"The Drone Queen", Homeland's fourth season premiere, did what the show has always done best, shining a light on an endless war, and putting a human face on both sides of the conflict.
With Brody finally buried, and their child being raised by her family back in the States, we saw Carrie Mathison back in the field in Kabul, commanding airstrikes in Pakistan, earning her the nickname that served as the episode title.
One such airstrike went awry, framing the narrative for the episode and planting seeds for a season-long storyline.
Going on intelligence provided by Sandy (Corey Stoll, House of Cards' Peter Russo), a CIA operative in the field in Islamabad, Carrie authorized an attack on a wedding party. She achieved the mission objective, killing the man on the CIA hit list, but also killed 40 civilians, which caused a political firestorm for her bosses in Washington and the U.S. ambassador in Pakistan.
Throughout the episode, Carrie was confronted with the collateral damage of the CIA's mission, first by the lieutenant that carried out the airstrike, then by Peter Quinn, who remains disgusted by what his job requires of him, and the way that his superiors treat human life.
We were also introduced to Aayan Ibrahim, the nephew of the man targeted in the strike. He saw innocent members of his family slaughtered alongside his uncle, and provided a friend with cellphone footage from before the strike and its aftermath. Rather than lashing out at the Americans that killed his family, Aayan seemed reluctant to involve himself in the fervor. He was just too hurt and upset by what he had seen to want to take action. Yet. He's a character to watch going forward.
Another plotline to keep an eye on going forward involves Sandy, whose informant in Pakistan first provided him with the questionable intelligence that led to the attack on the wedding party, and then, presumably, leaked his name and photo to the press, which blew his cover and ultimately led to his death in the streets of Islamabad, while Carrie and Quinn tried in vain to extract him. There's a bad asset in the field, and it could bring down the CIA's mission in Pakistan.
Saul and his beard are back as well. Saul is currently working as a civilian contractor, sending private security forces into places that the U.S. has withdrawn troops from. He's not happy, though, and much to Mira's chagrin, it seems to be just a matter of time before he'll be back running point for the CIA.
"The Drone Queen" was reminiscent of Season One of Homeland, before it got bogged down with Brody's countless turns, the Brody family, teenage angst and other stories that felt very out of place in what had been an espionage thriller show.
Was it a great episode? No. But it was a solid step in the right direction. More of this, please.