Homeland is back on Sunday nights and (for the time being) it’s missing its leading man Damian Lewis as Nicholas Brody, soldier turned terrorist turned congressman turned runaway. The show has racked up numerous awards and features some of the strongest acting on TV that doesn’t involve meth empires, but Homeland has its problems.
Homeland initially was part spy thriller part domestic drama. It was a thrilling, well-executed combination that yielded some of the best dramatic television in years. Claire Danes, Damian Lewis, and Mandy Patinkin are all turning in fantastic work on the series day in and day out. But can the show’s delicate balance of family drama and high concept anti-terrorist plots be sustained without cutting out massive parts of the show’s narrative?
Showtime has a history of shows with dynamic premises that are usually good for a couple of seasons before flaming out. Weeds was strong out of the gate, thriving on the juxtaposition of Nancy’s life in the drug trade and her life as a suburban mother. But a show built on secrets being kept is unsustainable, especially on a show like Weeds that did everything it could to avoid an honest assessment of its characters’ actions. Dexter had similar struggles with its protagonist’s double life, leading to a frustrating back half that made viewers question why they were watching the show in the first place.
Will Homeland follow in the same mold as its Showtime predecessors? Some might say it already has. Following the events of the second season finale, it stretches credulity for Brody to reenter the narrative in any way that furthers the story the show is trying to tell. Is this a show about the effects that secrets have on people at a fundamental level? Or is it a show about the twisted love story of Brody and Carrie. We’re only two episodes into the season, neither of which features Lewis, but he will be back at some point this season, and how the show handles his return may be pivotal for its status as a top tier prestige drama.
Homeland gets a lot of flack for its focus on Brody’s family, particularly his daughter Dana, and while I think the hatred for Dana is largely unwarranted, this frustration gets at a deeper problem rearing its head for the show. Has the arc of the Brody family effectively run its course? We’re seeing the aftermath of Brody’s actions play out now, but what reason is there to bring him back other than to reestablish the status quo and give Damian Lewis some screen time so he can win another Emmy?
As the season goes on, we’ll see if Homeland has the stuff to truly live up to its hype, or if its another in a line of Showtime shows that shoot out of the gate to great buzz and acclaim only to fall victim to the problems built into the original conceit of the show.