Wednesday 26 October 2016

Homeland gets back to its thrilling best

Claire Danes portrays Carrie Mathison in a scene from the Showtime original series Homeland
Claire Danes portrays Carrie Mathison in a scene from the Showtime original series Homeland

HOW much longer can Homeland get away with it? The first season was superb, a lesson in how to get a a television audience in a headlock and keep them in that position for 10 weeks.

The second was deeply ridiculous. Brody murdering a man in the woods, scuffed and scraped but otherwise none the worse for wear for committing homicide, yet still getting home in time for dinner with his astonishingly sexy, but deeply dreary, wife and intolerable kid,.

Come on! Hey, yeah, hello, anyone?

The third one was a bit of an improvement, largely because — and turn your eyes away now if you haven’t seen it and plan to buy the boxset (I wouldn’t recommend it, to be honest) — BRODY WAS HANGED!!!

With — watch out, here comes another one — BRODY BEING HANGED!!! Homeland, reinvented itself and strayed into John le Carré territory; but with an American accent. In other words, it became a proper spy story, which is it what was at the beginning of its life.

That plot curve seems to continue with the first episode, which began in Berlin, the location for so many espionage yarns over the decades.

Carrie (the wonderful Claire Danes) is stationed there. Having been booted out of the CIA after the drone disaster of last season, she’s working for a  private security firm owned by a philanthropic German billionaire.

She’s playing the good mother to her daughter Frannie, too, having previously flirted with the idea of drowning her in the bath.

Somehow, though, all those daft plot inconsistencies from the past just get washed away when you’re watching Carrie coo adoringly over her baby girl one minute, knowing full well she’s probably going to shoot someone in the head the next.

She doesn’t. Thankfully. The only one killing people in this episode is Quinn (Rupert Friend), who seems to be having a bit of trouble holding onto his sanity while engaged on a special ops mission to blow as many people away as he can in the shortest possible time. He does it with alarming effiiciency; a bullet to the head here, a pipe bomb there.

Actually, Quinn, haunted by his lingering demons, is fast becoming the most complex and interesting character in Homeland. He might well become the most compelling character in it. Watching him crumble into  pieces promises to be one of the best things to come from this year’s season.

In fact, this whole season of Homeland looks like it might be good. It’s taking Quinn and Carrie — who’s sucked back into the old spy game by Saul (Mandy Patinkin), despite her best intentions to be a doting, and very ordinary, mother — into interesting new directions.

The Berlin setting, too, seems to chime with what’s topical in the world at the moment.

There are echoes in the plot — about America spying on German citizens — of WikiLeaks and the tapping of Angela Merkel’s phone.

It’s rare enough for a drama series to recover after taking a critical hammering — and Homeland took quite the hammering, from this quarter and pretty much every other one.

To do it twice, though, which it appears to have done, is some achievement.

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