Homeland: 201 “The Smile” Review
Reviewed by Rich Jepson, cult TV enthusiast and author of 24: Terrorism Through Television.
WARNING – FULL SPOILERS
Homeland returned to UK screens tonight, coming off the back of a whole cluster of Emmy awards and following on from an impressively well scripted first season. In its 8 month absence the reputation for this show has mounted substantially and given its hoard of awards and appraisals, it’s no surprise that the bar has been set high for the second outing.
It’s important to remember that the reason this show is so successful is not purely down to its all too realistic subject matter surrounding events in the Middle East and America. Although, this gives it a fantastic backdrop for events to play out and really drives home the state of the world that we’re living in, the core foundation of this series is built on a basic principal of suspicion and deception between Brody & Carrie. That’s what makes it so engaging and increasingly fascinating.
So heading in to the second season, where do these two opposing enigmas find themselves? Well, Brody has certainly been busy since we last saw him. The former POW is now a U.S congressman being prepped for the office of Vice-President, having made the transition from soldier to politician, Brody now appears to be more grounded and focused in his new career. Carrie on the other hand has found her own sanctuary in gardening, teaching and…making vegetable lasagne – go figure.
With that being the current state of play it wasn’t long before events began to animate into the usual Homeland format, bringing together the dark and sinister within their contrasting American lives. Brody gets a stern nudge from Abu Nazir, a frightful reminder that he’s been put where he is to do a job, not just shake hands with diplomat. Carrie is dragged back into her former CIA life after an all too accurate interpretation of conflict between Israel and Iran.
As a reaction to these events both characters are forced back into a life they had began to step away from. Carrie is summoned by Estes, with the help of Saul, back into the field to meet up with a former contact, whilst Brody is forced to put down his pen and infiltrate the CIA, with a hand on task to perform.
What really raised the bar this episode is the clarity with which Brody now speaks about Nazir. The first season centred on the constant ‘is he/isn’t he’ questions about his involvement with Nazir’s organisation. Now, we have a much clearer understanding of his agenda and so the show is a lot less restricted in the information it divulges. The addition of the journalist was a huge boost to the pace of Brody’s story, she came straight out with the direct questions that we’re eager to clarify and it proved to be a fantastic catalyst for Brody’s actions. As he said ‘I’m not a terrorist’ but he’s definitely turned to an extent. The question now is not whether he is or isn’t, but to what extent will he obey his former master?
Opposite to all of this is Carrie’s resurgence as a field operative. From the moment she gets back in the game her character begins to redevelop and establish an adapted mind-set when it comes to being an effective CIA agent. As the title of the episode makes reference to, her redemption is complete when she leaves the market after taking down the perusing rebel; the smile she gives is a nod to her recovery. She’s back for a second shot and what’s more is this new level headed Carrie isn’t the same, she’s different – positive, determined and focused. She’s still not the finished article but this was clearly a glimpse of an evolved Carrie ready to have another shot at the U.S most recognizable congressman.
The other major development within this episode came from Dana and her exposure of Brody’s secret. This was an unexpected twist and added a lot of excitement to a very well scripted episode. Jess has found out a very personal secret about her husband that will shed a lot of light on all of his previous actions, most notably from last season’s bunker finale.
Overall, this episode stepped up the velocity of the show by more than a few notches; it clearly stated that the array of positive decorations that it has received is more than justified. Homeland is at the forefront of a new breed of television drama and this episode explains undoubtedly why it belongs there. Roll on next week…
Scene of the Episode: Brody’s Office – The scene between Brody and Nazir-inspired journalist Roya Hammed injected both pace and excitement into the story. Her questioning was directly exposing and blew away any cover that Brody tried to place on himself. Her addition to proceedings could prove to be a thorn in Brody’s side, like a Nazir shaped devil on his shoulder whispering in his ear.