Oh Homeland, how you torment us so. Last year, Showtime’s excellent thriller series soared back to form in Season 4, but faltered in its final episodes (a recurring theme for the show, which many agree would have been in the canon of all-time great television achievements had it literally pulled the trigger in its Season 1 finale). Season 5 course-corrected some of those mistakes, for what might be its best season yet. But, it wasn’t perfect. The show started off this year with a grand entrance (review), first focusing on a hacked documents scandal, before pivoting into what the show does best: an examination of terrorism. The new locale, Germany, offered a narrative reboot, and also a nice set of episodic bookends for Carrie (Claire Danes), as she (once again) attempts to reconcile her desire for a “normal” life with her drive and talent regarding her CIA work.
Homeland’s core always returns to themes of loyalty. Season 5 explored that in a number of ways, particularly regarding Qasim (Alireza Bayram), Allison (Miranda Otto), and Carrie, the latter of whom found something of conflict between her work with Otto During’s (Sebastian Koch) foundation and the CIA, once the documents leaked and posed a potential threat to security. Even Laura (Sarah Sokolovic), one of the show’s more irritating characters, was compellingly tested regarding her beliefs, making hard compromises. She told the public what the German government wanted her to regarding the death of a (potentially) innocent man, in exchange for Numan’s (Atheer Adel) freedom.
At every turn, Homeland examines these ideas of the personal versus the public, the greater good versus the individual. It’s an argument Carrie uses with Qasim when it comes to stopping his cousin, and it’s a decision Carrie and Saul (Mandy Patinkin) have to make to wake Quinn (Rupert Friend) out of a coma in order to try and get information out of him. Sometimes, like in Qasim’s case, it works. Other times, like with Quinn, it doesn’t.
“A False Glimmer” was jam-packed, including a heroic rescue instigated by Carrie, and a final act of redemption for Qasim. Saul (Mandy Patinkin) even did something useful, and got Ivan (Mark Ivanir) to disclose Allison’s location. Saul also displayed uncharacteristic bloodlust in Allison’s execution, which was something of a letdown (not Saul’s attitude, but how she was ultimately captured — there still seemed like there was more to say, and I even half expected her to have escaped by the time they popped the trunk).
But the finale also did something odd, somewhat like it did in Season 4, when Quinn proclaimed his love to Carrie and polarized fans (I land on the side of “they make excellent friends — don’t ruin it”). Homeland often makes the mistake of thinking that it needs more romantic drama, when the opposite is true. Carrie’s relationship with Jonas (Alexander Fehling) was, more than anything, to show the impossibility of her living a normal life, despite her attempts and desires (she even referenced the cabin she and her sister own — a place, viewers will recall, where she spent a lot of time holed-up with Damian Lewis’ Brody). In fact, Jonas is the only person who turns Carrie away in the finale, telling her that her life (off her meds, with the CIA, or anything like it) is not compatible with his own.
It was a truly sad moment for her character, knowing how much that life meant to her for as long as she could live it, but Jonas is also speaking a difficult truth. It’s a truth mirrored in Quinn’s letter to Carrie, one made all the more tragic after Dar Adal (F. Murray Abraham) tells Carrie about Quinn’s recruitment. Some people just aren’t meant to live a so-called normal life. It is, as Quinn put it, that “false glimmer.”
Let’s talk about Quinn. How much could one man suffer? He limped and bled and vomited throughout most of the season, only to fall prey to a final indignity of having no agency in whether he lives or dies. Homeland can go in three potential directions with its unnecessary cliffhanger ending: Quinn miraculous wakes up (which I honestly thought was going to happen just before it cut to black), Carrie kills him (a terrible, terrible idea), or he just dies. The latter two options don’t seem like fitting ends for Quinn, which as Dar comments, is “his nightmare” (to be in the hospital with “minimal cognitive function”). Did Qasim really save his life with the antidote shot, or did he doom him to a personal hell?
Quinn professed his love to Carrie again in his final letter, but he wasn’t alone. Otto basically let her know, calmly, that they should be life partners. Something weird was going on with Otto all season, and while the love plot did have groundwork laid for it with him telling Jonas Carrie was crazy to hasten their breakup, it still felt like the wrong kind of twist. Otto more or less admits to being a obsessed with Carrie, to the point where he remembers the exact times of their conversations. She seems charmed by it. And here, Carrie must make another choice — to see what’s up with Otto and his weirdness (nothing good, I don’t think), or return to Saul and the CIA, where he’s set her up in a position to pick her own mission and her own team?
There is no Homeland without Carrie being in the CIA, and Season 5 has already explored her trying to run from what is clearly her destiny. (Carrie running a mission without Quinn also seems similarly unimaginable at this point, although we’ll see). Every time Carrie tries to escape from the CIA, or is kicked out, or is made to be a black sheep either by her own course or someone else’s, she can never really leave it behind. Or perhaps, it won’t let her.
Though Homeland Season 5 dealt with a lot of broad themes about terrorism and putting together the daily puzzles of who might be attacking where (and for whom — the introduction of the Russians was a nice touch), it also had a lot of fantastic smaller moments: Astrid (Nina Hoss), as the dogged government professional, ever-loyal to her country’s cause; Carrie’s exploration of faith; the vulnerability of cyber hacks (even by accident); Allison being turned, and her exceptional ability to talk her way out of anything — except when she’s not given the chance to); empathy, friendship, and an irreconcilable work/life balance, not just for Carrie but for Saul, Quinn, and others.
Yes the “everybody loves Carrie! (except Jonas …) and maybe she’s going to kill Quinn” ending was an odd way to wrap things up, but it doesn’t diminish what came before it, which has been a consistently engaging and entertaining season. Homeland is starting to find its own best kind of balance, between Carrie’s work life and her personal demons and desires. Claire Danes remains dynamic in the role, and when Carrie removes her shoes and gets under the sheets in “A False Glimmer,” her rest feels exceptionally well-earned. She went from being on the outs and literally hunted to being celebrated. Whatever Carrie chooses, we’ll be there to watch. Despite some mistakes, no one does a comeback better.