The action starts some two months after the deadly attack that took out the CIA and 219 people, including Counterterrorism Director David Estes. He's been replaced by Saul - which might seem like a good thing, because he has implicit faith in Carrie, and is smarter than Estes. In fact, Saul's the smartest non-bipolar thinker on the show. But he's subject to incredible pressure when he makes decisions, even though he strives mightily to do the right thing, and by the end of the episode does two things he and we would rather he didn't do. Well, definitely one that we'd rather not see. And given what we've seen of Saul in the past, this is somewhat surprising and therefore a good opening plot twist.
First, our team has put in the cross-hairs six people on three continents who helped make America's "second 9/11" - the devastation of the CIA - possible. Saul resists giving the final go ahead. In dialogue that typifies his acute morality, and is satisfying to see, he says the CIA's job is not to kill enemy operatives it identifies, but turn them or otherwise use them to identify higher-ups. We're not "assassins," he says. He wants the CIA to practice the fine art of espionage rather than butchery. But pressure from everyone - including the tender kind, from Mira, his wife - bid him to do otherwise.
This pressure also comes indirectly from Senator Lockhart - in many ways, the worst villain seen in the first episode - and his Senate Committee investigation of the CIA bombing massacre. He's out to put the CIA itself out of business - in effect, to complete the destruction wrought by the bomb in Brody's car. He's targeted Carrie and knows about her romantic relationship with Brody, which someone in the CIA leaked to the press. Will Saul support her? The second surprise, bigger and more painful than the first, comes with what he says in his testimony.
Missing from the first episode is Brody. His family's on hand, but in distress, as they try to put the pieces together after Brody's disappearance and presumed involvement in the CIA bombing, and daughter Dana's attempted suicide. But she's back, spunky, and even manages to send a half-clothed picture of herself to her boyfriend.
So Homeland has returned in fine, brooding form, with betrayals leering behind every corner, and I'll be back next week with a sneak preview review of the third season's second episode.
See also Homeland on Showtime ... Homeland 1.8: Surprises ... Homeland Concludes First Season: Exceptional