Hot off its big Emmy win, Showtime's Homeland returns tonight for its second season, bringing us back into the gripping story of a former prisoner of war and the mentally unstable CIA agent who suspects him of being a terrorist. Where will the series go in Season 2? Tonight's premiere doesn't waste much time moving the story forward.

Major spoilers from Season 1 ahead. No major Season 2 spoilers mentioned below, but I've seen the first two episodes of the second season and do get into some vague plot points, so if you don't want to know anything about Season 2 going into tonight's premiere, read no further!

When Season 1 left off, Damian Lewis' Nicholas Brody backed out of the plan to detonate an explosive vest to kill the vice president after his daughter called him just as he was about to carry out the attack. He later killed fellow conspirator Tom Walker on terrorist Abu Nazir's orders. Meanwhile, CIA agent Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) was right to suspect that Brody was a terrorist and wrong to fall in love with him. Her efforts to prevent Brody's attack by appealing to his daughter paid off, but her means of doing it put her in a bad situation professionally, getting her into trouble and leading her to elect to have shock therapy to deal with her mental problems.

Season 2 picks up with Carrie recovering from the therapy and working as a teacher while she tries to avoid exposing herself to the news and anything that might cause her to regress mentally. Her father and sister are trying to be supportive and she seems to be doing relatively ok. Meanwhile, Brody is amidst his inaugural term as a Congressman. His family his supportive and while things are a little bit strained with his wife Jessica (Morena Baccarin) now that she knows he had an affair with Carrie, he and Dana (Morgan Saylor) are as close as ever, though their relationship may continue to create a moral conflict with Brody and the work he's trying to do for Abu Nazir.

Things get really interesting as we start to see how Brody is being used as a Senator. His pitch to Nazir was to move up the ranks politically so he could influence the U.S. government from the inside, but we see from early on that numerous people have plans for him. In fact, it seems like everyone has plans for Brody, and the pressure quickly mounts in the first couple of episodes as we see him trying to meet the demands of everyone he has to answer to (his family, the Vice President, Nazir, etc). As for Carrie, she's supposed to be out, but when a woman in Beirut arrives at the U.S. embassy and claims she has information about a planned attack on America, her insistence that she only speak with Mathison means Carrie must come back to work. And she's soon drawn back into the work she was supposed to be staying away from. This also puts her back in contact with Saul (Mandy Patinkin).

The second season premiere does an excellent job of finding a balance between easing us back into the story at a place where we can properly be re-introduced to the characters, and building on the excitement from last season. I haven't seen Season 1 since it aired, so I was a little nervous that I'd have trouble with the plot when Season 2 began, but all of the relevant information is worked into the premiere, either in the "Last season on Homeland…" segment or in the dialogue between the characters. And though we're properly caught up, somehow, the pacing never feels slow or tedious as the story gets going. I finished Season 2's "The Smile" feeling excited about the series again, and things only get better with Episode 2's "Beirut is Back." After just two episodes you can feel the suspense and excitement beginning to build.

Vague spoiler! There are unanswered questions left from Season 1, like whether Carrie has or will remember making the connection between Abu Nazir's son and Brody, or whether the missing recording Brody made prior to his planned terrorist attack will resurface. The vague spoiler there is that one of those topics will be addressed within the first two episodes. (End spoiler!)

What Homeland did well in its first season was keep us guessing about Brody's intentions while also developing the other characters and creating an exciting and suspenseful story around that mystery. The story was constructed so well in its first season, that when the truth about Brody was finally revealed, the series had set a strong enough foundation on which to play out whatever what-happens-next scenarios it wants to, allowing the show to evolve from there without relying entirely on one central mystery. Season 2 benefits from that from the start as we watch Carrie and Brody move forward after the events of Season 1. Knowing what we do about the characters, the stage is already set and the suspense begins to build immediately, with another possible attack on U.S. soil being planned and Brody in the prime position to play a devastating role if that's what's expected of him.

Season 1 began in an interesting place and built itself up to a slow but intense boil as the season progressed. If things continue to go as they do in these first couple of episodes, Season 2 could be just as (if not more) explosive than the first season, especially when Carrie and Brody's paths cross again, which seems inevitable.

Homeland Season 2 premieres Sunday, September 20 at 10:00 p.m. on Showtime (after Dexter).

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