Claire Danes

Showtime is about to raise the dramatic stakes on Sundays, which were already plenty high. Network TV's finest adult drama, CBS' The Good Wife, recently moved to the night, ABC just launched a delicious piece of escapism in Pan Am, the second season of HBO's deluxe Prohibition period piece Boardwalk Empire is already underway, and in two weeks, AMC resurrects its terrifyingly graphic zombie thriller The Walking Dead. Threatening to upstage the field is Showtime's powerful one-two punch, starting this Sunday: the return of the ever-popular Dexter (9/8c), now in its sixth bloody cycle of under-the-radar serial killing, which provides a mighty lead-in to the fall's most riveting new drama, Homeland.

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By now, we're used to Dexter's darkly compelling juggling act, murdering people who deserve it in his off hours while punching the clock for the Miami police and feigning a façade of normality in his home life, which now includes the challenge of single parenthood. But an even more fascinating mystery of duality can be found in the psychological thriller Homeland (10/9c), from the producers of 24, which offers two tortured heroes for the price of one.

In the case of Marine Sgt. Nicholas Brody (the electrifying Damian Lewis), we're talking actual torture. Rescued after eight years in grueling Al-Qaeda captivity, Brody is beset by alarming flashbacks and night terrors as he faces an uneasy hero's homecoming to a world of secrets and lies and an awkward period of adjustment with a family that barely knows him, including V's Morena Baccarin, very affecting as his emotionally overwhelmed wife.

Brody's greatest obstacle, though, may be Carrie Mathison, an unstable loose cannon of a CIA analyst, played with fiery intensity by Claire Danes. She has reason to believe the inscrutable Brody may have been turned while a prisoner, and could be a sleeper agent implicated in a looming terrorist attack. She aggressively pursues her suspicions, defying her bosses and risking her one remaining professional relationship, with her understandably concerned mentor (a nicely understated Mandy Patinkin).

It becomes quickly apparent that Brody is hiding something, and the more we get inside his head, the more disturbing our perception of his situation becomes. Lewis conveys Brody's panic, disorientation — and most important, his ambiguity — masterfully. But just as unsettling are Carrie's rogue actions, including a creepily voyeuristic invasion of his privacy. "Me? No. I'm never done!" she says (brags?) to one of her contacts.

Who's the real terrorist? Who's the monster? Shows like Homeland have a way of keeping us deliciously off balance. Can't think of a place I'd rather be or a show I'd more highly recommend.

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