There’s a reason Claire Danes has won two Golden Globes and two Emmys for her intense portrayal of Homeland’s brilliant, troubled operative Carrie Mathison. Danes gives Mathison, a woman struggling to keep her bipolar disorder under control, an electric unpredictability at times that’s fascinating to behold. Even when the show has fallen apart around her, she feeds on her character’s erratic energy, tearing into her scenes like a great jazz musician rips into an improvisational riff.
Dane, along with her co-stars Damian Lewis and Mandy Patinkin, made Homeland one of the best shows to watch during its first two seasons. The third and fourth, however, left much to be desired. After the storyline for Lewis’s character ended, Danes and Patinkin were left to shoulder the weight of the unwieldy plot.
Season five’s reboot, which starts 9pm Sunday, October 4 on Showtime, should be welcomed as a positive change. The tale picks up two years after Carrie and Saul’s Islamabad debacle, with Carrie working in Berlin as the head of security for a German philanthropist. To understand why Carrie decided to trade in her job at the CIA for a private gig in the Grey City, check out these ten episodes.
PILOT (SEASON ONE, EPISODE ONE)
The first episode of Homeland stands as tremendous introduction, with Damian Lewis delivering an arresting portrayal of Marine Corps Sgt. Nicholas Brody, who was discovered alive in an Al Qaeda prison after having gone missing for eight years. Though he returns to the U.S. as a hero, CIA agent Carrie Mathison (Danes) suspects Brody has been turned by his captors – and nobody believes her. A scene in a jazz club, when Carrie deduces from a TV press conference that Brody is conveying a code, hints at the mad genius that drives Danes’s character.
THE WEEKEND (SEASON ONE, EPISODE SEVEN)
In one of Homeland’s most memorable episodes, Brody and Carrie step outside of their prescribed roles of suspect and investigator, and sequester themselves in Carrie’s family cabin. There, Carrie’s obsession with her quarry morphs into affection, as the two are finally raw and honest with one another – him about his failing marriage, her about her suspicions. It all ends in tears, but they’re far from done with each other.
MARINE ONE (SEASON ONE, EPISODE 12)
It was hard to bear the suspense of this first season finale as Brody telegraphed his intent to complete his mission for terrorist mastermind Abu Nazir, even creating a tape to be found after his death. But as is the case with other episodes, his intent took a sharp turn after a phone call from his heartbroken daughter. Even that was not as heartrending as it was to watch Carrie, still suffering from a psychotic break, undergoing electroshock therapy just as she realizes her lover’s direct connection to the terrorist she’s been hunting.
BEIRUT IS BACK (SEASON TWO, EPISODE TWO)
After taking time off, Carrie gets back into the field, heading to Beirut in a quest to find Abu Nazir. While there, she scores some intel that Saul initially thinks is worthless – until a closer look changes the game entirely. The intrigue was only heightened by the knowledge that Brody was now a U.S. Congressman, increasing his value to Nazir, who still intends to use him even though Brody refuses his envoy.
Q&A (SEASON TWO, EPISODE FIVE)
Everyone pays for their secrets, as Brody is taken into custody and forced to commit to the undoing of his political career, while Carrie exploits her feelings in service of the greater good. While this is happening, Brody’s teenage daughter Dana goes on a date with a bad boy that does not end well. This also marks the point at which some viewers began to really dislike the kid who happened to be her father’s biggest ally.
THE CHOICE (SEASON TWO, EPISODE 12)
To the viewer – and Carrie/Brody ‘shippers – it certainly looked like the writers were bringing the Abu Nazir chapter to a close in a way that would allow the pair to be together. But nothing is ever that simple. Once again, the terrorists win, sending both of its lead characters to face uncertain futures as they, and the series, flee into uncharted territory.
BIG MAN IN TEHRAN (SEASON THREE, EPISODE 11)
Most of season three was a complete mess, with Brody sidelined in captivity while Carrie and Saul muddled through a mission in Iran. But in this episode, Brody was finally brought back into play to assassinate a target. The episode veered back and forth as it became unclear as to whose side Brody was really on – a welcome and needed dose of tension.
THE STAR (SEASON THREE, EPISODE 12)
Far from this drama’s best finale, the most notable aspect of “The Star” is that it showed the willingness on the part of Homeland’s producers to sacrifice a lead character in order to start anew. It was obvious that Brody’s story was pretty much done, but the way that Lewis left the series was shocking nevertheless. (Fortunately, we’ll see the actor again in Showtime’s Billions, premiering in January.)
THERE’S SOMETHING ELSE GOING ON (SEASON FOUR, EPISODE NINE)
Carrie and Saul’s mission in Islamabad was a disaster. Just how much it is was did not become apparent until this episode’s startling ending. However, an earlier scene powerfully evoked how deep the loyalty goes between Saul and Carrie, when Carrie distressingly warns Saul during a prisoner exchange that he’s becoming more and more like the terrorists he’s hunting. In every close relationship, one person is called upon to deliver a sobering slap to the other. This time is was Carrie’s turn – and Danes and Patinkin transformed that brief exchange into an incredibly moving moment of television.
13 HOURS IN ISLAMABAD (SEASON FOUR, EPISODE 10)
From a plot standpoint, this is probably the most action-heavy episode of the series as Carrie and Saul’s convoy comes under attack and a Taliban commando overtakes the US embassy, taking most staff hostage. Considering the outcome of this situation – and the mission in general – it’s no surprise that Carrie has opted for a career change. Wouldn’t you?