It's Back

‘Homeland’ Season 4: A Stripped-Down and Surprisingly Badass Return to Form

The schizo CIA agent is back for more drone warfare and spycraft—this time, sans Brody and his frustratingly emo daughter.

09.30.14 9:45 AM ET

In the crowded arena of cable television, one teeming with the saucy, conniving duo of Frank and Claire Underwood, Westerosi head-explosions, and the boundless élan of Don Draper, Homeland was relegated to an afterthought; a show filled with promise that had, like many before it, imploded in the latter half of a sloppy second season. Previously on Homeland, Brody, the ginger double agent brought to thrilling life by Damian Lewis, was publicly executed in Iran as his bipolar bae, Carrie Mathison, looked on. That left Carrie, played by everyone’s favorite ugly crier, Claire Danes, in a state of limbo. Brody had been her emotional and narrative crutch; a smoke screen masking the show’s myriad storytelling deficiencies.

“I would be the first to admit that that image of that star on the wall feels like a bit of a series finale, not a season finale,” Homeland showrunner Alex Gansa told The Daily Beast. “The question is, how invested are you in the characters who are left standing?”

Well, if it's Carrie and her spy-rabbi Saul, courtesy of the inimitable Mandy Patinkin, the answer is: Yes, we still are. The fourth season of the Showtime network’s crown jewel, which bows on Oct. 5 with a special two-hour premiere, is a total reboot. Gone are the Brody brood—Jessica (stunning Emmy nominee Morena Baccarin) and the polarizing, über-emo Dana, who proved to be even more grating than that other whiny spy-baby named Dana from True Lies—as well as the ubiquitous, talented late character actor James Rebhorn, who played Carrie’s father. The deviating family melodrama has, thankfully, been replaced by shrewd spycraft.

The fourth season opens, quite predictably, with a bang—in the form of a drone strike. Carrie, now the CIA Chief of Station in Kabul, is supplied intel from the reliable-yet-mysterious agent Sandy Bachman (Corey Stoll), a “lone wolf” whose supervisors don’t know what he’s up to half the time. The intel, courtesy of Sandy’s air-tight source, says that Taliban leader Haissam Haqqani, a very high-value asset, is located in a farmhouse in North Waziristan. So Carrie gives the green light and, before you can say “Vice President William Walden,” the entire structure has been reduced to a cloud of dust. Moments later, Carrie is gifted a surprise birthday cake with “The Drone Queen” scribbled on it. There’s just one little problem: That farmhouse was the site of a wedding, and the Carrie-approved drone strike took out Haqqani—along with 40 civilians. And if that wasn’t enough, the lone survivor of the strike, a meek Pakistani medical student named Aayan (Life of Pi’s Suraj Sharma), has iPhone video footage of the whole shebang that, quite predictably, goes viral. 

If this sounds a lot like the Abu Nazir backstory, well, it should. Without giving too much away, it seems like much of the drama from Homeland Season 4 will center on the conflicted, apolitical Aayan, as he weighs whether to become a CIA asset or seek vengeance for the death of his entire family and turn to terrorism. In the capable hands of Sharma, an incredibly gifted young actor, it should be a compelling thread, to say the least.

Meanwhile, Carrie must probe the mystery surrounding Sandy, and why his previously reliable asset went rogue, supplying the CIA with faulty intel. This takes her to Islamabad, where she’ll cross paths with Aasar Khan (Raza Jeffrey), a lieutenant colonel in the Pakistani ISI, as well as a CIA deputy station chief, John Redmond (Michael O’Keefe), who rubs her the wrong way, and F. Murray Abraham’s creepy spook Dar Adal. It also inevitably leads to clashes with her intractable nemesis—CIA Director Lockhart, played by Tracy Letts—as well as a team-up plea to the tortured (but reliable) Agent Quinn (the steely-eyed Rupert Friend).

I know what you’re thinking: What about Saul? Well, after being passed over for the CIA director gig in favor of the conniving Sen. Lockhart, the former spy is unhappy with his job at a defense contracting firm, Total Security Solutions, and still experiencing martial discord with his two-timing wife, who is pressuring him to keep the lucrative gig. It’s only a matter of time, it seems, before the bearded Zen-badass will be back in the field helping his surrogate daughter.

As far as Carrie’s love child goes, well, it seems she’ll mostly be resting on the sidelines—that is, with Carrie’s sister, played by Amy Hargreaves.

“She’s better off with you,” Carrie tells her. “I know now what these war zone postings are all about: Making sure there’s no place for your daughter there,” she replies.

That should really be the tagline for the action-heavy fourth season of Homeland: “No Country For Young Daughters.” All the silly family drama has finally taken a back seat to the CIA wheeling-and-dealing that made the show so damn scintillating in the first place. I’m as surprised as anyone, ladies and gents, but Homeland is back.