*Spoilers for the first two Season 4 episodes ahead.
If there’s one thing that’s painfully obvious from Homeland’s first two hours back, it’s that Carrie Mathison isn’t cut out for motherhood. In her heart she knew it, but just couldn’t go through with destroying something created by love. No worries, you’re not watching some overly-emotional, soap-operacized version of what used to be a taut thriller, in fact the season 4 opener quickly gets back to its roots. With a botched U.S. drone attack, Carrie finds herself dealing with several crises all at once; instead of panic and tears, she confidently handles the missteps as they come. If you made it through the sometimes whacky third season, you may be wondering if Gansa and Co. can recover from their own missteps — from the look of things they’ve figured out a nifty way to reset and yet still retain some of what made the series first two rounds so great.
1. Brody’s Gone Daddy Gone.
Look, it’s not that we didn’t appreciate the first couple of Brody-centric seasons; from its outset, the is-he-or-isn’t-he a traitor duality held us rapt…until it didn’t. The Carrie/Brody storyline went so far off the rails, by the time he was hanged we practically cheered in between our sobs. Season 4 starts with its Brody-slate wiped clean (well, except for his adorable mini-me), and as it sinks in that he’s finally gone, we realize how very refreshing a fresh start can be.
2. Rupert Friend’s Quinn Is Front and Center, and a Little Unhinged.
By far the most interesting character to come out of season 2 is the enigmatic Peter Quinn, and Rupert Friend continues to absolutely kill his every scene. From his fearless honesty with Carrie, to his inability to escape Quinn’s automatic black-ops mode in a life or death crisis (Jesus, that car scene!); from his adorable binge-drinking, one-night stand and sweet morning after behavior to a chivalrous explosion — there isn’t one aspect of Agent Quinn that doesn’t demand interest. He’s the truly conflicted anti-Brody, and for that, we love him.
3. Saul and Dar Adal Have Re-teamed.
Saul’s back and so’s the beard; we’re just as relieved as Carrie. Though he promised Mira it was her career turn, it’s obvious (to everyone but himself) Saul can’t change who he is — he can’t help but keep an eye on the bigger picture, including Carrie’s Pakistan goings-on. His face lights up when Dar Adal tells him Lockhart’s leadership is being questioned, and the moment for Saul to step in has arrived. With Berenson and Adal back at the agency’s (and season 4’s) helm, things can only get better.
4. We Catch Different Sides of Carrie As Mother, and Opportunistic Station Chief.
Carrie’s back on her meds and stable as…she can be? Clearly overwhelmed by even the idea of being responsible for — never mind looking at — her own child, it’s also clear we won’t see Carrie playing house for long. And frankly, she shouldn’t. Despite her sister’s continued flawed, idealistic advice, Carrie knows she has no business trying to raise a child herself. She’s completely disconnected from her daughter, *and* quite possibly dangerous. While that bath scene may have been partially necessary to demonstrate how incapable as a mother Carrie is, it was still disturbing that she didn’t confess her feelings to anyone, make her family understand she’s incapable (and to find better long term arrangements than a resentful sister and unreliable grandfather and nanny). While it’s Homeland’s family related scenes that have always been the series’ weakest, a peek at this side of Carrie’s fragile psyche was necessary.
On the other side of the coin, is the more experienced (if not still inexplicably government-employed) “Work Carrie,” who veers between pragmatically decisive and unaffected, and on the verge of a breakdown. Let’s face it, this is the Carrie we love. She’s the rarely seen female version of Quinn, but with a slightly higher intellect, and the added burden of a chemically managed brain. As unfathomable as the initial premise always was, Claire Danes has a way of making us believe in her Mathison. As a mother and agent in danger, we’re terrified for her; as a quick-thinking, brilliant, woman in charge, we admire her strength and decisiveness. The way Carrie manipulated a political mess to her own advantage (both as mother and station chief) was just what her own mentor would have done.
5. The Tension Is Still High.
From the beginning, Homeland has excelled at tension and keeping our stomachs in knots. With Brody gone, many (including myself) wondered if Gansa and Gordon could ever come up with a new storyline to bring us back. There’s another emotionally charged look at U.S. drone attacks felling unintended civilians, and a swift and brutal retaliation — the first hour’s affecting and terrifying hook. The immediate consequences (nearly all reactive) are shown from all sides, and a bit of mystery set up. What are all those medical vials he packed in a duffle and left for safekeeping with his female friend? Will Quinn end up going with Carrie to Pakistan, and working for or with her to see what went wrong with Sandy’s source? Will the writers be able to resist getting Carrie and Quinn together (please, no)? We want to see whether this more politically aware Carrie will turn away from her own ideals; if Quinn is the series’ new moral compass, and Saul can again drive Carrie back from the edge. Surprisingly, the one-two bang of “The Drone Queen” and “Trylon and Perisphere” has given us good reason to come back for more.