Plot: After bad intelligence leads to an airstrike which kills a number of civilians, Islamabad Station Chief Sandy Bachman (Corey Stoll) is brutally murdered in the streets of Pakistan. This results in Carrie Matheson (Claire Danes) and Peter Quinn (Rupert Friend) being shipped back and stationed permanently in the U.S. by Senator Lockhart (Terry Leeds). Carrie must now deal with her baby daughter and Quinn must battle PTSD. Aayan Ibrahim (Suraj Sharma) is the lone survivor and his video of the attack, uploaded to YouTube by his college roommate, makes him a target of the media and some shady individuals. We also run into Saul (Mandy Pantinkin) who is now working for a private military security outfit, but still yearns for action in the field.
Let’s get this out of the way first. If you watched last night’s premiere of Homeland, you witnessed a very controversial scene involving Carrie Matheson nearly drowning her infant daughter. One simply can’t gloss over such a scene, so allow me to engage.
For longtime fans of the series, we all know Carrie Matheson is nuts. For three seasons she’s downed pills with bottles of wine, had that terrible crying face and even was subjected to electroshock therapy. We also know she never wanted to have a baby and the only reason she kept it was because it was Brody’s (and she need some connection to him post-death). The show continually hammers home the point throughout the premiere that Carrie does not want to be a mother and she is constantly trying to return to war zones that won’t allow for her to bring her daughter.
So, why on earth did we need to see her nearly drown her baby?
The writers of the series have gone on record to say the scene is “up for interpretation,” that one could see it as Carrie hallucinating or it was something we the audience we were implying from the way it was shot. Sure, and I’m the starting center for The Knicks. It was a shocking moment for certain, and it definitely was a moment that derailed the episode. There was so much important stuff that happened after this scene, but how could you shake this scene? Maybe, I’m sensitive to the matter because I’ll personally be a father in two months or maybe it’s a cold dose of reality — that this happens to certain parents. Either way, it was a risk that the show probably didn’t need to take or could’ve written in a less horrifying manner.
That scene aside, Homeland’s two-part Season 4 premiere (“The Drone Queen” and “Trylon and Perisphere”) is a strong return to form for a series that really lost its way in 2013. Without Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis) in the picture anymore, the series now has a laser focus on Carrie Matheson trying to uncover why a CIA Station Chief Sandy Bachman (Corey Stoll) was brutally murdered in Pakistan and why the intel he gave Carrie led to the death of over 40 civilians — an event that has major repercussions in Washington.
The scene’s sequence featuring Stoll where he’s being stalked and then killed by angry mob is a fantastically tense way to start the season off and reminds viewers of Season 1 when Carrie was ducking gunfire in Season 1 in Afghanistan. It’s a shame that the always solid Stoll didn’t make it out of the first episode, but here’s hoping he can make some flashback appearances.
The majority of the episode focuses on Carrie and Quinn’s (Friend) polar opposite handling of the shoot-out and the fall-out. Quinn is devastated at the turn of events and drowns his sorrow in alcohol, but finds a ray of hope in the arms of his apartment building manager. The episode turns what could’ve been a punchline (Quinn sleeps with an overweight woman) into a very sweet series of scenes, letting us believe Quinn has a chance to escape the harsh reality of being in the CIA. Carrie, in typical Carrie fashion, is unphased by the entire series of events and is more traumatized and terrified by the fact she’ll have to stay home with her daughter and not be in the thick of the action. Her ray of hope is her daughter — but she does everything she can do to avoid her. Both Friend and Danes give excellent performances — but its Friend who gives the most surprising. We haven’t seen Peter Quinn’s character this emotional before. Even after killing a child, accidentally, at the beginning of last season, he was nowhere near as outwardly emotion as he is now. Friend really ratchets his sympathy card and shows he’s come a long way from the speak softly and carry a big gun character we met a few seasons ago.
It’s impressive that Homeland, a series that was about a returned American POW and whether he had been turned into a terrorist, reboots itself seamlessly. It does so by focusing on the character that has always been its strongest — Carrie Matheson. Claire Danes’ character has always been the engine of this show and to put full focus on her, makes perfect sense. She’s carried (no pun intended) the show through its weakest points, particularly the first half of last season, but there was a lot of doubt the show could change its entire course without losing that same intensity. Well, the root of that intensity is Carrie Matheson, so with her as the main focus, it seems as though the tone and intensity of the show won’t suffer.
Homeland’s return is a strong re-entry that is unfortunately derailed by a controversial, and in this writer’s mind unnecessary scene. Season 4 has major upside, especially with a Saul/Carrie reunion, the Carrie/Brody romantic saga over and a new, extremely intriguing wild card (Aayan Ibrahim). If Homeland is able to avoid the minutiae and sidetracking that really hurt the series last season (and at times slowed the excellent Season 2 down), and maintain the intensity and intrigue that permeated this premiere then we’re in store for something special.
Rating (without bathtub sequence): 8 out of 10
Rating (with bathtub sequence): 6.5 out of of 10
Bill Bodkin is the Editor-in-Chief and Co-Founder of Pop-Break. He can be read weekly on Trailer Tuesday and Singles Party, weekly reviews on Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire, Hannibal, Law & Order: SVU and regular contributions throughout the week with reviews and interviews. His goal is to write 500 stories this year. He is a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & English and currently works in the world of political polling. He’s the reason there’s so much wrestling on the site and is beyond excited to be a Dad this coming December. Follow him on Twitter: @PopBreakDotCom