The original source of drama on “Homeland” is gone. And that’s not all that’s missing.
In its third season, which starts Sunday, the Showtime drama changes up its rules again, with mostly good results. The show’s first season – the one that won and Outstanding Drama Series Emmy – was about a CIA agent who suspected a returning POW of being a secret terrorist. They also fell for each other. It was messy and fun.
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In the second season, that POW (Sgt. Nicholas Brody, played by Damian Lewis) went back and forth between power player and instigator, and things got messier as now-disgraced CIA agent Carrie Matheson (Claire Danes) became the only one who trusted him. His reputation took a dive in the finale, when he was framed for a deadly bombing described in Season 3 as the second 9/11.
He’s disappeared, with Carrie’s help. The show is committing to his disappearance in a big way. I won’t go into detail. But it’s fair to say that we’re denied the usual back-and-forth between Danes and Lewis, at least in the beginning.
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So is there still a show?
Yes. The focus has turned to Brody’s family, especially daughter Dana (Morgan Saylor), who’s in group therapy after a suicide attempt. Remember Erica Christensen’s amazing work in “Traffic”? Then Dana’s storyline and performance might feel familiar to you. But you may feel bait-and-switched that a show you thought was about Carrie and Brody is now largely about Brody’s daughter.
You shouldn’t feel too tricked. The show’s called “Homeland,” so of course it should have some focus on domestic life. It’s just that the show is much better at the high-level government intrigue stuff.
Fortunately, Mandy Pantinkin is around to provide it. As Carrie’s boss, Saul Berenson, he’s always been one of the best parts of the show. He wants to give her the freedom to chase her hunches, but he’s the one who has to answer for it if she’s wrong. This season, their dynamic changes in a dramatic, believable way.
The change is the most compelling part of the two episodes critics were given for review. “Homeland” has a way of changing plots and interior rules mid-season, and that can be frustrating. But this latest shift in dynamics feels convincing and overdue, and makes the new episodes compelling and worthwhile viewing. People who gave up during the overcomplicated second season may want to come back.
Especially given this: Like another great Patinkin character, “Homeland” is waging its first two episodes of the season left-handed.
And it is not left-handed.
The show is a largely a two-hander, and one of its hands is missing. It’s still strong. But I’m guessing it will be even stronger when that right hand returns.