Carrie returns with the CIA under investigation, while Saul struggles to run the agency

By Shirley Li
Updated May 28, 2015 at 04:54 PM EDT
Kent Smith/Showtime

Welcome back, Homeland, and welcome back, recap readers. If you’re completely new to Carrie and Co., stop what you’re doing and catch up. (Here’s a handy binge-watching guide to help you out.) But if you’re a veteran, well, turn up that jazz music, tear your eyes away from that surveillance feed (sorry, Virgil) and read on for your first recap of the season.

But wait — before I get into the nitty gritty of the third season premiere, I need to chat with you, Homeland. Don’t worry, I don’t have a Q&A or any Peter Quinn hand-stabbing in mind; I just want to take a quick look back at your shaky sophomore season. Yes, shaky. Let’s see: You had Carrie playing Jack Bauer going after Abu Nazir, you had no grasp of how cell phone signals work and you had two teenagers involved in an unnecessary subplot about a hit-and-run, among other ridiculata. Look, show, it’s one thing to ask your audience to suspend disbelief, it’s another to throw it back in their faces and rub it in while insisting, “See how crazy things have gotten?! Isn’t this crazy?!”

I get it. You won an Emmy for your first season, so you were under a lot of pressure. But at your core, you’re not a show about shocking twists and turns. (That’s a job for Hostages.) You’re a show about characters struggling to reconcile their moral beliefs with the larger picture: Can Brody be trusted? Can Carrie trust Saul? Can she trust herself? Homeland, you’re at your best when you reveal Carrie, Brody and Saul for who they are; Carrie smiling at the end of “The Smile,” her admissions to Brody in “The Weekend” and the stripping down of Brody in “Q&A” — these are the moments that drive your show.

It’s a good thing your third season premiere understands that.

The characters of Homeland have always presented themselves under masks, to hide their demons. Carrie secretly took meds for her bipolar disorder, Saul avoided speaking with his wife about their crumbling marriage, and Brody — do I even need to explain why Brody’s not who he seems? These characters are used to hiding, but in Sunday’s “Tin Man is Down,” they’re finding it hard to keep those walls up as they deal with the aftermath of last season, which — if you need a refresher — ended with the CIA headquarters destroyed, Abu Nazir dead, and Carrie as the only person convinced of Brody’s innocence in the bombing. Unlike Dorothy from the premiere title’s eponymous Wizard of Oz, Carrie can’t click her heels and tell herself “There’s no place like home” to see the CIA magically return before her eyes.

And that’s where we begin.

NEXT: “What is it you’re smoking, Ms. Mathison?”

We open with Carrie being viciously questioned by a committee investigating the CIA’s ability to run as an agency. It’s been 58 days since the attack on Langley, and she’s swearing she’ll tell the committee the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help her God.

But things are never that easy for Carrie. She deflects the early questions from the committee chairman, Sen. Andrew Lockhart (Tracy Letts), who insists the CIA is “in tatters,” but begins to falter when he bluntly asks, “How can the CIA be expected to protect this country when it can’t even protect itself?”

Carrie doesn’t have an answer — strike one. He presses further, asking what her job was as the point person for Abu Nazir’s task force — was she there to anticipate an attack from the terrorist mastermind?

And again, Carrie can only gape at him before turning the blame on herself. “If you’re asking, did he outsmart me? Yes, he did,” she admits. “If you’re asking, will I ever forgive myself? No, I won’t.”

Strike two. The committee then twists the knife some more, producing a Defense Department memo that shows the CIA granted Brody immunity, catching Carrie off guard. She lies, saying she has never seen the document before, and as the committee continues to question her about it, she breaks, her mask collapsing, blurting out that she believes Brody is innocent.

Strike three.

The committee is silent for a moment, before Lockhart leans in and peers at Carrie. “What’s she going to say next, that we never landed on the moon?” he asks. “What is it you’re smoking, Ms. Mathison?”

Instead of answering, Carrie calls and confronts Saul about the memo, which clearly indicates a leak in the agency. (But who would want to do that to Carrie? Dar Adal? A new villain?) As Carrie catches her breath outside, her lawyer waits and picks up Carrie’s notebook, its pages covered in scribbles trying to cobble together an explanation for the attack.

And those disjointed thoughts span beyond Carrie’s notebook — her charts and diagrams have reached her Wall of Conspiracy at home. I clapped at the Wall’s return, with all the pins and pieces of paper, but Carrie’s dad isn’t a fan of her work. She’s gone off her meds, thinking that she couldn’t see the bombing plot because she had been medicating.

