Has it really been a year since Homeland was on our screens? No is the answer. Airing on Channel 4 at the start of the year, the acclaimed spy thriller is now being shown in the UK just one week after it premieres in the US of A, meaning that it should be a lot easier to avoid any pesky spoilers on the web. The show dazzled viewers in its first season and proved a critical darling last month at the Emmys, with actors Clare Danes and Damian Lewis nabbing the top acting gongs, and the show itself wresting away Mad Men's long-held crown as best TV drama.
After such a brilliant first season, questions were inevitably asked if it could pull off the trick again? The mystery of Brody's allegiance has been uncovered (if not by the CIA), and it appeared at the end of last season that Carrie was out of the spy game for good when she received shock treatment therapy. What more is there to tell?
Quite a lot it seems, especially when we all knew that Carrie's early retirement was never going to last. At the start of the episode she is trying to lead an ordinary life: living with dad, making vegetable lasagne and teaching English at a language school (drawing a nice parallel with Brody teaching Issa English last season). But the CIA wants her back, as we discover trouble is afoot in the Middle East. Eerily reminiscent of last month's riots across the region, large crowds have gathered in Beirut to protest the killing of thousands of Iranians in a series of airstrikes by Israel. Whilst last season was all about 'homeland security', how America attempts to prevent attacks against it by terrorists, this season looks set to examine even further the role America and its allies play in the Middle East, and whether aggressive actions such as those taken by the likes of Israel and the US can be referred to as 'defence'.
Saul Berenson, the avuncular CIA investigator, hears in Beirut from one of Carrie's former sources of a planned terrorist attack on US soil. And with that, Carrie is shipped off on the next flight to Lebanon. In a clichéd exchange, an exasperated Carrie tells her sister, "I wouldn't be going if I didn't have a choice," to which the response she receives is, "You always have a choice". Like an abused lover, Carrie seems perpetually drawn to the CIA, an organisation that has chewed her up and spat her out more times than she has changed dresses. Is it patriotism that lures Carrie to this dangerous line of work, or something else entirely?
Brody can't seem to escape the clutches of those who want to use him either. After deciding blowing himself and the Vice President up in a suicide bomb attack wasn't the best idea, he convinced Abu Nazir that his efforts as a congressman can influence American policy from the inside. Playing the mole certainly has its benefits. His family are enjoying Brody's newfound political connections, with his children Chris and Dana now attending the same fancy school as the Veep's. His rollercoaster ride up the chain of power shows no signs of stopping when the VP turns up and offers him the role of running mate in the upcoming presidential elections.
But Abu Nazir hasn't forgotten his agent on the inside, and appears impatient about the lack of plotting and scheming going on at terrorist HQ. A journalist named Roya Hammad turns up at Brody's office saying that Nazir demands he retrieve a dossier full of potential attack targets from the safe of CIA chief David Estes; easier said than done. Brody is reluctant to get involved, but in the end steals the files in a thrilling moment where Estes abandons his office for five minutes. Brody is complicit to an extent in helping Nazir get the documents, maybe because he can deny his actions are deliberately jeopardising others. But what will he do if Nazir asks him to take arms, to go out and get blood on his hands?
The two opposing forces of the CIA and al-Qaeda might have plans for Carrie and Brody, but it doesn't prove hard to coerce them back into action. The fundamental religious beliefs instilled in Brody from his time in captivity remain strong, as evidenced by his horror with the way his wife Jessica desecrates his Qur'an, ("That's not supposed to touch the floor!") and the tender way in which he buries the holy book. Against her better judgment, Carrie also seeks an alternative, hidden life. Pursued by a couple of men in Beirut, the ensuing chase down a crowded souk is both tense and thrilling. When trapped in a corner she switches headscarves with another woman before immobilising the man behind her in a lightning strike. We see this all the time in Hollywood action films. James Bond or Jason Bourne would take out an opponent and walk on without breaking a sweat. But what does Carrie do as she runs away? She smiles. The action-packed moment becomes simultaneously exciting and repulsive as we become aware of Carrie's addiction to this dangerous life, the flare of her white teeth a crack in the facade she'd maintained that all was well and she was on the road to recovery. One moment of violence was all it took for Carrie's true identity to be revealed. The cracks are appearing in Carrie and Brody's lives, how soon will it be before things falls apart?