'Homeland' review: Claire Danes, the CIA's (and Showtime's) secret weapon

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claire-danes-homeland.jpgCarrie Mathison ( Claire Danes in her first return to series TV since "My So Called Life") is a basket case. Seriously, she's potentially psychotic. She may also be the only person standing between the U.S. and another massive terrorist attack. In "Homeland," debuting Sunday (Oct. 2) on Showtime, Danes plays a CIA analyst with big-time doubts about a just-released prisoner of war.

The show, based on the lauded Israeli series "Prisoners of War," chronicles Mathison's personal mission to save the country from another 9/11-sized terrorist attack. Her Carrie Mathison takes personal responsibility for not preventing the devastating attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon and so she's haunted and convinced that -- if only she can figure it out, by any means necessary -- the next attack can be prevented.

British Transplant Damian Lewis ( "Dreamcatcher") plays Nicholas Brody, who may be positioning himself as one of the most chilling characters to appear on TV since "Lost's" Benjamin Linus. He's a Marine sergeant who, after almost a decade in captivity, is freed from al Qaeda's clutches.

He returns home to a complicated family situation -- his wife kind of thought he wasn't coming back (draw your own conclusions) and his two kids have grown up without him around. Then there's the wife of Brody's best friend, who died while a POW with him, who just wants to know how it happened and was he there? The guy is scarred -- but the question is how did he heal?

Like all of fiction's best characters -- neither Carrie nor Nick are purely good or evil and the series opener keeps us in suspense about who to trust and whether or not one or both is maniacally dangerous. Is Nick a "Manchurian Candidate" who has been brainwashed into helping al Qaeda plot its next hit? Is Carrie a potentially paranoid psychotic nymphomaniac who has way too much access to sensitive information?

We're looking forward to the rest of the season to watch this finely drawn mystery unravel.

Also turning in a stellar, if understated, performance -- Mandy Patinkin ("Criminal Minds") as Saul, Carrie's CIA handler, mentor and father confessor.

"Homeland" debuts Sunday, Oct. 2 at 10 p.m. ET on Showtime.
Photo/Video credit: Showitime