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Homeland returns to top form

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At the end of last season, with its nail-biting finale and the death of a major character there was always the question of whether Homeland would be able to capture the magic which made its  first season, in particular, so compelling.

HomelandA shift in location, as it moved from America to Pakistan, giving a whole new perspective on the spy game post 9/11, and new characters were the showmakers attempt to move the show forward after the close of Damian Lewis's Brody and his narrative.

Season four follows CIA agent Carrie Matheson as she is stationed abroad, as station chief in Afghanistan. This shift in location is a shrewd move opening up the world and looking beyond America in a way that the show has only hinted at before and did largely unsuccessfully last season with its foray into Peru and South America.

Moving to the fraught Middle East, allows the show to open up and look at terrorism as not America centric - Pakistan in particular is a very interesting choice for location, thanks to increasing tensions in the country after the capture and killing of Osama Bin Laden by a special America black ops team.

From the moment the season begins the audience is thrown into the drama, as Carrie gives the order for a drone strike on a farm house, believing that an influential terrorist and some of his men are inside. Bad information means that the drone actually hits a wedding party, which ignites tensions from the first episode in a way that Homeland hasn't quite managed since its first series.

The first half of season three was very disjointed, with two narratives running concurrently, and yet frustratingly, not close enough to each other for them to gel. Whole episodes would be dedicated to one story, leaving the other character hanging, which meant that you were constantly wanting to know what happens to the other.

It left the first half of season three feeling disconnected and frustrating. Season four has tightened up, with this problem being solved as the show focuses exclusively on Danes' character. This single storyline, with interwoven perspectives is when Homeland is best - one highly dramatic and tense narrative is far easier to consume than two narratives of characters that you just want to see reunited.

One thing that last year’s finale did really well was to shake up the audience and prove that no one is safe, even the most central characters are up for the chop.

Other than Game of Thrones, it is hard to think of another show that creates this kind of uncertainty amongst the audience - deep down in most dramas, you know that the main characters are going to survive whatever is thrown at them - surely now this is not the case with Homeland, which means that every instance of danger or threat is taken far more seriously by an audience who genuinely believes that this could be the end of the character.

Claire Danes and Mandy Patinkin are spectacular in this series, as is almost expected by this point. Danes' Carrie is so equally compelling and reprehensible as she justifies almost anything in her quest to find out exactly what led to the killing of innocents in the drone strike.

One particular scene between Carrie and her newborn daughter is shocking in its raw presentation of a mother completely out of her depth. Likewise, Patinkin's Saul is always perfectly understated, as he fits the character like a glove. Rupert Friend also takes a new prominence in Brody's absence, and the show is all the better for it - in particular his downward spiral at the start of the season shows the dark side to the role as a CIA black officer, and what toll it can take on you as a person.

Homeland season four is a demonstration of a show returning to its best, with a dramatic and tense storyline that thrills throughout.

Homeland airs on Sunday nights at 9.00pm on Channel 4.




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