Homeland Season Premiere Review: “The Smile” (Season 2, Episode 1)

Exactly one week after Homeland took home the coveted Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Drama Series, it has returned once again to practically shove us off our seats with the suspense that won its award to begin with.

Being a highly anticipated show for fans that have followed it throughout season 1 and perhaps for fans who were curious as to why this newcomer has taken the reigns from the likes of Mad Men, everything was on the line with this season premiere. Homeland needed more than anything else to keep the pace going, which kept its viewers to begin with, and after watching the first episode, this season is looking very promising.

Let’s start with Claire Danes, who took home the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series last week. I was extremely worried – and still am – that Carrie would immediately return to her broken self and tear the wallpaper from every room she entered. Thankfully, the first scene addressed the outcome of her therapy from last season. She was picking vegetables, she took her pills, and in the first detail that made the scene, she looked in the mirror which had a childish “Breathe” stuck on it. It was almost as if the show was telling the viewers themselves to breathe and to relax. A simple yet effective set-up.

Carrie shows that she’s stable even though she clearly keeps up to date on the turmoil in the Middle East as she grades papers for her students. With that in mind, her next scene actually shows her with her students as she congratulates them on a well done assignment – a brilliant choice of career for Carrie. Not only is she in an environment which spews warmth, she is taking her skills into account and actually enjoys what she’s doing. Most importantly, we’re reminded that Carrie is not rusty and is not too far off the path of what made her character to begin with. If that wasn’t enough, her old partner Galvez requests to speak with her, a move that was a huge relief to me.

Let’s backtrack a few scenes. I was worried about how they would get Carrie back into the action. I was scared she would go back into her hidden camera tricks and make investigations of her own behind everyone’s back, but man was I wrong. The whole scenario of bringing Carrie to Beirut was fantastically constructed and almost painfully obvious – have something that only Carrie could do. Not only that, but the reliance on her by Saul and Estes proved to strengthen her character and put her in place to be instated once again as a CIA agent, even if that position is fragile at best.

Speaking of fragile, they handled Carrie’s mental health quite well in my opinion. Especially in the chat between her and Estes on the porch of her house. It was calming and confident; words that describe Carrie’s current state as evident from her dealing with the situation at hand. When she accepted without actually showing it on screen, her stubbornness became apparent, but in a more welcome way than before. Furthermore, her inability to memorize the persona she was to become was well-scripted, but a tad bit over the top. It helped in the long run, but for that one second, I felt it weakened her character without much purpose as her anxiety at the airport covered most of the suspense, but I’m nitpicking.

When it was time to meet up with Saul, Homeland was back and better than ever. But let me first start by saying how “convenient” it was to have Saul not notice that he was being watched when he was clearly sitting there for some time. As a trained agent, it’s something that you would think he would notice. This was the first truly questionable scene, but it quickly became forgotten because of what was to follow.

When Carrie said she could lose the guy that was following her, the music started, the camera zoomed in, and the magnificence of a thriller loomed over the scene. I was sitting on the edge of my seat as she was racing through the market until she hit the dead end where I just fell off in sheer horror. Then good old Carrie came back, bought the scarf, and in a kick-ass move, showed the guy that he was messing with the wrong mentally-unstable girl. When she successfully walked away, she smiled, a homage to the title of the episode perhaps. And all in the world was right.

I’m happy with the way Carrie is being handled and hope to see her continue to build herself back up. Everyone loves a character who can beat out the odds and walk out triumphant and I believe and hope that Carrie is headed towards that – though with her asset, she’ll probably end up stalking Brody again.

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