Episode 301

Saul Berenson (played by Mandy Patinkin) in "Homeland." (Kent Smith / Showtime / May 30, 2013)

Welcome back, Homelanders — let’s get caught up. First of all, our heroes Carrie and Saul (using aliases “Claire Danes” and “Mandy Patinkin,” respectively) have been flattered by some awfully breathless press coverage over the past month.

If you didn’t get a chance to read their profiles in The New Yorker and New York Times Magazine, I’ll give you the recap, so to speak: they are the awesome genius intellectuals of the acting world. Claire told the paper of record that  “Mandy is obviously verging on legend.” Mandy says Claire sent him a two-page recipe for roasted chicken! Congrats to these super-smart best friends on their press dominance.

On the show, however, everyone seems a little tense. Season 3 begins 68 days after the attack on CIA headquarters, with 219 dead and suspected car bomber Brody still at large. Carrie must testify before a Senate committee investigating the attack.

Senator Lockhart isn’t buying Carrie’s lame account of being “in the bathroom” during the bombing. Sorry Carrie, I could have told you that would never fly (hasn’t worked for me since Hebrew school). Carrie’s strategy is to plead the fifth, and the officials questioning her clearly see her belief in Brody’s innocence as further evidence of her instability. This is an interesting reminder of season one, when Carrie’s suspicion that Brody had been “turned” was widely viewed as a paranoid delusion by those around her.

Back at the CIA, Saul has ascended to the top of the food chain. At his elbow is Dar Adal, the shady spy godfather who was taking meetings on buses last time we saw him. (Note: don’t trust that guy). Saul is asked to green-light the assassination of six Iranian terrorists said to be responsible for the Langley attack, but he is hesitant to make a decision.

Finally, he OKs the mission, and we watch a grainy montage of men falling domino-like  as they encounter CIA assassins posted throughout Caracas. Lead shooter Quinn accidentally kills a child as he clears a house of supposedly high-ranking terrorists, but the mishap is swept under the rug as the agency touts the mission’s “success” before Congress.

On the heels of this P.R. victory, Saul makes another executive decision: to throw Carrie under the bus. On Dar Adal’s advice, Saul tells senators that she is mentally ill and had hidden her affair with Brody. Carrie’s career appears to be over, but then again, we have another 11 episodes to go.

This episode shined most in its domestic scenes, which allowed us glimpses of how these characters are privately responding to the traumatic event. Carrie’s not well. Her walls are once again covered in clues and clippings, and she has stopped taking her lithium. She brings home a guy she meets in the liquor store (who looks like Brody from certain angles).

We don’t hear any jazz horns, but we do see her and the nameless red-haired beau getting busy on the stairs beneath a painting of a guy playing jazz horns! Despite everything she’s going through, it’s hard to feel bad for Carrie right now, given that she’s uncooperative with both the Senate investigation and her dad’s admonitions to treat her bipolar disorder seriously.

Saul’s home life is only slightly less bleak. His wife returned from her job in Mumbai following the attacks, but they are sleeping in separate bedrooms. He won’t ask her to stay or to go, making the marriage difficult for both of them.

Dana and Jessica Brody have historically been my least-favorite characters, so it was very exciting to see them deliver such strong performances in the season premiere. We learn that Dana attempted suicide following the Langley attack and has been hospitalized at a treatment program for teens.

Although the staff appear warm and competent, Dana must return, alongside her mom, to a crazy-making world of hostile media and 24-hour FBI surveillance. These are awfully dark days for the Brodys, and Dana (played by Morgan Saylor) and Jess (Morena Baccarin) convey vulnerability, mistrust and intelligence in their scenes together.

It’s clear that they’ve been hurt the most by the absent marine-husband-hostage-father-informant-congressman-terrorist-philanderer at the center of the episode. Brody’s vacant seat at the dinner table has been filled not by Mike, but by Jessica’s abrasive mother, who has moved in to help with expenses and childcare.

Kudos to "Homeland’s" writers for slowing down the pace and taking a moment to sit with its characters. This episode was notable for everything that didn’t happen. No adrenaline-fueled manhunts, no big reveals, just a (relatively) quiet hour with Saul, Carrie, Jess, and Dana.

There are plenty of episodes remaining to explore the inevitable questions, such as: where is Brody? Will Carrie confess? Who actually planted the bomb? Does Senator Lockhart have a pacemaker? How did Quinn get so good at climbing stuff? Is Rolling Rock still underwriting the show? And last but not least, What’s up with that kid on the receiving end of Dana’s sexts?