“I let it happen. I wasn’t myself, I was only half there,” she pleads. “It was right in front of my eyes, and I never saw it coming.”

Carrie can be convincing in front of the committee, but at home, she struggles with survivor’s guilt, feebly telling her father, “It’s all good.” I have a feeling that alternative medicine’s not going to hold for long.

NEXT: Better make a call, Saul…

Meanwhile, Saul and Dar Adal gravely confer about CIA’s future in a scene that would work perfectly for the Saul/Dar Adal spinoff we wish could happen but would probably be impossible (The Saul and Dar Adal Show? The Dar Ad-Saul Show? Two Probably-Not-Broke Badasses? Ahem, moving on…). Saul seems to believe the government remains on the agency’s side, but Dar Adal disagrees, pointing out how the headquarters still looks like a crater almost two months after the attack. “So we’re being punished,” Saul says, before heading to a briefing on an op about to take place in multiple locations, including a hit in Caracas, Venezuela.

So that’s where Peter Quinn is — we caught a glimpse of him there earlier, assembling an apparatus of some sort and readying his weapons. It turns out he’s one piece of Saul’s plan to hit six targets at the same time around the world within a 20-minute time frame.

But none of those targets is Brody, complains a government representative at the briefing, and getting Brody would mean “closure.” Too bad, government rep: Brody’s nowhere to be found, and Saul says their new target is an Iranian named Javadi, who reportedly disappeared in 1994, was behind a bombing that killed 85 people, and works for someone under the alias of “The Magician.” Could it be… a new Big Bad?

The government rep couldn’t care less about the six targets in Javadi’s network and just wants the mission to move forward. “Do I get a green light? Do I get to sign off? Have we decided?” he asks, one “Are we there yet?” away from acting like an overeager child.

“We’re still deciding,” Saul says, glancing at Dar Adal, who sighs at his partner’s indecisiveness. Saul has always liked to think things through, to plan as carefully as possible before ordering a hit, but sitting at the top of the agency and having to make heavy choices isn’t suiting him.

At home, things aren’t much better for Saul. Before, he’s been able to separate his life at work, dealing with Carrie and Estes, from his life at home. But this hour’s Saul can barely keep the two apart — his wife Mira’s back, and she can tell how stuck he feels. “I never asked for this job,” Saul tells her.

“You do everything you can to avoid making a decision,” she replies. “It’s paralyzing you.”

The scene starts off tense, with the shaky camera lingering by the doorway and showing us the iciness between the couple as Saul holds his head in his hands. But it ends with Saul and Mira having an almost intimate moment before she says good night, turns, and leaves for her room.

It’s heartbreaking to see Saul so exposed, an unwitting leader afraid of the position he’s in and knowing that the easiest route for the agency would be to have a successful op and to cast the blame of the bombing somewhere else. But where? We’ll get to that.

NEXT: “What did the optimist say as he was jumping off the building?”

Before beginning Saul’s op, however, the episode spends some time updating us on the Brodys and, simply put, they’re not doing any better than Carrie and Saul. They’re underwater financially — no income, no insurance — as well as socially — the family has received death threats since Brody’s “confession” video went public, and Dana and Chris have had to be pulled out of school.

To top it all off, Dana has spent her time post-bombing at a rehab center after she, as Jessica bluntly puts it, “got in a bathtub and slit her wrists.” It’s a shocking revelation, but what’s more disturbing is how Jessica numbly lists all the trouble the family’s faced, like it’s an inconsequential catalogue of events she’s trying to pretend hasn’t happened. When the doctor remarks, “She’s doing well” to her, Jessica looks like she doesn’t believe a word he says.

But Dana does look well… well enough, that is. We see her reciting coping mechanisms (“and all that,” she adds) in a group session and, later, secretly making out with a fellow patient (who we hope won’t be in any hit-and-run plot lines anytime soon). She moves back into her old room, quietly removes a picture showing her father, and takes out her phone to snap a nude selfie of herself for her new squeeze.

Wait, what?

Dana. Oh, Dana. I hate to go all big sister on you, but no. Can’t you see how bad of an idea this is? This is worse than all the ideas you had last season put together! You have paparazzi following your family around — they just accosted you outside the rehab center, for crying out loud. This is going to end badly, isn’t it? Teenagers.

