By Ken Tucker
Updated September 21, 2012 at 04:00 AM EDT
BACK 'HOME' Danes' character Carrie Mathison is in turmoil over her decision to return to her CIA roots
Credit: Ronen Akerman

When we last left Homeland, Claire Danes’ Carrie Mathison was a disgraced CIA operations officer so emotionally damaged that she was going One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest with shock treatments — excuse me, ”electroconvulsive therapy.” And Damian Lewis’ Nicholas Brody was a traitorous former Marine POW who had nearly completed a suicide mission that would have blown him up along with some of the government’s highest officials.

As the new season begins, Carrie has, in her sister’s words, ”finally gotten to a good place.” She’s living with her family, she’s employed in a new job, she’s making vegetable lasagna from edibles picked from the family garden. She seems as close to being happy as anyone this intense and intelligent can be. But then she’s pulled back into the CIA’s hugger-mugger, reuniting her with her mentor-handler, Mandy Patinkin’s Saul Berenson. It turns out that one of her old ”assets,” a Middle Eastern woman with ties to the series’ arch-terrorist, Abu Nazir (Navid Negahban), has come forward with important intelligence she will share only with Carrie. Thus, our neurotic heroine is recruited for one more mission, and Danes shows you — with every blink of her wide eyes, every line reading that’s suffused with tamped-down emotion — how conflicted she is about this.

As for Brody, he too has benefited from the series’ six-month time jump. Now a congressman, he’s approached by Jamey Sheridan’s Vice President Walden about joining his team for a presidential run. Vice President Brody has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? Brody’s wife, Jessica (Morena Baccarin), is delighted, and he knows this move will get him one giant step closer to fulfilling the promise he made to Abu Nazir: that he’ll funnel U.S. secrets to this U.S. enemy.

One key line is almost tossed away in the devilishly constructed series. Carrie tells her family, ”I trust Saul; he’ll be there to hold my hand.” A powerful Homeland theme is not only the war looming out in the world but also the one raging within Carrie — a woman with immense talent, yet whose emotional fragility renders her prone to seeking the care and protection of men like Saul as well as Brody, with whom she became intimate last season. Similarly, Brody is a superb soldier who has been broken spiritually; he’s at once tremendously shrewd and scarily vulnerable. It’s the suspense these two leads endure — a suspense Homeland dramatizes in a swift, sure manner and then transfers to the viewer — that makes this show so unnervingly terrific. A-

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