Tonight, the politically strangling Homeland returned to Showtime as a newly revitalized drama, with a near-complete overhaul for both the central characters and the series’ focus. Many TV series have ordered up major changes in the past, but Homeland revamps almost everything, except of course for Saul’s beard. There are a million ways this might have gone sour, but Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa are talented storytellers, and Season 4 quickly reminds us why we fell in nailbiting love with this show in the first place.

While most of what we remember about these characters is still intact, they’re each under different strains and nothing is quite as it was. After two episodes, it is foolishly too soon to say that we’re in for a spectacular season, but here are three ways this quasi-reboot brings Homeland back to the dramatic forefront. And the biggest change between Seasons 3 and 4 is the top of the heap.

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No More Brody!
In Season 1, when Damien Lewis was first introduced to audiences as Nicholas Brody, the central concept was “Is he a terrorist or isn’t he?” And two seasons later, the writers were still playing on that trust/distrust to draw out Brody’s story, although he technically should have bitten the dust long before. Luckily, that case of arrested development is in the past, as Season 3 concluded with Brody’s public execution, as Carrie (Claire Danes) was in the viewing audience. Rare is a hanging the silver lining in a situation.

With the Brody clan finally out of the picture, the episodic plots can mature beyond torrid love affairs and uncomfortable side-family drama. (Seriously, Chris Brody was the worst TV offspring ever.) I’ll definitely miss Lewis’ presence in and of itself, as he’s a fantastic actor, but his continued presence lost this show some acclaim by its third year. And odd as it may seem, I’d much rather all of that camera time go to other characters like Quinn, even if it’s just to watch him impulsively defend his lady’s honor in a restaurant. Will popular opinion for Homeland revert back to reverence in the future? That all depends on the story, which has so far avoided even using his name.
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It Introduces a Dangerous New Storyline
The season starts off with Carrie and the CIA chief of station Sandy Bachman (Corey Stoll) targeting a Pakistani terrorist, taking out an entire wedding party of civilians in the process. A public relations nightmare folds in on itself when the U.S.’ claims that the wedding was bogus are turned around by the online spread of a video taken by the attack’s sole survivor Aayan Ibrahim (Suraj Sharma). Sandy’s doomed fate points to his connections on opposite sides of the planet, and Carrie makes it a point to figure out where he got all of his information. (By the by, that scene where Sandy gets taken out of the car by the angry mob is one of the most intense events Homeland has ever delivered, so more of that will help.)

We finally get to see Carrie in the field, which she wanted so badly for herself for three years, and though she doesn’t do anything particularly outstanding (besides reacting to a surprise birthday celebration), it’s still good to see her happy with her situation. Of course, the second episode spins that right back around and sends her home to the United States, but Carrie finagles her way back to her position in Pakistan. The two episodes even give us fakeouts of “the gang’s getting back together” moments with both Saul and Quinn, but it seems at least for now that Carrie might be on her own for a while. Still, the all-around change in location is working nicely, although I indeed cringed when Carrie parked at the place where she first met Brody and reminisced.
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Carrie has to Learn be a Mother
Being on her own for a while allowed Carrie to avoid maturely accepting that she now has a daughter whose father is dead, one that is currently being taken care of by her sister Maggie (Amy Hargreaves). Even the knowledge of the infant responsibility is enough to make Carrie shudder, so it’s both amusing and frightening once she actually has to share physical contact with her daughter. Usually, watching Carrie get uncomfortable involves her screaming at people, wide-eyed and pushing her hair all over her head. Here, it’s watching her give extended consideration to just drowning the baby in the tub. She would never intentionally do such a thing, probably, but one has to wonder whether or not she would just turn and walk away if the situation were different. It's a strange side of Carrie that hasn't been touched upon so explicitly before.

The process of Carrie leaving her daughter yet again is given ample camera time, so I wonder if this means we won’t be seeing this familial connection at all again for the rest of the season, or at least until an emotional final episode reunion. Maybe Carrie will become something of a mother to Aayan, which will lead her back to her own child. (Groan.) I’m perfectly fine with not having to sit through Skype conversations with that baby making gurgling noises, but I always find it engaging to watch Claire Danes appear to be the most miserable person on the planet for entire sequences at a time. If I’m only going to get six minutes of Saul per episode, with two of them being awkward exchanges between him and Mira, there needs to be balance with everything else I like.

What did you guys think of Homeland’s brand new start?

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