That said, Dana seems to be the only Brody not on edge anymore — other than Chris, of course. While her mother and grandmother snap at each other, she has no problem posing a completely inappropriate joke to the dinner table. “What did the optimist say as he was jumping off the building?” she asks as everyone is mid-chew. “So far so good.”

And she repeats the punchline for them, until Jessica finally smiles. It’s a winning moment for Dana, until she later walks in on her grandmother telling Jessica, “If she really meant to kill herself, she’d be dead.” Her face falls as she listens to them, and even the (much less scandalous) text back from the boy can’t help her.

NEXT: Saul pulls back the curtain and reveals…

Back in front of the committee, Carrie’s lawyer is confirming what may be the most insecure alibi ever uttered on television: During the bombing, Carrie was in the ladies’ room and knocked unconscious, waking up 14 hours later. Oh, okay. She most definitely did not drive a certain former vice presidential candidate-slash-terrorist to the Great White North. And no, Senator, Carrie did not leave with said former vice presidential candidate-slash-terrorist. What television show CIA agent would be crazy enough to pull that off?

Come on, Carrie. You can do better than that. The alibi is weak, and Lockhart knows. “You are doing and have done great harm to this country,” he says, as she turns her face away from the committee’s prying eyes.

At least the situation in Caracas is going much more smoothly. Quinn is ready, eyeing his target and turning on his device. But just as he’s about to take him out, he spies a little boy with his target and backs down — how Jason Bourne of him — and his inaction forces Saul into action. Finally. The op needed all six targets taken out at the same time, and Saul decides to go forward with Quinn.

Hang on, did I say the situation in Caracas was going smoothly? Scratch that — while the operation runs perfectly, Quinn accidentally shoots the child he was trying to avoid earlier. And this is when everything starts to fall apart, as a paralyzed Quinn, wide-eyed at the sight of the boy’s corpse, calls in his successful hit with the code “Tin Man Is Down” at the last minute.

Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but there’s a fascinating juxtaposition here, with Saul in mission control and Quinn speeding through Caracas. Saul’s been twiddling his thumbs, unsure of where to take the op, while Quinn has had no trouble piecing together his op and tracking his target. Saul spent days and nights deliberating his decision; Quinn had no problem following orders. In the end, though, Saul succeeds with the op, while Quinn, who’s supposed to be the unfeeling hitman — the Tin Man without a heart, if you will — almost fails because he acts too quickly.

So six “enemy combatants” dead, to use Saul’s phrasing, but it’s done at what cost? Saul’s heart, to continue my train of thought, ends up blackened at the committee review of the CIA. It already began shriveling earlier, when Carrie woke up to find a paper emblazoned with the headline, “CIA officer linked to Langley bomber.” First the DOD memo, now this. Carrie knows there’s a leak and while she accuses Dar Adal of planting the story, she has no way of knowing who to trust, thanks to a chilly Saul.

That same Saul then swears to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help him God in front of Lockhart and the committee. There, he (rightly) accuses the committee of doing a “witch hunt,” trying to place blame on the CIA so they don’t have to pick up the pieces from the attack. But when Lockhart tells him the op did nothing to reassure the committee the CIA’s back on its feet, Saul makes his final call: He tells the committee that the CIA agent tasked with Brody (Carrie) is “unstable,” bipolar, and had a sexual relationship with Brody.

Ouch.

At this point, I paused the episode, wrote the letters “WTF” in my notes, triple underlined it, circled it, and then pressed play again.

Because this is Saul — Saul the mentor, the guide, the one man in the CIA who has always had Carrie’s back, now pulling back the curtain, betraying everything about her but her name. As he speaks, we see Carrie frozen on her couch, humiliated and unable to process what’s happening.

And that’s where we’re left at the end of “Tin Man is Down.” The characters are unmasked, the CIA is still in tatters, and Carrie’s in a much worse position than before. Will she escape the committee’s scrutiny? What’s Saul’s plan? And when will we see Brody again? The show has set up the government as the enemy so far (think back to those “Pledge Allegiance” promo posters), and the premise is promising, albeit being borderline absurd with the way the committee investigation is being handled.

Your turn, readers. What did you make of the premiere? Not enough Carrie cry faces? Did you buy Saul’s decision to betray Carrie? Are you just as wary of Dana’s selfie subplot as I am? What do you think Brody’s up to? Sound off in the comments below.

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