Showtime's Homeland is easily the best new show to hit small screens this fall. The smart and complex character(s) study, moonlighting as an intense and intricately woven terrorist thriller, had me fully invested with the pilot. Now, with "Clean Skin," we are three episodes deep and they continue to ratchet up the tension, even with the story between the two phenomenal leads moving into the background to allow their characters to develop and the world of intrigue to expand.
Don't get me wrong, Claire Danes' CIA Analyst Carrie Mathison is still watching every move that Damian Lewis' possible sleeper Marine Sergeant Nicholas Brody makes but this week had a wider focus. Carrie's asset, Lynne finds herself in an increasingly dangerous situation while Brody is busy mending family feuds before his big interview. Of course, much more than that is going on as the show is filled with red herrings, unreliable narrators and unanswered questions but the most intriguing part may be the complex yet completely convincing relationships.
"I'm not going to lie. I'm not going to tell the truth either."
The Brodys have their first big interview with a national news agency coming up and their narrative opens with one of the show's producers trying to make changes to the house. Brody won't allow it because to him it's home. And it's home because Jess has kept it exactly the same since his before his capture, one of many hints at much she still cares for her estranged husband - despite her complicated relationship with Mike - as we as the lengths she's willing to go to make it work and help him in his time of need.
And speaking of their relationship, we also discover that it's the cause of friction between mom and daughter because Dana thinks it might be better for dad if mom wasn't "fucking his good friend Mike." So that's out of the bag. Meanwhile, as those two are butting heads, Brody and Dana are getting along great making Jess a little jealous (mom has it rough). The family dynamics around the returning soldier are really interesting and if mishandled could easily sway into the contrived or conventional or but there's a real deft hand behind the story telling. Nothing ever feels too big, or grand standing, and the series is all the better for it.
However, that's not to say the series doesn't delve into some pretty dark places. We're quickly reminded of just how fractured Damian Lewis' character is with scenes like the failed intimacy between him and his wife (putting it mildly) or his flashback filled one-on-one interview - the look on Lewis' face when the interviewer says "Semper Fidelis," meaning always faithful, is mesmerizing yet ambiguous. Those two scenes stood out, not only as exceptionally crafted and acted sequences, but as even more interesting when juxtaposed against the wonderful way he interacts with his children. He is a terribly complex and tortured man, who probably doesn't know what to make of himself half the time, so it's twice as hard for us to put a finger on him (albeit exceptionally captivating to watch).
"I need to find something here..."
The episode actually opens with Lynne, Carrie's asset and escort to the Saudi wealthy, in a love scene with her Prince Farid. When he leaves to go consult with his head Bodyguard - who I'll call Sinister Baldy - she manages to get his cell-phone and copy the data onto a chip. It's a pretty stimulating way to open the show, first the steamy love scene, then the suspenseful bit of espionage, which is all complicated by the gift. Does the Prince genuinely care for Lynne? And vice versa? Well, it doesn't work out so well for our undercover escort but the Prince serves as a convincing red herring.
Carrie relays the good news to her CIA colleagues only to have Saul hit her with a reasonable, and as it turns out correct, question. Why should they suspect that a money transfer occurred between Abu-Nazir and the Prince? Or that the Prince has any involvement in financing terrorist activity? Well, this spat is merely the first of a few that finally clear the elephant out of the room and find mentor and student working together again by episode end... but let's not get ahead of ourselves.
Carrie continues surveillance on Brody with the assistance of Virgil but also has to keep tabs on Lynne, who is in the field without any real protection. Remember last week when I said that our beautiful blonde probably didn't have long? Well, Sinister Baldy informs Lynne that she's needed to welcome a very important associate of the Prince, something that sparks concern and a call to Carrie for reassurance. Carrie and Virgil head out to provide Lynne with some protection, only too little, too late as she's murdered and that gift I mentioned (a half a million dollar necklace) will now help fund terrorism.
"I like being close to the airport. For us, it's perfect."
We can't be sure if Brody is a bad guy but thanks to some puzzle piecing by Saul and Carrie, we can be sure that evil is most definitely afoot! The proceeds from the stolen necklace have seemingly gone to purchase a home for a couple with a sinister affection for airport proximity. Once again, another very strong episode that continues to let the tension slowly build while still providing enough action and excitement to titillate. In only three episodes they have laid an amazing foundation of character and plot on which to continue to craft an engaging and thought provoking series. Sundays may offer a lot of choice - zombie melodramas, period gangsters and serial killing cops - but Homeland might prove to best them all. I can't wait to see our two leads back in the same room.
Homeland airs on ShowTime, Sundays at 10 p.m. ET/PT. It stars Claire Danes, Damian Lewis, Mandy Patinkin and Morena Baccarin. It was developed by Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa.