Stars: Claire Danes, Damian Lewis, Morena Baccarin, Mandy Patinkin, David Harewood, Morgan Saylor, Jackson Pace, Diego Klattenhoff, Rupert Friend, Navid Negahban, David Marciano, Jamey Sheridan

Often throughout Homeland's daringly breathless second season, viewers' abilities to suspend disbelief and manage patience have been tested, and, frankly, overcome by implausibilities and extreme moments of almost cartoonish action. Which—as anyone who gnawed on their cuticles while watching Homeland's brilliant, airtight debut season last year could tell you—goes against nearly everything that the Emmy-winning Showtime series had previously established (i.e., realistic storytelling powered by believable characters handling dangerous situations in natural ways).

So it's a huge testament to the tremendous acting chops exhibited by stars Claire Danes and Damian Lewis that Homeland is still one of modern television's most invigorating and tense hours. Lewis, in particular, had been tasked with selling ridiculous scenes (talking on a cell phone while killing a man; breaking into high-ranking officials' offices with ease) and his Nicholas Brody character's internalized mania, and he's done so with real panache.

Always thrilling yet at times frustratingly uneven, Homeland's sophomore season has been a tightrope walk for all involved. Whether the upcoming finale keeps things balanced or sends them crashing downward, it'll definitely be enthralling to watch.