Claire Danes stars as CIA operative Carrie Mathison in Homeland. (Showtime)

When the second season of Homeland ended in an explosive finale in which the CIA was bombed and Brody (Damien Lewis) was forced to go on the run, the main question on everyone's lips was: "Where did it all go wrong?"

After a critically acclaimed first season that saw the show become the most talked-about programme since Breaking Bad, the wheels soon began to fall off as absurd exploits and inexplicable stories turned what was supposed to be the thinking person's 24 into, well, just 24.

To be honest, I always felt the first season was lavishly overpraised (if you compare it to something like Breaking Bad), and that the second season saw a further cracking of the show's fault lines, as opposed to suddenly jumping the shark. Yes the pacemaker plot on the vice president was dumb, Brody's tussle with the tailor nonsensical and Abu Nazir's infiltration of America the hallmark of a Bond movie, but Brody's infuriating soap opera family and the latent Islamophobia that manifests through the show's storylines have been there since the beginning.

Which, with the third season set to start leaves me to ask how, even though 24 made both my skin crawl and my brain rot, I feel compelled to continue watching Homeland? The answer is Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes), the brilliantly bonkers CIA operative whose indefatigable determination to hunt down dangerous terrorists drives the show.

Having a female lead in a US TV drama is novel enough, but Carrie isn't just the plucky agent trying to bring down the big bad enemies of America. She excels at her job using both empathy and insight, but with this genius comes personal problems. A bi-polar sufferer who must cover up her illness for fear of being fired, when off medication we see her brilliant mind working to furiously frenetic effect, joining the dots from A-Z in a matter of seconds. But the side effects see her as ragged and restless, emotionally unstable and volatile towards both her family and colleagues.

In this regard Carrie has more in common with TV antiheroes such as Don Draper or Walter White, flawed human characters who on some level represent aspects of modern America. An intense and driven figure desperate to stop future terrorist attacks, she represents the post-9/11 paranoia that has swept the United States into being constrained by an incessant siege mentality.

But Carrie really dazzles not when on her own, but in the scenes she shares with Brody. As last year's spellbinding episode Q&A demonstrated (and which Danes won her third Best Actress Emmy for), when the fantastical elements of the show are removed, we are left with an intense love story between two conflicted kindred spirits who have found themselves on opposite sides of a new ideological battleground.

As someone wholly devoted to her job, the tension existed in whether she was intimate with Brody because of her suspicions that he had turned, or because she really did harbour feelings towards him beyond the CIA. After triumphing over Abu Nazir, her decision to quit Langley for Brody was, as I noted in my review at the time, "The most significant moment in the show's history, a decision so aberrant as to cause the world around her to rupture".

And rupture it did, with the CIA headquarters subsequently blowing up, Brody fleeing across the border to Canada, and Carrie left behind, once more alone and in the firing line for questions over how such an attack could happen on US soil. The writers revealed that the fugitive Brody will not be appearing in the first couple of episodes, and whilst the scenes between him and Carrie are electric, this can only be a good thing. All attention will instead fall solely on Carrie, the true heart of the show who through Danes' sublime performance we want to see not only succeed, but be happy.

The new season of Homeland premieres at 9:00pm, Sunday 6 October on Channel 4.


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