Homeland, Ep. 3.01: “Tin Man is Down” eases viewers back into espionage

Episode 301

Homeland, Season 3: Episode 1 – “Tin Man is Down”
Written by Alex Gansa & Barbara Hall
Directed by Lesli Linka Glatter
Airs Sunday nights at 9pm ET on Showtime

On a night when Breaking Bad – one of the most viscerally engaging series in television history – completes its run, it’s hard not to notice how quiet Homeland‘s third-season premiere is. This series is, after all, the one that pulled the Emmy win for best drama and had the attention of viewers and critics alike throughout its uneven second season (“uneven” is a more correct adjective than “weak” in this case; despite how disenchanted some people were last year, Homeland was still one of the best things on TV). So, coming out with a bang in “Tin Man is Down” seems like a good re-entry. But the pace of the premiere, rather than being a missed opportunity, is a testament to the intelligence and quality of the writers. Even though we’re dropped back in weeks after the devastating events at Langley, viewers – not just the characters – need some time to heal. And that’s how “Tin Man is Down” functions. Even though there is a solid sequence of action and espionage late in the episode, it doesn’t include either of the series’ two leads, and it doesn’t feel like the meat of the story being told here.

Speaking of the series’ leads, its lead man – Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis) – is nowhere to be seen. This is easily the biggest indication that the writers still know what they’re doing. Rather than shoehorning Brody into a Homeland that doesn’t require his presence at the moment, he’s pulled from any screen time. Instead, we get to see the fallout in the Brody household as his family tries to come to terms with what has happened and being associated with the nation’s most wanted terrorist. Dana is the focal point here in the early-going, which only means good things. Morgan Saylor has been one of Homeland‘s most consistent and enjoyable parts. Despite the fact that a lot of her big scenes happened when Damian Lewis was also on-screen, Dana still holds her own as an interesting character as she returns home after a failed suicide attempt. It may be an easy source of conflict and tension to surround her character in for the beginning of the season, but if we’re tracing the shock waves of Nicholas Brody on the rest of the Brodys, it makes sense that Dana, who was even closer to him than Jessica, would have the largest issues and would be the character which the audience would benefit most from spending time with.

Episode 301

Coming off her second straight Emmy award for Lead Actress, Claire Danes slips right back into the role of Carrie Mathison without a hitch. She’s still screwed up. She still pouts. And she still releases some of her stress by taking a guy home once in a while. Carrie spends a lot of her time in “Tin Man is Down” being questioned about the bombing, which gives her some great scenes of frustration and restraint. But her best moment in the episode comes at a daytime confrontation with Saul (Mandy Patinkin) at a restaurant, where she is able to express some very strong words about leaked information concerning her and Brody’s relationship. Carrie’s role is always going to be big as long as she’s in her natural state, so it’s easy to become less and less impressed by how Danes executes it. But evoking the demons in the character’s history and making them believable for an audience is not a walk in the park, so it’s worth pointing out that the work Danes does here is worthy of the accolades she receives.

Mandy Patinkin, on the other hand, is anything but big in his role as Saul. And despite how fantastic Danes and Lewis are, Patinkin is usually turning in the best performance without having to raise his voice or wave his arms around. Saul, acting director of the CIA, gets fantastic material in this premiere, from the familiar struggles we’ve seen between him and his wife Mira to the pressure of coming up with any kind of win for the CIA so that the American public doesn’t have such a bad taste in its mouth regarding the perceived incompetence behind what went down at Langley. With the latter is how we get the action sequence of the episode and where its title comes from. Quinn – does everybody remember Quinn from last season? Almost killed Brody out in the woods? – is one of six components in Saul’s objective to simultaneously bring down several key terrorist targets. Quinn ends up shooting a kid by accident, which may or may not affect his character for the next few episodes, but otherwise it’s a fun and tense sequence that Homeland pulls off in nearly every episode.

Homeland is in a very interesting position as it begins its third season, and it has the capacity to either rise to the top-tier ranks of the television field or drop into mediocrity. Personally, I think most critics were a little quick to condemn it last year when Game of Thrones had what I thought was a similar drop-off in quality from its first season but did not receive as much negative criticism (and both had a pitch-perfect episode in their sophomore seasons: “Q&A” for Homeland and “Blackwater” for Game of Thrones). But with Showtime viewers being supremely disappointed with how Dexter just finished, Homeland – Showtime’s poster child – will be under even more scrutiny as it makes its way through its third season. I’ll be here for the week-to-week to hopefully talk about how this series is living up to its first-season expectations. Given that the right narrative choices were made for the premiere, it looks like it’s on the right track.

– Sean Colletti

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