THE SHOW "Homeland"

WHEN | WHERE Sunday at 10 p.m. on Showtime

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WHAT IT'S ABOUT Rummaging about in her home garden for the vegetables that will go into her lasagna that night, Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) is a world away from CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., and the former life she once led there. It's been many months since her electroshock treatment for bipolar disorder, and, in the meantime, the world has grown more dangerous. An Israeli strike on five Iranian nuclear reactors has inflamed the Middle East, when a call comes into a Beirut field office where Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin) is now stationed. An informant wants to speak only to Carrie, who recruited her years earlier. Reluctantly Saul puts out the call to his old friend: "I hate myself for even asking . . . " Life has changed for Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis), too. An al-Qaida mole, he is now a U.S. congressman, while his mentor, Vice President William Walden (Jamey Sheridan) wants him on his ticket -- as the next VP.

MY SAY "Homeland" won an Emmy for best drama this past Sunday and this Sunday absolutely reconfirms the TV academy's judgment. Superb last season, all early indications are that "Homeland's" second will be even superior -- some feat, indeed. Showtime shrewdly sent out the first two episodes for review; Oct. 7's "Beirut Is Back" plays out against a sprawling global war on terror (the Beirut scenes were shot in Tel Aviv) while the action sequences are seriously close to heart-stopping. You won't sit on he edge of your seat -- you will fall off. But this Sunday (titled "The Smile") best lays out "Homeland's" large and resonant themes -- about prejudice, the limits of national security and the true meaning of "home." That little word in the title, after all, is what Carrie and Saul are protecting, and what Brody has infiltrated. But like last season, those quietly understated scenes with Brody and his daughter, Dana (Morgan Saylor), remain as powerful as those between Carrie and Saul. Fathers and daughters: That's what home is all about, too.

BOTTOM LINE Bigger, brassier and even more thrilling, "Homeland" has boosted the stakes.

GRADE A+