Homeland Recap: S3E1 “Tin Man Is Down”

Homeland is a terrific television show. It’s got politics, it’s got sexual intrigue, it’s got bombs. Because it’s a show that consistently provides both thought-provoking content and sure-fire entertainment, I’ve chosen Homeland to be my first foray into writing weekly recaps. People are saying the Breaking Bad finale is signaling the end of this Golden Age of Television, but no, I say to that no! (And I didn’t watch that show anyway!) Regardless, TV recapitulation has become an art form in and of itself. So let’s pledge allegiance and rejoin Carrie, Saul (and maybe Brody?!) and the rest, shall we?

Mandy Patinkin, Claire Danes, Damian Lewis, and Morena Baccarin of "Homeland"

Mandy Patinkin, Claire Danes, Damian Lewis, and Morena Baccarin of “Homeland”

Structurally, “Tin Man Is Down” is very obviously a season premiere. If episode is to chapter as season is to novel, this felt like an hour of catching audience-readers up on the events of the previous installment. So frequent were the references to the CIA bombing and the length of time since, I couldn’t help but tap my foot in impatience, waiting for something relevant, preferably something big, to happen for season 3’s sake. As Maureen Ryan pointed out, Homeland has reached a crossroads: the Breaking Bad route (testing the creative limits of a show’s overarching story) or the Dexter route (following a more predictable structure to extend a show’s longevity). The fact that “Tin Man Is Down” seemed too focused on exposition and too hesitant to make a splash suggested the show’s not yet certain which direction it’s headed.

But any hour of television that includes Claire Danes’ repeatedly spectacular delivery of the F-word isn’t going to disappoint too much. Her leaning in to glare at the television in the episode’s last moments made me lean in too. And we saw her chin get its contractually obligated workout. Danes’ commitment to portraying Carrie is almost as intense as Carrie’s commitment to protecting America. Her scene with her father (James Rebhorn) should have played as ludicrous – “Those people didn’t die because you were taking your meds!” – but Danes continues to demonstrate how big events affect individual people, and you can’t help but understand, as her face contorts everywhere from grief to fury in the blink of an eye, the link between national security and her guilt.

Mandy Patinkin continues to convey all of Saul’s guilt, as well as his uncertainty, and his grim frustration, behind that venerable beard of his. I’m very interested to see where Saul goes this season as a character, as the quintessential Great Man who doesn’t want Power. Patinkin’s every moment onscreen has a subtle tension; this is a man who will never be at ease, at home or at work. Having few choices when it comes to effectively running (and saving) the CIA makes Saul’s power all the more volatile. Will he compromise his morals for the greater good, as his predecessor David Estes did before him? Or will he simply crack under the pressure? There are of course already signs of the latter, beautifully undercutting every tender, wary interaction between Saul and his not-quite-partner Mira (the great Sarita Choudhury).

Meanwhile, Homeland has entered the equivalent of Mad Men’s era of Fat Betty. Brody’s wife and children were too central a part of the first two seasons to simply ignore, but their interactions with the more action-oriented rest of the cast are bound to be few. Morena Baccarin does some wonderful work in this episode just staring at her daughter (Morgan Saylor), who, other than an ominous topless pic storyline, seems to be recovering well from her attempted suicide. But there’s not much else going on. Again, without Brody connecting these characters to shenanigans at the CIA, it will be tricky to prevent their stories from being solely footnotes to Homeland’s drama. When, we wonder, will that wildest of wild cards return to test everyone’s suspension of disbelief?

After the increasingly spectacular twists of last season’s second half, I for one don’t know how much trust I can put in this show. In some ways, it’s exciting to await the next “oh-shit!” moment. But there could just as easily be an “oh… shit” moment, if the show decides to either go back to something they know works, or try something outlandishly improbable. For now I’m tuning in for the suspense, and for the test of my own faith in this good, once-great show. And of course for that quivering chin.

A spray of CIA-sanctioned bullets:

  • As a theater geek, my favorite part of the episode was realizing both Tracy Letts AND Amy Morton were onscreen together, as the Senate committee chairman investigating the CIA and Carrie’s beleaguered lawyer, respectively. Their brief moments of tension were made all the more electric by my memory of last year’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? I hope we see more glimpses of their formidable acting chops.
  • So Chris Brody (Jackson Pace) is just a genial, loving, put-together teenager? Really?
  • Also are we supposed to be invested in what’s going on with Peter Quinn (Rupert Friend)? It’s unclear so far whether he’s supposed to be important, and I assume he is, since he’s one of the only survivors from last season.
  • That guy Carrie picked up in the corner store – it makes sense that she’s still engaging in some rash behavior, but why on earth was it edited onto either end of one of the quiet Brody family homefront scenes?
  • Saul, and perhaps his CIA frenemy Dar Adal (the downright predatory F. Murray Abraham), had no choice but to throw Carrie under the bus in the midst of all the Senate committee hearings. But is it wise for Saul to betray Carrie, given everything they did last season? And is it wise for the show’s writers? Saul and Carrie have always relied on each other despite everything, and now it looks like that quasi-father-daughter relationship is in for some serious strain.

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