Plan carefully. It's a super-packed weekend on TV – major shows, important endings and intriguing beginnings. And it can be summarized thusly: sex, death, madness, sex, betrayal and more madness.
Breaking Bad (Sunday, AMC, 9 p.m.) ends forever. Sixty-two episodes of epic meth cooking, craziness, lies and larceny. Will Walter White meet a bitter end, paying for all his venial and mortal sins? As I said in Thursday's column, the series stands as a scorching indictment of the modern American way of making money.
Homeland (Sunday, SuperChannel, 9 p.m.) returns for season three. Fair warning: Carrie (Claire Danes) is off her meds. And little wonder. As viewers will recall, season two ended with a devastating bombing of the CIA, hundreds dead, and Brody (Damian Lewis) is the frame for the blame.
The second season was, for many, a disappointing droop into melodrama after the exquisitely honed tension and subtlety of the first season. On the evidence of the first two episodes, this third season will frustrate some admirers. For a start, Brody is missing from the storyline for several episodes. Thus, for a time, it's not Brody who is the centre of the whither-America theme he embodies. It's the CIA itself, as it is embodied by both Carrie and Saul (Mandy Patinkin). There's a major inquiry into the bombing, a search for blame that – and you can tell this from trailers – Carrie feels is hanging her out to dry. As Saul must defend the CIA's activities and redefine its role, his relationship with Carrie is by turns toxic and paternalistic. He feels he's defending the country; she feels she's being burned at the stake.
This Joan of Arc theme, embedded in Homeland from the start, is extended as Carrie is herself questioned. What she has long believed, about Brody and others, is a kind of heresy as far the establishment is concerned. And then there's the matter of Carrie's off-meds, bi-polar mania being the equivalent of Joan's belief that divine guidance was helping her in a war against enemies who wanted to destroy her country.
Whatever the underlying theme, there is a sombre quality to the acts of murder, double-dealing and betrayal, and there are suggestions that, for a while in this tangled story, the secrets held by Saul will be the key to everything. Meanwhile, Brody is out there, somewhere, hurting and lurking, waiting to be drawn back into the mess of his own deceptions and Carrie's manic devotion to him. When they meet again, Homeland will soar again, we hope.
Masters of Sex (TMN/Movie Central, 10 p.m.) is the third major event of weekend. And masterfully conceived it is. We are taken back to the 1950s and powerful, well-respected ob-gyn Dr. William Masters (Michael Sheen) is carrying out clandestine research into sexual arousal and response. Obliged to hide in a closet and secretly observe prostitutes and their clients, he emerges at first as a clever but clueless man. Besides, his own marriage (Caitlin Fitzgerald is excellent as his wife) is clouded by despair about the lack of children. Masters wants desperately to launch a truly scientific study of sexual attitudes and acts, but the puritanical times and a terrified medical establishment are arranged against him.
Into his workplace comes Virginia Johnson (Lizzy Caplan), a twice-divorced former singer and single mom. Masters senses immediately that Johnson is a different kind of woman, someone who can guide him personally and professionally toward his goal of scientific understanding. They're a perfect pair for this journey, and yet, of course, Masters is still clueless about women. Sheen is fabulous as the cold, often awful man who is a genius about much, except the obvious. But it's Caplan who carries this series. She is meant to be the woman who represents all the women who will be freed by Masters' research – she's funny, sexy, poignant, vulnerable, strong and, eventually, as assured as the coming sexual revolution will make many women.
Also airing this weekend
Revenge returns (Sunday, ABC, City, 9 p.m.), and Emily's search for revenge is, you know, renewed. That's followed by the arrival of a new series, Betrayal (Sunday, ABC, City, 10 p.m.), a gloomy-sexy soaper about shenanigans among lawyers, or something. Critics who saw the pilot couldn't remember much the next day other than its opening sex scene. Oh, and James Cromwell doing his scary old dude routine. The Good Wife (Sunday, CBS, Global, 10 p.m.), which is much better, also returns to deliver legal shenanigans.
All times ET. Check local listings.