feels honest.
Angry Carrie. The one person who has never betrayed Carrie Mathison is Saul. When he brings up her mental issues in his testimony before Congress, she is at first incredulous, then hurt, and finally furious. Unmedicated, manic, brilliant, and furious. Hurricane Carrie is going to hit Washington with everything she’s got. You think the CIA bombing was bad? Wait.
The promise of an enraged, untethered Carrie coming after her old colleagues is a fine reason to tune in for this season of Homeland. A still better reason: the oppressive darkness of The Days After. Since 9/11, no contemporary drama has dealt head-on with the fact of the lives we lead in the aftermath of something that actually was worse than we imagined. We have preferred to let grief and dread infuse our stories, to let sadness stand in for the real horrors of dead people and our shattered integrity. In angry Carrie, frustrated Saul, and broken, darkly funny Dana, I see the first hint of change.
At the dinner table, Dana tells a joke to ease the tension between her mother and grandmother. “What did the optimist say as he was jumping off a building?” she asks. “So far, so good.” She repeats it, her face lit with a spooky smile. “So far, so good.”
Homeland is back, and so am I.