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'Homeland' series 3: a return to form?

As the hit US thriller returns, we wonder whether it'll regain its former brilliance

Back in 2012, ‘Homeland’ felt like a new kind of American thriller: sceptical, unpredictable, ambivalent about America’s place in the world. But do we still need maverick CIA agent Carrie Mathison, former soldier-terrorist-politician on-the-run Nicholas Brody and mysterious stab-happy spook Peter Quinn in our lives? With Brody on the run, Mathison on the ropes and Quinn in control, it’s time for ‘Homeland’ to remind us why we loved it.

Ambiguity: Who are the good guys?
This used to be ‘Homeland’s’ trump card. It came closer than any other mainstream American show to acknowledging that US conduct of the War on Terror had caused as many problems as it had solved. But since Brody’s failure to launch at the end of season one, things have gone a bit ‘24’. Abu Nazir was a cartoon villain. This season’s bad guy is called ‘The Magician’ (‘he makes people disappear’). Last year we had a man juggling five masters, a murderous tailor and assassination by remote controlled pacemaker. Less is more…

Characterisation: Do we still care?
First, the good news. Brody’s daughter Dana has attempted suicide. Yes, that really is good news. Because the internal dynamics of the Brody family should continue to be fascinating. And Carrie? Still barking up the right tree, but in a distractingly eccentric way? Still making that tragi-comic sad-face, on and off her meds, shagging random strangers and drowning in jazz and tequila? Of course she is. Something’s starting not to ring true here. And it isn’t just the ease with which she shrugged off her season one shock therapy.

Plausibility: The Carrie conundrum
‘Just what are you smoking, Miss Mathison?’ asks the Senator in charge of Carrie’s Select Committee hearing. It’s a good question and a pre-emptive strike – an acknowledgment that we might struggle to believe that Carrie will ever be trusted again. And then there’s new CIA head honcho Saul, whose sudden about-turn undermines everything we thought we knew about him…

Excitement: Choose a target
Well, that will depend. Season two’s climax gave us the big bang we craved. But it’s left a big hole – and we don’t just mean the crater where CIA HQ used to be. There’s no sign of Brody in episode one – could Quinn be about to take up the slack? ‘Homeland’ works best as a high-wire act: balancing loyalty and betrayal, the visceral and the procedural, the personal and the political. Might juggling the demands of its network and the logic of its narrative prove its biggest challenge of all?

'Homeland' C4. Sun Oct 6, 9pm.

Read our review of 'Homeland'

Series 3, episode 1
  • 4 out of 5 stars

This season-three opener pitches itself somewhere between aftermath and appetiser: terrorists never sleep, particularly when, as with this episode’s baddy, they have nicknames like ‘The Magician’. But will Carrie’s testimony doom the operations of Saul, Quinn et al to obsolescence?

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