Homeland is hot. The Showtime series' surprise sweep of the Emmys last Sunday has people lining up to check out the Claire Danes/Damian Lewis/Mandy Patinkin-starring suspense saga's season premiere on Sunday, like shoeless travelers waiting for the full-body scan at airport security. That makes this the perfect time to catch up on Season One's major players, plot twists and unsolved mysteries with our Homeland cheat sheet. Whether you're a fresh-faced rookie or a grizzled veteran who just needs a refresher, consider this your intelligence briefing.
WARNING: Many Season One spoilers ahead.
Sgt. Nicholas Brody is a terrorist . . .
Captured in Iraq and held prisoner by al Qaeda torturers for eight years, Marine sniper Nick Brody (Damian Lewis) was presumed dead until he was "rescued" by American forces and brought home at last. But it was all an elaborate al Qaeda scheme to use Brody, whom they'd successfully turned against the U.S. while he was in captivity, as a sleeper agent. In fact, the single biggest surprise of Homeland Season One was how quickly it confirmed Brody's shady status. Sure, they faked us out about his potential innocence now and then, but instead of some big is-he-or-isn't-he mystery, they made Brody's true allegiance clear before the pilot's closing credits rolled.
. . . a politically well-connected terrorist . . .
As a returning war hero with a photogenic family, Brody's a media darling, and he's been used to help sell the ongoing War on Terror since his first day back. The ambitious, amoral vice president, William Walden, even hand-picked Brody to replace a disgraced congressman in the House of Representatives. This gives Brody the perfect opportunity to get close to political, intelligence and military movers and shakers – an opportunity his al Qaeda minders take advantage of when they send him to blow up the VP and his team with a suicide vest.
. . . and an actually-not-a-horrible-guy-kinda terrorist.
But as you can tell by the fact that he's, y'know, alive for Season Two, Brody didn't go through with it – in part because the bomb malfunctioned, but mostly because he couldn't bear breaking his family's hearts or taking innocent lives. His whole motive for joining al Qaeda in the first place was his disgust with the "collateral damage" America's wars have produced. And in his (unreleased, obviously) video suicide note, he says he set out to kill the vice president not because he hates America, but because he loves it too much to let guys like the VP destroy its honor. He ends the season by rejecting terrorist mastermind Abu Nazir's violent ways and insisting he can change America's destructive policies from the inside.
Carrie Mathison spent months trying to stop him . . .
One woman came closer than anyone else to catching Brody: CIA analyst Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes), who works to protect the country with a white-hot intensity any terrorist would envy. Tipped off about a flipped American POW by a terrorist-turned-informant long before Brody resurfaced, she was a lone voice calling for surveillance of the homecoming hero – surveillance she ended up setting up illegally with help from her ex-spook buddy Virgil (David Marciano) when her requests were denied. No matter how many times he seemed to establish his innocence, Carrie invariably found the one crack in his excuses and alibis.
. . . and also falling in love with him . . .
Oh, right – she slept with him, too. We'd already gotten hints that she could be dangerously reckless, but after the Agency pulls the plug on her surveillance program, she decides to keep an eye on Brody by making contact outside of work. Estranged from his wife due to his PTSD, Brody ends up conducting a whirlwind weekend-long affair with Carrie, before breaking it off when he realizes she suspects him of being a sleeper agent. At first it seems like Carrie did this just to try to trip him up, but by season's end it's clear she actually does love him, even though she believes he's guilty as sin. The heart wants what it wants, man.
. . . and she was right, but no one believed it . . .
Time and again, circumstances made Brody look innocent. That flipped POW that Carrie was warned about? Turns out Brody's sniper partner Tom Walker, whom Brody thought he'd beaten to death at his captors' gunpoint, was still alive and working for al Qaeda as well. The captured terrorist who committed suicide with a smuggled razor blade after a visit from Brody? Turns out there's a mole inside the Homeland Security apparatus who could have gotten it to him instead. The fact that he's covering up his encounters in captivity with Nazir, or killing Walker, or converting to Islam and praying behind the closed doors of his garage? Maybe he's just ashamed of how his captors broke him, or afraid of how his family would react. The suicide bombing Carrie was so convinced Brody was about to commit? Never happened. By that point she may as well have been ranting about Bigfoot.
. . . and she doesn't believe it either, because she's bipolar.
