Homeland Series IV: Episode I

Homicide and homeopathy. It has to be the return of Homeland. It is as though the series has never been away when the prescription drug-glugging Carrie Mathison slides back onto screen with the elegance of a spoof spook under interrogation. She is still under the influence of alcoholic antidotes to bi-polar problems; the solution for the adrenaline addiction of a CIA agent. Clare Danes (Mathison) stares into the mirror with that reproachful visage and soft jazz resounds in the background. Nothing has changed.

Only, everything has changed. The opening episode of Series IV represents a very different incarnation of Homeland. Billed as a ‘reset’ or ‘reboot’, it is a code red for the red head as the series adjusts to life without the iconic Damian Lewis in his award winning role as double-triple-quadruple agent Brody. With Brody left dangling from the Tehrani noose at the climax of Series III, doll-like Danes is promoted from joint protagonist to main mannequin. Carrie Mathison is one of the rare survivors of Homeland’s fresh face. She survives alongside Quinn (Rupert Friend), the series’ unlikely moral compass as the killer with a conscience, prone to the odd postmodern post-mortem, now a bag boy loitering around the US Embassy lobbies of Islamabad. Bearded sage Saul (Mandy Patinkin) still soldiers on, though now in the shadows of the private sector, replaced as CIA Chief by the only real breakthrough character of Series III, Tracy Letts’ duplicitous Senator Lockhart.

So much for continuity though. Homeland was on the brink of losing all its early excellence under the over-bloated splurge of the most recent series. It had become one whooping-cough of confused plot, spewing out the momentum of the spectacular first series under a cloud of misguided and muddled ideas. Fortunately, homo fabor in the guise of writers Gansa and Gordon, has, like Carrie, taken a long hard look at itself in the mirror and decided to reshape, remake and remodel the flatulent, sagging saga that Homeland had become.

Now, if memory serves you well, the triumphant Carrie was en-route to Istanbul at the end of series III. Chickening out of Turkey, Kabul and Islamabad are the sexier surrogates for the docile Bosphorus straits. Why fumble around in Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s back pocket, when opportunity knocks on the Taliban frontier in Kabul and the tribal borderlands of Waziristan? It would not be our Carrie if she did not forego family for flames and motherhood for murder. Murder is the problem in episode one as a bombing raid on the number four target on the US hit list ends in the needless deaths of forty innocents and the ensuing repercussions for the newly named ‘Drone Queen’, Carrie.

Provided with partial intelligence as to the collateral damage of the raid from guesting actor, Corey Stoll, in the roll of rogue CIA station chief, Sandy Bachmann, Carrie unwittingly gives the order to blast a whole house load of civilians. The episode then pursues our protagonist through the malaise of an excitingly woven plot that is a real return to form for the series as we focus on the aftermath of the strike. This leads her to Islamabad and a climax which is actual car crash television as the agents are set upon by a protesting Pakistani flash mob. The final scenes are a truly gripping spectacle of uniquely Homeland engineered edge of your car seat thrills.

Then, it is back to the mirror. The single highlight of the first episode is the opposition between the intensive action of the climactic scenes, offset by disturbing normality. This is best realised when we venture from a flash mob on the streets of Islamabad to the unflappable Carrie simply washing away the fresh Pakistani blood from her face in the sterile, soapy fragrance of the US Embassy bathrooms. The image is both symbolic and an elegant set piece to contrast with the tumultuous turbulence of a terrific first episode. In short, it is well written, shot and played. Homeland to a tee. Now just 4OD!

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