The producers of Homeland might say they don’t particularly care about the backlash to the last few episodes of the show’s second season. They might say that the only proper response to backlash is for them to keep making the show they want to make or that the show’s increased ratings throughout season two and its 11 Emmy nominations (including five acting nominations, writing and directing nominations, and a nomination for the show) stand as the perfect sort of response to anyone who feels the show lost a step in those episodes. But they also made sure to send out the first two of season three to critics—rather unusual two months ahead of the new season’s première—and those first two episodes have a markedly different tone from the end of season two, while also steering into the skid of the giant can of worms opened by that season finale. They’re very good, even as just enough of the season two hangover exists to make that praise a touch cautionary. They also sort of feel like a different show entirely (in a good way).
The show’s Television Critics Association summer press tour panel was heavy on questions specifically pertaining to events in those first two episodes, so we’ll steer clear of talking about those things in particular, but showrunner Alex Gansa did tell us one bit of information we can reveal to you that you might consider a spoiler, even as he thinks it’s not. On the one hand, if you were disheartened by the end of season two, this is information you might like to know. On the other hand, if you don’t want to know anything, you should probably stop reading.
In those first two episodes of season three, Nicholas Brody, played by Damian Lewis, a magnet for most of the story beats that made the backlash so angry at the end of season two, doesn’t appear. He’s going to be in the show. Footage from upcoming episodes shown in a pre-panel teaser showed a very bald Lewis in some foreign location (possibly Puerto Rico, where the show has been doing some filming to double for Caracas, Venezuela, though that location pops up in the season première, with no Brody present), and Lewis was on the panel, though necessarily tight-lipped. But the first two episodes of the season explore the idea of Brody’s absence—and through that absence explore how he and, by extension, Carrie have fucked up the lives of so many people around them. It’s a refreshing change from season two’s star-crossed lovers shtick.
It also means that there was little else to talk about during the show’s panel, outside of that specific bit of information. The producers answered a question about whether viewers could expect any big character deaths in season three with the expected “no comment,” and talked about how one of the season’s major themes appears to be the role of the CIA in the war on terror, something we’ll talk about more once the season actually starts airing in two months’ time. Gansa discussed the decision to keep the Brody family around as well by talking about how the new additions to the writers’ room—brought in to replace Henry Bromell, who passed away (but helped plot out the season), and Meredith Stiehm, who left to run The Bridge—were interested in seeing what Jessica, Dana, and Chris are up to. And everybody involved praised Morgan Saylor’s performance as Dana, on which a significant storyline in the new season rests. (Don’t worry: It’s better than Dana and Finn hitting that woman with a car.)
Will season three result in the increase in critical esteem the show is clearly hoping for? It’s impossible to say—the deliberate decision to slow down and decrease immediate tension in favor of character work is a good creative decision, but it’s possible that larger audience got hooked on season two’s breakneck thriller pace and won’t be into anything more contemplative—but by being relatively forthcoming with the upcoming season and by putting out there that Brody isn’t in those first two episodes, the show seems engaged in an attempt to win back those who were irritated by the turns it took in those season two episodes. It’s an interesting tack to take for a show with 11 Emmy nominations, but it might have been just enough to win over a skeptical room.
Okay, and Claire Danes asking Rupert Friend if he was on “rumspringa” because he just got a phone this year and was wearing suspenders and might be Amish was hilarious, which didn’t hurt either.