After getting caught in an explosion targeting a member of Brody's support network who'd outlived his usefulness, Carrie cracks. Her psychiatrist sister has been medicating her for bipolar disorder for years, keeping it a secret from the CIA so she wouldn't lose security clearance, and the blast sends her into the mother of all manic episodes, during which she loses her job when Brody rats out their affair to the Agency. She becomes so fixated on Brody's guilt that she shows up at his house, confronting his wife and daughter about the husband and father they love. When the bomb doesn't blow, she believes she was wrong about everything, and signs up for electroconvulsive therapy in hopes that shock treatment will stop her mania from recurring. Unfortunately, this also wipes out her knowledge of a clue that more or less proves Brody's guilt.
Abu Nazir is a terrorist mastermind . . .
The head of al Qaeda in Iraq and Brody's personal overseer, Abu Nazir (Naveed Nagahban) is the world's most wanted terrorist. He flipped both Brody and his partner – whom he orders Brody to kill following the failed suicide bombing, in order to prove his continued loyalty – maintains a support network throughout the U.S. and remains in periodic contact with Brody, encouraging him to remember his mission. We've heard some pretty sinister things about what happens to the families of people who don't.
. . . and Vice President William Walden is pretty much just as bad.
That mission would never have taken place without the actions of Vice President Walden (Jamey Sheridan), who ordered a drone strike on a school in hopes that it'd hit Nazir and ended up killing 82 children, including one very close to both Nazir and Brody. Walden's now running for president, and he's accepted Brody into his inner circle in hopes that some of that war-hero glamor will rub off, but he remains committed to the warmongering policies that spurred Nazir and Brody's quest for vengeance in the first place.
Saul Berenson is the best in the biz . . .
Saul (Mandy Patinkin) is Carrie's bushy-bearded, soft-spoken mentor, one of the few people in the Agency who not only recognizes her brilliance – everyone does – but also has found a way to put up with all the impulsivity and intensity that goes with it. Saul may be even smarter than Carrie: His knack for winning the trust of the people he interrogates and his ability to put together a big picture from small details helped him nab several of Nazir's accomplices. Unfortunately, his workaholism cost him his marriage.
. . . and David Estes is a tool . . .
The consummate company man, Estes (David Harewood) was part of Vice President Walden's inner circle when the order to blow up the school was given, and he helped cover it up even when Carrie and Saul were looking for the reason why Nazir was so active again after months off the radar. He's very much a political creature, which has made him the Agency's go-between for Walden and Brody, enabling them to get too close to CIA decision-making for anyone's good. He was Carrie's boss, before h fired her over her affair with Brody, her illegal surveillance operation and her bipolar disorder – and oh yeah, he used to date her, which cost him his marriage.
. . . and any of them could be an al Qaeda mole.
Nazir has someone on the inside, feeding him information and tipping off his minions when the CIA is on their trail, leading to escapes, suicides and even a bombing in the middle of downtown D.C. It could be Saul, who initially failed a polygraph test asking about the smuggled razor blade an al Qaeda prisoner used to kill himself. It could be Galvez (Hrach Titizian), Saul and Carrie's go-to guy for delicate and demanding operations they can't pull off themselves, who's secretly spying on Carrie for Estes. It'sprobably not Estes or Walden, since Brody nearly blew them up, but who knows?
It's really all about a kid named Issa . . .
The most important character on Homeland has been dead for three years. When Abu Nazir took Brody out of isolation and gave him limited freedom to win him over, he also "hired" the Marine to teach English to his adorable son Issa (Rohan Chand). The kid learned quickly, and before long the two of them were playing soccer and singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" – Brody was the loving father Nazir could never be, and Issa was the young son Brody's captivity had robbed him of raising back home. Then Issa and 81 of his classmates died in the vice president's drone strike, driving Nazir and Brody to plan revenge. Years later Brody would scream Issa's name while sleeping next to Carrie; when she and Saul uncovered the covered-up drone strike she realized who he was talking about, but seconds later a jolt of ECT wiped the clue from her brain.
. . . and a teenager named Dana.
Like Carrie, Brody's teenage daughter Dana (Morgan Saylor) both loves her dad, and suspects him. She's the one who's most upset that her mother Jessica (Morena Baccarin) kept her relationship with Brody's Marine buddy Mike (Diego Klattenhoff) a secret when Brody came back from the dead. She's the one who catches Brody praying to Allah and keeps the secret of his conversion to Islam out of respect. She's the one who notices something is wrong in the days leading up to the suicide bombing attempt. And she's the one who realizes there may be some truth to Carrie's manic rantings and calls her dad up at the last minute, convincing him not to go through with it without ever fully realizing he was up to anything in the first place.