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‘Homeland’ episode 2.01: ‘The Smile’

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As Carrie tracks Brody, Ned Martel will be tracking their every move in weekly recaps of Showtime’s Emmy Award-winning series “Homeland.” Check back each Monday morning to join the conversation on one of TV’s best nailbiters.

*****

Carrie Mathison just doesn’t want to see us get hit. You can hear her fretting about terror attacks each week in “Homeland’s” opening montage, which like the show itself combines the prestige of verite — Pan Am 103 headlines, presidential voiceovers — with the hair-tossing glamour of Claire Danes. Borrowing from Leslie Knope on a recent “Parks and Recreation” episode, it’s like C-SPAN meets Pantene.

 

Actually, last season, the “Homeland” creators showed Carrie devolving in every episode, uncomfortably in focus — by the end she was all darting eyes and splotchy skin. This season, we now no longer feel her pain; in fact, we feel her pleasure. She’s staying at her sister’s, enjoying her own meds rather than swiping her dad’s and she’s got herbs to cut in the garden. It’s a seemingly smooth transition from CIA to Celebrex commercial.

 

But Dad and Sis can’t keep the Israel-Iran updates off the flat-screen and out of Carrie’s head. Similarly, as the CIA’s best-informed, least-heeded ex-agent, Carrie can’t keep the ghosts of Langley from haunting her anew. Her old workplace woes are so intrusive that an ex-colleague peeks at her in the skinny window of her English-language class. Carrie’s leave-me-alone vibe is convincing; she’s enjoying her semi-retirement and the demands of prepping family meals and grading blue books.

 

Obviously, Carrie doesn’t want to walk back to the literally maddening morass of punishers, who blamed her — as only she, Brody (Damian Lewis) and the viewer understand — for being right about the ex-POW with the al-Qaeda ties. But Estes and Saul (David Harewood and Mandy Patinkin) let her know there’s a mission ahead, in Beirut, and they both know that Carrie’s gonna get on that plane. Her beleaguered sister is always going to be the please-don’t Cassandra, but she knows Carrie’s motivations like we do: It’s one half call of duty, and another half call of Brody.

 

Sgt. Brody, the former USMC Devil Dog, is now Rep. Brody, the U.S. Congress big dog. He’s the entire package: as shiny as a penny, but he’s got all the brass medals he needs. Imagine John McCain’s POW survival tale cut-and-pasted into the backstory of current GOP ingénue Paul Ryan. Trading his green uniforms for gray suits, the freshman lawmaker looks, to all the show’s power-graspers of today, like tomorrow. Into that constituency please add Mrs. Jessica Brody (Morena Baccarin), who has traded sultry for stately in her bid to ascend into D.C.’s unelected matron-ocracy. Jessica admits to her fast-rising husband that his celebrity is, admittedly, fun for her.

 

It’s less fun for Dana (Morgan Saylor), their irascible daughter, who serves as the family’s in-house snoop. Last season, she caught her dad on his prayer rug, and now she inserts herself into the resulting conflict in her parents’ marriage. Dana just can’t keep her confusion to herself. Can her father be both politically potent and religiously observant? She lets her mom in on this dilemma. But her adolescent impulse to overshare brings her new classmates into the problem, too, at her new school that looks and sounds like Sidwell Friends. There and at home, she’s espousing tolerance, but she’s instigating conflict.

Notice how no party affiliation is mentioned anywhere, even when the veep (Jamey Sheridan) is vamping for higher office. Already, Walden is wooing Brody as a short-lister for his White House ticket. That plot twist is fast, cheap, but not out of control — it raises the stakes, widens Brody’s access and appears at least semi-plausible in that America has seen both parties put a premium on 40-somethings with star qualities.

 

The show takes pains to cloak any sense of Brody being a Democrat or Republican like it’s a state secret. It is, in fact, a credibility-preserver, inviting the widest coalition of the willing to give up their Sunday nights for “Homeland’s” return.

Red staters and blue staters, let’s white-knuckle it together. I’ll recap in this space every week, till the series’ season finale or the Mayan calendar finale, whichever comes first. Send me your thoughts in the comment section below. And there’s always my inbox.

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