My review of tonight's "Homeland" coming up just as soon as my plan is the same as your plan...

"I liked you, Carrie." -Brody
"I loved you." -Carrie

You can say this for Team "Homeland" this season: they're not wasting any time.

The writers could have strung out the discovery of the video card for half a season or more, but Saul found it in the second episode. And given how scorching hot the chemistry is between Claire Danes and Damian Lewis, I don't think anyone would have complained if the show had devoted three, four, even seven or eight episodes to Carrie and Brody trying to play each other, each one convinced they have the upper hand. Instead, by the end of this episode, Carrie possibly blows her cover in the hotel bar, and she absolutely annihilates it when she follows Brody to his room, in a pair of fantastic scenes between the Emmy-winning stars.

And yet when you think on everything that's happened this season, and that plays out elsewhere in "New Car Smell," it would have felt like more of a cheat if the writers had dragged this phase of the game out just because we like watching the flirty tension between the two leads. There have been too many danger signs for everyone who knows Brody. Jessica knows something is wrong, and after the discovery of Brody's religious conversion in the premiere, I don't think her paranoia is entirely focused on another affair. And even drunken, obnoxious Lauder — like Carrie, a mentally unstable person who is absolutely right about Nicholas Brody — is close to putting the pieces together, though for now he and Mike have constructed an alternate (but understandable) theory that Brody has been working for the CIA. For Brody to stay out in the open after a certain point would have been one implausibility too many for a show that's already been taking shortcuts this season (Brody texting Nazir from a secure Pentagon room, Roya sending Nazir's most valuable asset on an errand with a high likelihood of complication).

Whatever comes next for the series, and for the relationship between Carrie and Brody, it was such a pleasure to watch them again in this mode, in which their genuine attraction for each other is at odds with their desire to get the upper hand, and in which nearly everything they say has a double meaning(*). When Carrie thanks Brody for saving her, it's part of the role she's playing for him, but it's also true in a different way: learning that she was right about Brody pulled her out of her suicidal funk. If it hasn't cured all that ails her (knowledge by itself can't fix a a mental illness), it's at least given her a new focus again.

(*) "New Car Smell" was written by Meredith Stiehm, who was also responsible for season 1's Carrie/Brody tour de force "The Weekend."

But has it given her too much focus? That great moment where Brody starts asking about the ECT treatments could be read one of two ways: 1)Carrie is right, and her anger gave too much away for them to continue this charade, or 2)Carrie is wrong, and consciously or subconsciously wants to move immediately  to punishing this sonuvabitch after he directly reminded her of the humiliation, despair and agony he put her through. Either reading works, and either one is interesting — and I imagine Carrie, Saul, David and our new friend Peter Quinn will be arguing about this next week — but the end result is the same: Brody is a prisoner again (with a bag over his head, like he's back in the Middle East), and Carrie gets to enjoy her moment of triumph, but is again entirely alone in doing it.

Fantastic episode, and if this is how far the story has advanced by episode four, I imagine things are going to get really cuckoo bananas by the time the season is done.

Some other thoughts:

* One downside to this accelerated pace is the need to skip over crucial details, like the exact nature of Carrie's position on this op. I understand why Estes would want her involved — she was right about Brody, she has a pre-existing relationship with the man that can be exploited, and Estes wants to keep the circle small at this point — but she still has a mental illness that she lied about to the CIA for years, and that presumably disqualifies her from this kind of work. So is she back with the Agency for good, or just for this one assignment?

* I also was relieved that Estes didn't for a second contemplate sweeping this under the rug, wasn't revealed as the mole, or any other narrative trick to undo Saul's discovery. He's very much screwed by this, but he's also an officer in service of protecting America, and he's not just going to let a terrorist roam free because it would make him look bad.



* Virgil!!!! It took four episodes, but our man with the van is back, as is his brother Max. David Marciano joined the regular cast this season, but that seems more a case of the producers wanting his availability locked down rather than planning to expand his role beyond what he got to do last year. Still, pleasure to have him around again.

* I like seeing characters who don't have all the info we do leaping to the wrong conclusions. Lauder and Mike think Brody could be with the CIA, while Saul and Peter's interest is raised less by Roya (though she goes up on the cork board) than the cab driver, the car wash manager, etc.

* I'm not familiar with the work of Rupert Friend, who plays Peter Quinn, but like Damian Lewis, he's one of those pesky Brits playing an American.

* The Dana/Xander/Finn teen love triangle is, unsurprisingly, less compelling at this point than the adult stuff, but I have to assume it will tie back in down the road, given who Finn's father is, Walden's connection to Brody, etc. But I really liked the way the scene inside the Washington Monument was shot, with Dana and Finn's heads reflected in the window, floating over the D.C. skyline, the two of them alone in the Monument and yet very much a part of the messy, complicated world around them.

What did everybody else think?

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at sepinwall@hitfix.com