×

TV Review: ‘Homeland’

Third season begins seeking to right itself after the second's maddening narrative turns

With:

Claire Danes, Damian Lewis, Mandy Patinkin, Morena Baccarin, Rupert Friend, Morgan Saylor, Jackson Pace, Sarita Choudhury, Tracy Letts, F. Murray Abraham

Few programs have experienced the explosive trajectory of “Homeland,” an Emmy winner for its first season before vaulting headlong into its second, wildly veering off course and, almost literally, blowing the whole thing up in the season finale. The third flight thus finds the series back on somewhat more sober terrain in addressing the fallout from those events, while suffering from big absences initially. Smart, watchable and extremely well cast, “Homeland’s” creative roller-coaster ride ultimately illustrates the gap between a popcorn show like “24” — not a bad option, but more limited — and the tougher-to-execute hairpin turns of a “Breaking Bad.”

For those who haven’t caught up (and spoilers will only apply to them), the explosion at the CIA has left the world assuming former POW Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis, absent from these initial episodes) is dead, while the CIA agent who hunted and bedded him, Carrie (Claire Danes), must deal with the fallout, including congressional scrutiny regarding how this mess could have happened.

Carrie’s mentor, Saul (Mandy Patinkin), is also trying to steer an agency decimated and devastated by the blast — eager for both answers and, perhaps less helpfully, revenge.

Showrunners Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon, who adapted the original Israeli series and gave it an electric turbo-boost that made even President Obama a fan, have demonstrated this is a world where very bad things might happen, which is helpful in keeping the audience off balance.

It’s also a place where alliances and friendships are fungible and moral clarity remains elusive. Although “Homeland” doesn’t traffic in moral equivalency necessarily, it does pointedly drive home the notion that the threat of terrorism has a way of leading those charged with thwarting it into questionable thickets, which generally come with unpalatable tradeoffs and distasteful choices.

At the same time, the show hasn’t escaped some of the dead ends that arose and became groan-inducing during last year’s uneven ride, most notably the ongoing mini-drama surrounding Brody’s teenage daughter Dana (Morgan Saylor), whose plotline continues to command far more screentime than it merits.

Danes, by contrast, has made the most of a character whose paranoia is often justified, and Patinkin’s beefed-up presence to start season three (with F. Murray Abraham also hanging around) adds welcome edge and gravitas to the antiterrorism crusade.

“Homeland” has forged a strong enough bond with most of its audience — and built up enough prestige as Showtime’s first best-series Emmy recipient — that it can probably punch its own ticket, but what initially appeared like one of TV’s finest hours slipped several rungs as it aggressively (and to its credit, fearlessly) chewed through life-and-death scenarios.

These latest episodes represent a tentative first step toward seeing whether the show can re-ascend to those heights or, conversely, plummet into an abyss of implausibility. Like so much else pertaining to “Homeland,” at this point, it could go either way.

TV Review: 'Homeland'

(Series; Showtime, Sun. Sept. 29, 9 p.m.)

Production:

Filmed in Charlotte, N.C. by Teakwood Lane Prods., Cherry Pie Prods. and Keshet in association with Fox 21.

Crew:

Executive producers, Alex Gansa, Howard Gordon, Gideon Raff, Chip Johannessen, Alex Cary, Avi Nir, Ran Telem; co-executive producers, Lesli Linka Glatter, Michael Klick, Barbara Hall, Patrick Harbinson; director, Linka Glatter; writers, Gansa, Hall. 60 MIN.

Cast:

Claire Danes, Damian Lewis, Mandy Patinkin, Morena Baccarin, Rupert Friend, Morgan Saylor, Jackson Pace, Sarita Choudhury, Tracy Letts, F. Murray Abraham

More TV

  • THE BLACKLIST -- "Katarina Rostova (#3)"

    ‘The Blacklist’ Bosses on Delivering the 'Really Intense Family Drama That We've Been Promising for Seven Years'

    SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not yet watched “Katarina Rostova,” the midseason seventh season finale of “The Blacklist.” Since “The Blacklist” began it has been building towards a confrontation between Agent Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone) and her biological mother, Katarina Rostova (Laila Robbins). That promised confrontation was front-and-center in the seventh season [...]

  • REEF BREAK - "Pilot" - When

    'Reef Break' Canceled After One Season at ABC

    “Reef Break” will not be back for a second season at ABC. The series debuted back in June on the broadcaster and aired 13 episodes, with the finale airing on Sept. 13. It starred Poppy Montgomery as Cat Chambers, Ray Stevenson as Jake Elliot, Desmond Chiam as Wyatt Cole, Melissa Bonne as Ana Dumont and [...]

  • Jeff Shell

    Jeff Shell: Who Is the NBCUniversal Heir Apparent?

    Analytical, decisive, loyal, fair, empowering. Those are just a few of the choice words industry insiders who have worked with incoming NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell — set to succeed current chief exec Steve Burke, as Variety exclusively reported — use to describe the longtime media exec.  On Universal’s North Hollywood lot, many insiders who work [...]

  • Reese Witherspoon Kerry Washington Little Fires

    TV News Roundup: Hulu Reveals 'Little Fires Everywhere' Premiere Date

    In today’s TV news roundup, Hulu announces a premiere date for “Little Fires Everywhere” and Variety exclusively obtains a first look at this year’s Christmas episode of “The Simpsons.” DATES “Little Fires Everywhere” will debut March 18, Hulu announced. Produced by Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine, Kerry Washington’s Simpson Street, and ABC Signature Studios, the show [...]

  • Watchmen Regina King Tim Blake Nelson

    How 'Watchmen' Pulled Off One of the Best TV Seasons of the Decade

    The first time Damon Lindelof realized that “Watchmen” — his adaptation/remix/continuation of the groundbreaking 1986 graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons — might actually be a hit was after the pilot debuted at New York Comic Con in October. In the following panel, the 46-year-old writer-producer could tell the audience was connecting with [...]

  • 9-1-1: Angela Bassett in the “Christmas

    Live+3 Ratings for Week of Dec. 2: 'The Good Doctor,' '9-1-1' Top Gainers

    “The Good Doctor” on ABC and “9-1-1” on Fox were the two biggest gainers in the Live+3 TV ratings for the week of Dec. 2. The pair benefited from the absence of NBC’s “This Is Us,” which to date has shown the largest gains across all scripted shows after three days of delayed viewing. “Good [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content