A word of warning about Season 3 of Homeland: If you're expecting the fast-paced, vice president-murdering thrills of Season 2, you might want to adjust your expectations.
Picking up a couple months after "America's second 9/11" — a car bomb outside a memorial service for the vice president that pretty much decimated the entire CIA — Carrie (Claire Danes), Saul (Mandy Patinkin) & Co. are in rebuilding mode. "Everything that happens in Season 3 grows out of the attack on the CIA," executive producer Alex Gansa tells TVGuide.com. "We are in the wake of the attack and all the ramifications of that event. So by its very nature, it's a period of reassessment, a period of getting back on our feet. It's a reflective beginning. I don't think it's any slower, but there's certainly not a lot of action. It's a quieter kind of energy."
Indeed, much of the juice in the Season 3 premiere (Sunday, 9/8c, Showtime) comes from Carrie and Saul testifying about the attack before the senate in a pair of scenes that bookend the episode. But all of Sen. Andrew Lockhart's (Tracy Letts) questions really boil down to this: Why was the CIA working with Sgt. Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis) — the Marine-turned-terrorist suspected of the attack after his car was used to deploy the catastrophic explosion — instead of locking him up?
For Carrie, whose complicated love affair with Brody seemingly ended when she snuck him out of the country in the Season 2 finale, that's a question she can't answer — and not just because she's trying to avoid revealing her involvement in Brody's escape.
"I think she's questioning herself at every turn," Gansa says of Carrie. "Carrie has been complicit in ferrying a major suspect in a terrorist event out of the country. She did it because she 99 percent believes that he was not responsible and he didn't know that the bomb was in his car. That idea is going to be tested and she's going to begin to question whether he's as innocent as she thought."
But Carrie's also questioning herself. After spending much of last season trying to balance her bipolar disorder, Carrie begins Season 3 once again offher medication. "She, in her soul, believes that if she'd had access to her genius last season, she would have been able to stop the attack that happened," Gansa says. "[She believes] because she was on her meds, she was somehow dulled to the signs. ... She's made a very conscious decision to go off her meds, and she's not doing it on her own. She's doing it under the supervision of a doctor because she realizes it's dangerous. But she can't not do it."
Similarly, Saul has something to prove in the new season. Because of the mass casualties at Langley, Saul now finds himself as the acting director. "Saul is a man who has become very comfortable on the sidelines, in the margins, criticizing the decisions being made at the highest levels," Gansa says. "Now he find himself sitting in the chair making the decisions himself. He's the acting director of the CIA and, quite possibly, if you're to believe Sen. Lockhart, the last director of the CIA. That puts him in a different position, especially with regard to the people around him and the people he loves."
Homeland: 8 Spoilers We Learned About Season 3
Of course, the biggest reason Season 3 gets off to a quieter start is simple: Brody, who has always been at the center of the show's breathless, roller-coaster plot, is notably absent from the first two episodes. "For the most part, Brody haunts Homeland this season; he doesn't inhabit it," Gansa says. And while he promises Brody will resurface later in the season, Gansa chose not to shy away from featuring Brody's family. In particular, Dana (Morgan Saylor) dominates the first two episodes as she rebels against her mother (Morena Baccarin) in the wake of the news about Brody's terrorist ties.
"We felt like we had to honor those people that we put up on stage in the first two seasons," Gansa says. "It's a fascinating storytelling area for us to think about what would happen to this family. What happened to the families of the guys who bombed the Boston Marathon or the kid who went into Columbine and shot up the place? I'm just curious what goes on in those households, and we brought it to bear in what goes on in the Brody household."
But perhaps the best way to describe the new season isn't "quiet" at all. With Carrie battling her mental illness and fighting a legal battle all without the man she loves, this season very quickly becomes darker than those that came before it. "[This season] Carrie's an isolated figure, divorced from her usual sources of comfort," Gansa says. "Things are very bleak and grim for Carrie Mathison."
Homeland premieres Sunday at 9/8c on Showtime.