We're only in to the second episode of Homeland, but already the characters we know (and the new ones we don't) are being pushed in very different directions. Carrie has been hospitalised before, but seeing her betrayed by the friends and family one by one was painful to watch. The last scene of her sedate in the chair, barely able to say a "f**k you" to Saul (Mandy Patinkin), was the lowest ebb she's reached yet. Saul, the previously wise and avuncular mentor, has through his new role as CIA chief become the reluctant villain of the show. And Dana, a character hamstrung in the past by poor writing, gives her most mature performance yet as a young adult desperate to throw off the shackles her family place on her.
In Brody's absence, it's a smart move to contrast Carrie and Dana, two characters suffering from trauma and who feel they can't express themselves in front of friends and family. Claire Danes once again is electrifying as Carrie, her contorted energy manically expressing itself as the CIA officer darts about trying to find someone who will listen to her pleas. Betrayed by Saul and the Senate select committee last week, she tries to get her side of the story told to the press, before Dar Adal (F. Murray Abraham) locks her away in a psychiatric unit in order to shut her up.
Having the CIA create a scapegoat out of Carrie is one thing, but when her family abandon her as well out of fear for her wellbeing, her mind crashes down like a house of cards. It's an element that in the wrong hands could come off as melodramatic, but Danes always manages to make the experience of watching Carrie deteriorate painful viewing.
"We're not defective"
What has been equally uncomfortable, for the wrong reasons, has been viewing the home life of Brody's family. The strained relations between Dana and Jessica (Morena Baccarin), hampered by dreadful dialogue, has always felt terribly phoney. What a refreshing surprise then to see Morgan Saylor shine in this episode as Dana, as she attempts to adjust to life out of hospital and the new found sexual longings she holds for boyfriend Leo (Sam Underwood).
Escaping the constant nagging of her mother, she flees back to the hospital before losing her virginity to Leo in the laundry room. The tender moment of them between the sheets is interrupted by security the next morning, and Dana finds herself trapped back home under the full glare of her mum. Her impassioned speech, saying that the suicide attempt wasn't a cry for attention and that Leo gives her something to live for, was easily her best scene to date. Carrie and Dana are two individuals seen as unhinged by those around them. But as Dana notes to Leo, "We're not defective, it's everything out there".
Whilst character development was wisely pushed to the forefront, the Iranian terrorist storyline is beginning to quietly simmer away. With still no Brody in sight, in steps new character Fara (Nazanin Boniadi) as a CIA financial analyst, and gasp, a Muslim. Her introduction, with everyone staring at her and Saul lambasting her head scarf, was poorly handled. I'm sure the real CIA knows the difference between Islam and Islamism, and the organisation is probably populated by dozens of Muslims, so why did Fara's arrival need to be trumpeted so emphatically?
At least the writers have been proactive in responding to criticism that the show has been Islamophobic, and it was good to see bankers, rather than bombers, targeted this week as enemies of the state. Whilst watching the intelligence organisation chase down white-collar criminals for the rest of the series would be refreshing, it's not the most riveting television. Expect some gun-toting terrorists, and a fugitive Brody, to turn up very soon.