Showtime's Emmy-adorned drama Homeland deserves most of its critical approval. But it's not flawless.
Season two retains the riveting pulse of the first season--partially because of the inherent suspense of a looming attack on America, but mostly because of the exceptional acting by Damian Lewis. He plays a former Iraqi POW who endured years of brutal torture before converting to Islamic fundamentalism, ultimately returning to his wife and kids as a committed agent of mass destruction.
Yet he manages to elicit sympathy for the character, mostly by subverting stereotypes. It's refreshing to see a red-headed Caucasian praying over the Quran before strapping a bomb to his chest. Plus, he's now a congressman, so his nefarious activities--adultery, deceit, plotting doom--just seem like part of the job.
However, Homeland risks descending into the type of narrative pandering that afflicts many TV shows, appealing to the adolescent market by giving high-school half-wits something to do. It's hardly organic or necessary to provide them with their own arc of espionage even when they have secret agent-sounding names like Xander and Finn. Besides, teenagers aren't going to start watching the show in significant numbers until the writers introduce a crying vampire.
The closest thing to that on Homeland is Claire Danes. She's the potential terrorist's main adversary in the CIA but also a victim of bipolar disorder. Without her medication, she's prone to impetuous promiscuity and implosions of irrational emotion. It's the kind of performance that gathers awards, but it's a distraction--like giving Luke Skywalker an insulin syringe with his light saber.
Also, the writers seem intent upon resurrecting the first season's sexual tension between the two leads. It's suspenseful for the audience to know what's happening before the characters do, but the principle gets diluted when you try to force a will-they--or-won't-they-again component into an already intriguing international political thriller.