Homeland, series two: What's in store for Carrie and Brody?
Spoiler alert: US critics share details about first episodes and relief that new season lives up to the last
HOMELAND returns to British television this Sunday but, for those who can't bear to wait, America is conveniently one episode ahead and critics have revealed what we can expect from the first instalment and whether the second series can possibly live up to the first.
The last season finished with CIA agent Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) in the throes of shock therapy, which erased her incriminating memory of Brody (Damian Lewis), the Marine-turned-congressman who has pledged to act as a mole for terrorist Abu Nazir.
Series two skips six months ahead. Carrie is gardening, teaching English and trying forget the stresses of CIA life, while Brody has his eye on becoming vice president.
Episode one includes scenes that will be eerily familiar to those who have been watching the news in recent weeks, say critics - there are rage-filled protests outside a United States embassy in the Middle East. In Homeland, the protests have not been triggered by an anti-Muslim film, but an Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear reactors.
The wife of a Hezbollah leader in Lebanon holds vital information but refuses to share it with anyone but Carrie, her former handler, bringing the troubled former agent back into the action. The episode finishes with Carrie smiling fiercely as she runs through a Beirut market.
Meanwhile, Brody is tasked with stealing homeland security information from the CIA, while his daughter accidentally lets slip at school that her dad might be a Muslim.
With four Emmy wins last week and international critical acclaim, a number of critics had feared the second series simply couldn't match the first. Vanity Fair's Bruce Handy, worried that the plot would start "recycling itself" and the "cat-and-mouse game" between Brody and Carrie would be drawn "to the point of contrivance".
But he, like other critics, has been allowed to see the first two episodes. And the good news is that opening salvoes of season two are just as "gripping as last season's best moments" and he adds mysteriously that the second instalment ends with a cliff-hanger that "promises to pivot the series in a new and unpredictable direction".
Robert Lloyd, the Los Angeles Times television critic, says: "Given the extravagances of the plot and the characters, that it feels plausibly seated in the real world is a testament to everyone involved in its production." He particularly praises Morgan Saylor, who plays Brody's daughter Dana, and predicts she will be an important player in this series.
Cinema Blend points out that the "stage is already set" when series two begins, so the suspense begins to build immediately. "If things continue to go as they do in these first couple of episodes, season two could be just as (if not more) explosive than the first season, especially when Carrie and Brody's paths cross again."
Mike Hale, writing in The New York Times, complains of the "occasional flat-footed exposition" and a few "hard to swallow" twists, but concedes that it is "easy to nitpick" when a show has set the bar as high as Homeland did in its first season.
Hale concludes that the "performances are still exemplary" and the "combination of adult intelligence and crisp action is still pretty much unmatched on American television".