It's nearly two months after America's "second 9/11," a horrific bombing at the Central Intelligence Agency in Langley, Va., that left 219 people dead and sparked a global manhunt for the person believed responsible.
That's the setup for "Tinman is Down," the Season 3 premiere of Showtime's "Homeland" series starring Claire Danes, winner of two consecutive Emmy Awards for her portrayal of bipolar CIA case officer Carrie Mathison.
In last season's finale, Carrie bid farewell at the Canadian border to her lover, Marine Sgt.-turned-Congressman Nick Brody (Damian Lewis). He became the world's most wanted terrorist because his car contained the bomb that devastated CIA headquarters.
Back at Langley to clear Brody's name – and save his life – Carrie explained her 14-hour absence with a flimsy story about being knocked unconscious in a restroom when the blast hit.
Now Carrie is under oath before a hostile Senate committee. And if Chairman Andrew Lockhart (Tracy Letts) prevails, Congress will disband the CIA.
"How can the CIA be expected to protect this country if it can't even protect itself?" Lockhart angrily asks Carrie. Accusing the agency of covering up its negligence in the bombing, he promises to "put the whole lot of you in jail."
"I feel like I walked into a propeller," Carrie exclaims to mentor and CIA Acting Director Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin). Worse yet, someone is leaking classified information to Congress, causing Carrie to suspect she's being scapegoated.
That suspicion is heightened when the news media breaks a story about an unnamed CIA agent having a sexual relationship with Brody. Carrie's suspicion is confirmed when Saul "throws her under the bus" at a televised Senate hearing.
"The case officer in question has a history of erratic behavior. She's unstable," Saul says, betraying Carrie to save the agency.
Not only is Carrie's professional life shattered, her personal life is in shambles. She deeply misses Brody and her dramatic mood swings are back now that she's off Lithium.
Brody's family also suffers in the bombing aftermath. Wife Jessica (Morena Baccarin) is in financial straits after losing her government benefits. And sullen, rebellious daughter Dana (Morgan Saylor) is barely out of a recovery center after attempting suicide.
As for Saul's personal life, he tries to reconcile with wife Mira (Sarita Choudhury), but they're still sleeping in separate bedrooms.
Professionally, Saul struggles to rebuild the CIA with Dar Adal (F. Murray Abraham), an old-school agent who favors swift and lethal action. Saul advocates the long game of methodical intelligence gathering.
"We're not assassins," Saul says. "We're spies. We don't kill our targets if we don't have to."
Their opposing philosophies collide on a counterterrorism operation to eliminate key figures behind the CIA bombing. To succeed, the mission must work perfectly, simultaneously killing six terrorists on three continents.
Assigned to Venezuela is Peter Quinn (Rupert Friend), a CIA operative committed to "only killing bad guys."
That's why Peter doesn't bomb the car of a terrorist – codenamed Tinman – when he spots a young boy inside. Instead, Peter follows the suspect to his fortified compound and has just 10 minutes to kill him.
With seconds to spare, Peter shoots Tinman and transmits his bloody photo to mission control. Sadly, there's collateral damage when Peter mistakenly kills the boy.
Briefing the Senate on the risky operation, Saul praises all involved.
"As a result of their efforts, there's a little less evil in the world today," Saul says.
But Lockhart is unimpressed, calling the terrorists "easy targets" who were taken out to deflect CIA criticism.
"Frankly, it feels convenient," Lockhart says, zealously determined to continue his witch hunt.