When we last left “Homeland” heroine Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes), she was shattered by her investigation into former Marine Sergeant Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis), a rescued POW turned possible terrorist. Certain that Brody had been turned during his time in captivity and willing to cross ethical boundaries to prove it, Carrie had a breakdown when she was finally convinced that she was wrong. Fired from her job, she checked herself in for electroshock therapy to treat her bipolar disorder, never realized that in fact she was correct and that her actions actually stopped Brody from assassinating Vice President William Walden (Jamey Sheridan) in an al-Qaeda-planned suicide bombing attack.
As we pick up in season two in last night’s solid if largely scene-setting premiere “The Smile” (directed by series regular Michael Cuesta), Carrie’s living at home and teaching ESL, taking her meds and trying to keep a more typical life together. And Brody is attempting his version of the same — now a congressman, he’s being looked at as a possible VP candidate when Walden, who not so long ago he wanted to murder, runs for president.
His wife Jessica (Morena Baccarin) is enjoying her place as a politician’s spouse, though his daughter Dana (Morgan Saylor) isn’t blending in so well at her new, posh school filled with the offspring of other D.C. power players. Both Carrie and Brody seem to have found a measure of peace in their new routine, thanks to the agendas in their lives being steamlined — until they’re each called on by the people to whom they used to report. To quote Michael Corleone, “Just when I thought I was out… they pull me back in.”
But neither Carrie nor Brody ever really get out — both the things they’ve seen and their practice of full-time secrecy have changed then and made them so that they will never quite fit back into their places in regular life, even before taking into account the bipolar disorder and PTSD. Some of the most electric scenes in the first season of “Homeland” were when Carrie and Brody met, because they saw in each other for the first time someone who might understand them, and because they gave each other a glimpse of the person underneath the carefully prepared outside shell.
“Homeland” is a very smart show, even when it’s laying groundwork the way it is in this season premiere, and one of the things about which it’s most cutting is the burden that comes with understand the other side (or sides). Brody’s being turned isn’t so straightforward as just an act of brainwashing — he witnessed a child he loved dying because of an apparent U.S. action, he converted to Islam, and in general he has sympathy for people he spent years with, even though they were his captors. He was ready to die at the end of last season until his daughter called on him, and he turned away from it while reaffirming his desire to help Abu Nazir (Navid Negahban).
Now, with a life back on track, he’s no longer eager to committ to such drastic measures, though moments like the great scene in which a frightened and angry Jessica confronts him about his religious practices outline how isolated he can be even in his own home. Lewis is great at allowing Brody’s awareness and irritation with being used as a PR figure — the war hero returned — to bleed through just a little, at falling into moments of disturbing blankness, at letting the character take a long beat to tamp down his emotions and think out the right response to match the outward-facing persona he maintains. It takes an almost physical effort for him to drop the facade in order to talk to the journalist/secret operative Roya Hammad ((Zuleikha Robinson), who comes carrying orders from Nazir.
Brody may have lost his sense of certainty, but the episode ends with Carrie getting hers back. At the series’ start, she’d gotten accustomed to a role in which information usually unavailable to people was hers to explore — but having that kind of access can muddle the issue as much as Brody’s anguished double-agency. She fell in love with Brody while at the same time feeling more and more convinced he was working for al-Qaeda, the out-of-bounds professional investigation colliding with the personal developments of the former. It wasn’t her feelings for Brody that caused her to break — it was the fact that she was sure she saw a truth that no one else could spot, her fear of once again missing something and allowing another attack to slip through eating her up inside.
Brody is a terrorist playing at being a patriot, and Carrie is an unstable genius playing at being in control, and neither can afford a slip-up. But in this episode, Brody now has everything to lose, while Carrie has bottomed out and since found stability. It’s an interesting twist on the dynamic from the first season, in which a broken Brody returned home — now he’s the successful one with the career to guard, the politician with the potentially very high office within his grasp. His discomfort in copying the potential target list in David Estes’ (David Harewood) office makes a nice parallel with Carrie’s evasive action in Beirut — a cleverly staged sequence that found the character finally getting her groove back as she left her pursuer on the ground and walked away flashing the smile mentioned in the title. Brody better watch his back.