Carrie on up the Qaeda

Homeland, Ten, Sundays 8.30pm

What's it all about? Season two of the highly acclaimed, super tense thriller in which a mentally unstable CIA agent (Clare Danes) is the best hope the US has of staving off a high-level terrorist attack. Says it all, really.

Our view It started with the obligatory "previously, on Homeland" but good luck making sense of it if you missed season one. For you, and for those of us with acute short-term memory loss, it boils down to this: Carrie Mathison (Clare Danes) is a CIA agent with bipolar disorder, a condition she's kept secret from her employers like, forever.

But she's smart, super smart, and she's the only one who can see that Sergeant Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis), a US Marine rescued after eight years in an al Qaeda prison, is not in fact a national hero but the biggest threat to national security since, well, since Ronald Reagan heard voices telling him the end was nigh and all he had to do was press that little red button and we'd all get to heaven in a flash. By season's end, it became clear to the audience she was right, but by then even she was starting to doubt her sanity.

Cue star of season two and Carrie has emerged from electroconvulsive shock therapy a happier and saner person. Or so her family would like to believe. But at what cost? (This tension between blinkered comfort and eyes-wide-open horror is at the very heart of the show.) The old Carrie has been smothered beneath medication and domesticity, and she's suffocating.

Still, it's for her own good ... until the CIA comes a-calling with news that a contact has surfaced from deep, deep cover in Lebanon and she will talk only to the person who recruited her. Carrie, natch.

Having burnt her so mercilessly last season, Carrie's old boss David Estes (David Harewood) wastes all of two seconds pondering the ethics of sending the barely functioning former agent into such obvious danger. To her credit, Carrie spends a full 30 seconds pretending to hate the idea before packing a bag and heading to Beirut.

There, her old mentor and occasional conscience Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin) is waiting for her. But Carrie has barely left the hotel before she's being hotly pursued by a couple of goons with less than honourable intent. She ducks into a market, swaps headscarves and emerges as a berserker in a burqa. Swinging on her assailant, she knees him in the 'nads, kicks his gun away and does a runner, a smile on her face. Look out boys, I'm back.

Meanwhile, over in Washingtonland, Vice President William Walden (Jamey Sheridan) has signalled his plans to run for the top job – and he wants Brody on his ticket as Veep. After last season's aborted assassination attempt, it's unclear where Brody's loyalties lie. But when an al Qaeda operative surfaces to demand he pilfer some information from Estes's safe – and engineers the opportunity for him to do so – his claim that "I'm no terrorist" appears to count for little.

With Carrie wobbly and the top job potentially just a heartbeat away, the best chance to stop Brody before it's too late may just lie with his narky 16-year-old daughter Dana (Morgan Saylor), who inadvertently blows the lid on Dad's cover. At Quaker school (oh, the irony), she blurts out that her father is a Muslim. Luckily, the only person who takes it seriously is Dad, who fesses up to wife Jessica (Morena Baccarin). Who, in turn, starts wondering how much more of what that crazy blonde CIA woman said out on the front lawn at the end of season one might be true.

Right, that's the slow season-opening set-up episode done. Now let's get down to business.

In a sentence On the basis of this opener, season two promises to be as frenetic, edgy and paranoid as ever; here's hoping it manages to stay on the right side of feasible – it would be such a shame to see it become just another 24.

Grade A

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