And that approach to her performance perfectly serves the larger themes of the series, according to Craig Seymour, associate professor of communications and popular culture at Northern Illinois University.

“This series really put a different twist on the pattern of unconventional protagonists that started with Tony Soprano, because it’s a woman, she’s mentally unstable, and we’re not even sure whether we can believe her on certain things,” Seymour says.

“It’s so engaging to watch, but it’s an uncomfortable feeling at the same time, because you never know what she’s going to do or if she’s going to completely go over the edge,” he adds. “Her mind is working against her because of her mental illness.”

A similar dynamic is in play with Lewis’ Marine, Nick Brody, who experienced psychological manipulation at the hands of terrorists.

“His mind is working against him because of the programming that was done to it. We’re used to being able to predict what TV characters are going to do,” Seymour says. “But in this case, because of what’s happening inside the lead characters’ minds, we really don’t know what they’re going to do. And that makes it a thrilling, new kind of viewing experience.”

As for a quick gauge on the acting skill of Lewis, watch the way he can move from charming to menacing in the bat of an eye. That volatility is at the core of his Nick Brody character, who was imprisoned and tortured for eight years in Afghanistan — and then thrust into the ideological tumult of American political life, where he is now a congressman.

Laurence Olivier and James Gandolfini are the only other actors I can think of who can flip the switch this way and navigate all that emotional territory between friendly and frightening in a heartbeat.

“What an extraordinary honor to be in a category with these golden actors setting a golden standard in acting in a golden age of TV,” Lewis said Sunday night in accepting the Emmy he won over Jon Hamm, Bryan Cranston, Michael C. Hall, Steve Buscemi and Hugh Bonneville.

I’m not so sure about that “golden age of TV” business. But watching these first two hours of the new season is the richest TV experience I’ve had this year.


The second season of “Homeland” debuts at 10 Sunday night on Showtime.