Homeland, 'Tin Man Is Down' review: Distinction without difference

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

Season 3 of Homeland opened this week with a crater in its narrative arc about as big and as wide as the one standing outside the CIA headquarters. And in all of this, all of us 1.9-million viewers who tuned in to the season premiere, ‘Tin Man Is Down,’ are as many Saul Berenson’s. We’re all looking out the window, wondering exactly what, if anything, will be done to that “one ugly ass hole in the ground” and just what the next move of the agency may be.

Showrunner Alex Gansa and his team of writers wiped the slate clean at the end of the second season, killing 219 Americans in what turned out to be, incredibly, a second 9/11—conveniently named, mind you, 12/12/12. Incredibly, that narrative point was second only in foolishness to the romance between Carrie Mathison (played by Claire Danes) and Nicholas Brody (played by Damian Lewis). Would the structure of what made season 1 so memorable return, in much the same way that the building that collapsed in that terrorist attack may be erected again? Will this season feel different than the bad rom-com that season 2 was?

Because of the carnage and the bomb that took so many casualties, there seems to plenty of difference in season 3, and that difference starts with the very first shot of the episode. Rupert Friend’s Peter Quinn is someone I have spoken highly of in the past, a mysterious jack of all trades who will blend the cliché dialogue with the occasional reckless behaviour. Quinn is a good man, a good soldier (i.e. that one, possibly literally as no one knows really who he is) and apparently is gifted at building an improvised explosive device (IED). He seems poised to take on an even bigger role, and that’s a good thing. Quinn makes things happen, always to his best approximation of what the mission asks for—if he stabs a congressman in the hand, it’s only as an interrogation technique. #IAmAllInForPeterQuinn.

There’s a new character, too, in Senator Andrew Lockhart (played by Tracy Letts). He reminds me of a snarkier and possibly less righteous man than The Wire‘s Thomas J. Carcetti was—though to be fair, Carcetti’s campaign of righteousness turned out to be as hollow as the dead houses where Chris and Snoop had hid all those dead bodies in season 4. Because of season 2, when Gansa et al. took the viewers down a dark road to a tunnel in the woods and where they hadn’t traveled before—what, Canada? Montreal, where is that?—the show doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt. What exactly is Lockhart’s purpose and motive, asks Berenson at his testimony?

The showrunners have a new cast to work with, and they spare no one—least of all the viewers. A counselor tells Jessica Brody (played by Morena Baccarin) that the bigger story than Dana (played by Morgan Saylor) having tried to kill herself is that she, the mother, missed it. Yikes. There’s the news article reporting on Carrie’s and Brody’s exploits in a game called love. The selfies. The Department of Justice document that Lockhart shows Carrie at her testimony and that details the immunity deal the CIA had promised to Sgt. Brody, inching ever so close of finally detonating that suicide vest the Marine wore in season 1. Boom. Boom. Boom. It’s all there.

But a peek behind the curtain reveals that the mechanics of Homeland remain largely the same. The country is still at war, especially now, sixty days after 12/12/12, and Saul Berenson (played by Mandy Patinkin), now the director of the CIA, ponders an important operation for the agency. “Could be the last order we ever give,” he tells Dar Adal (played by F. Murray Abraham).

But because Saul is that dude, his first order of business is at home. While he may be looking for answers to questions abroad, these are rivaled by the questions he faces in his own house. His wife Mira (played by Sarita Choudhury) is back, but that doesn’t mean that everything is back to normal. Nor that they sleep in the same bed. “I didn’t want the job. I never asked for the job. I’m not temperamentally-suited to it,” Saul tells Mira. “We’re not assassins, Mira. We’re spies.”

This season on Homeland, might these lines be blurred in ways that would shame even the great Robin Thicke? Let’s hope not.

It’s par for the course for Carrie, too. She’s self-medicating again, hoping to find herself whole when really the part of herself that she needs might be anywhere in the world, according to the big board in her living room.

Carrie is still in love, and that love story follows a familiar script. There’s the random and meaningless hump that doesn’t add any meaning to a life that is so devoid of any beyond that of protecting a country that doesn’t love her. There’s, yes, the self-medication. Finally, there’s the diet of Brody lookalikes and Tequila, the latter possibly to forget at that moment that the former isn’t the real thing.

It’s Saul who pulls the last punch in ‘Tin Man Is Down.’ Earlier in Carrie’s testimony, Lockhart had asked how could the CIA protect America if it can’t protect itself, and Berenson steps up to do just that at his own hearing. Maybe it’s because he’s finally had enough of Carrie’s antics (i.e. unlikely), or just that he can’t fathom that she only ever sees the proverbial Mathison-family-owned cabin in the woods and never the forest, or just to protect the CIA (i.e. more likely), but Saul gives Carrie up. He also explains that he takes full responsibility for all that unfolded under his watch, but Lockhart cuts him off. “Answer the question, please.”

He doesn’t care for Saul. Lockhart could have nailed the bearded one to the cross, but he chooses the sexy lead. CIA Agent concealed to her superiors that she was sleeping with Congressman-turned-terrorist Nicholas Brody—Lockhart too can’t see beyond that cabin in the woods that isn’t anywhere near that “ugly ass hole in the ground.”