One reason US cable network Showtime might have decided to release the first 20 minutes of the new Homeland online is that, er, nothing much happens. It looks like it’s about to kick off just as the taster reel ends, leaving US fans to wait until the premiere on 30 September, and British viewers hanging on a bit longer.
So do we learn anything at all? Actually, yes…
The big question is, of course, whether the memory of bipolar, exiled CIA agent Carrie (Claire Danes) was successfully wiped by electro-convulsive therapy at the end of series one. Will she ever recall realising that the name shouted out by war hero and terror suspect Brody (Damian Lewis) in his sleep was that of the late son of al-Qaeda bigwig Abu Nazir?
Curiously, this crucial plot point is about the only thing missing from the marathon “previously…” montage that re-introduces the series, as if the programme-makers want you to forget what Carrie has forgotten.
When we catch up with Carrie again, she’s at home with her father and sister. She’s gardening – in an intense, haunted sort of way, but she’s still on her meds. She briefly looks at a major breaking geopolitical news story on her laptop, before checking herself and shutting the lid. A note on her bedroom mirror says: “BREATHE.” Clearly her recovery is a fragile one.
That news story is what looks set to drive season two: Israel has gone ahead and bombed Iran, on the pretext of halting a nuclear weapons programme. While the show’s central story is one of people dedicated to protecting America, Homeland has never been afraid to confront what makes the country unpopular in the Middle East; now it has the benefit of acute topicality as it enacts a possibility that has been freshly debated only this week in the real world.
Outside the United States embassy in Beirut, angry protesters are burning American flags as well as Israeli ones. Inside, Carrie’s former mentor Saul is briefed about an informer who used CIA codes to offer intel on a possible attack on America, but who isn’t known to any agents in Lebanon. It turns out there’s only one agent she’ll give the details to.
With Danes having signed a seven-season deal before the first ever episode was even filmed, it’s not much of a spoiler to say that the CIA don’t let her carry on gardening – and teaching English to Middle Eastern students, which is her new day job – for long.
But now, her conversations with Saul and dodgy section chief Estes (David Harewood) are on a different footing. If she agrees to be dragged back in, it’ll be as someone who’s known to be mentally unstable. The scene where Carrie has to make her decision gives us Claire Danes at her brittle, raging best.
Meanwhile, Brody is busy strutting around the corridors of power and is made an offer that could accelerate his career. “They’re using my name to help sell the public on taking a harder line with Iran,” he says to his wife, confirming that Iran will be prominent as the series develops.
Brody’s son is excited about his dad’s career (it means more Facebook friends) but his daughter is distant. She’s not happy at the posh school Daddy’s new friends have parachuted her into – and don’t forget, she knows he’s converted to Islam and, at the end of series one, she was willing to believe he could be a terrorist.
How Brody will enact his promise to Abu Nazir to bring down the imperialist scourge from within isn’t clear yet. But one thing is: Brody and Carrie are unlikely to be interacting much in season two, at least to begin with. Where will their separate paths lead? Not too long until we find out…