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'Homeland' review: A restart kick-starts the fourth season

From left, Mandy Patinkin, Nazanin Boniadi, Claire Danes

From left, Mandy Patinkin, Nazanin Boniadi, Claire Danes and Rupert Friend costar in Showtime's "Homeland," returning for its fourth season on Sunday. Photo Credit: MCT / Jim Fiscus

THE SHOW "Homeland"

WHEN | WHERE Fourth-season premiere Sunday at 9 p.m. on Showtime

WHAT IT'S ABOUT An agency asset in Islamabad has gone "bad," with dire consequences. This asset has directed a drone strike on a suspected terrorist. But a house where a wedding was underway was destroyed instead. There is only one survivor, a young medical student (Suraj Sharma, "Life of Pi"). Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) wants to know why the formerly reliable station chief, Sandy Bachman (Corey Stoll), botched this one. Saul (Mandy Patinkin) can't help her: He's now in the private sector, while Quinn (Rupert Friend) is back to being his old ambivalent self.

The entire fourth season was filmed in Cape Town, which has a large Muslim community, Cape Malay, where the Islamabad scenes were shot.

MY SAY Who remembers the old "Homeland"? Good . . . now forget the old "Homeland." We are all back at zero Sunday night, and residual memories of immediate past seasons -- memories doubtless tinged with a nagging or acute sense of disappointment -- will only get you so far.

Everything has changed, and with it, an overwhelming feeling that "Homeland" is at long last free from the constraints of a story (Brody's) that became more improbable, or ridiculous, as the seasons went by.

Sunday's two-hour opener clearly and powerfully establishes that this series is back to doing what it really wanted to do in the first place:  Explore the complex moral conundrum of the war on terror by driving the story along a pitch-dark, twisting road without the help of direction signs or even a sense of where the road ends up.

The opener doesn't just talk about the collateral damage of drone strikes but gets eyes on the ground, next to the bloodied, mangled corpses. It doesn't suggest that "good" and "bad" are made-for-TV labels that can be pasted on people, institutions or countries, but instead gets you right into the heart of a story establishing how utterly irrelevant those labels may well be.

Then there's Carrie: No crying jags Sunday -- she's hardened, ambitious and . . . lost. How "Homeland" resolves her attempts at motherhood is one of the series' standout moments.

BOTTOM LINE "Homeland's" fourth season feels as fresh, important and relevant as yesterday's news -- or tomorrow's news. A bracing, intelligent start.

GRADE A+

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