Homeland’s greatest strength in its last few seasons has been its commitment to reinventing itself. Yes, it should have been a limited series (and it would have been one of the greatest of all time if it had ended with Brody detonating that bomb), but it wasn’t. And after two very unfortunate and meandering seasons, many fans probably gave up. But in Season 4 the show reinvented itself, and it did so again in Season 5, and again in Season 6. By shedding the albatross of the Brody family, Homeland has been able to get back its true focus, which is examining the United States’ foreign policy regarding terrorism, specifically through the lens of the CIA.
Season 6 has become, like so many TV shows of late, eerily prescient about current events. In it, a new President-Elect, Elizabeth Keane (Elizabeth Marvel) is so wary of the country’s intelligence agencies that she’s threatening to gut them. Sound familiar? But in Homeland’s version, it’s because her son was killed overseas, and she is coming into office questioning everything about how the country handles itself in regards to its Middle Eastern policies.
In the premiere, Saul (Mandy Patinkin) visits Carrie (Claire Danes) and asks her point blank if she’s advising the Preside-Elect. She denies it, but that is, of course, far from the end of things. Saul and Dar Adal (F. Murray Abraham) continue their backroom dealings and whisper their suspicions to one another, calling Carrie a “menace,” but it’s all part of the game. It’s a game that Carrie swears she’s tired of, but of course is still deeply involved in. Is it leading to a female politlcal coup?
Having only seen the first two episodes of the new season, it’s hard to get a sense of where things are headed, particularly since Season 6 is off to a slow start. But for those who have been anxiously awaiting the fate of Peter Quinn (Rupert Friend), be careful what you wish for. The episodes focus a great deal on the former Special Ops agent, who is greatly changed. As you may recall, he nearly died several times throughout the last few episodes of Season 5, and it’s worth giving Homeland some credit that it doesn’t gloss over the fact that that had lasting effects. Quinn is hurting mentally, spiritually, and physically, and the show is using him (instead of Carrie, so far) to show us another facet of mental illness. Quinn is depressed, but he’s also incapacitated. He can’t think like he used to, and he’s not who he used to be. The fact that Homeland has allowed these consequences to play out is devastating, and yet, it lets us know once again the stakes here are real.
Carrie takes care of Quinn and dodges, as best she can, the show’s insistence on pairing them together as more than friends (at least on Quinn’s end), a completely unnecessary move. At least it wised up, however, regarding Carrie’s non-relationship with Otto During (Sebastian Koch), for whom she still works but is no longer involved with (not that we remembered or it mattered anyway). Through his foundation, Carrie works with Reda Hashem (Patrick Sabongui) to legally represent Muslims who have been mistreated by law enforcement in New York, which plays out as a twisty and thought-provoking (though not preachy) subplot. While Homeland succeeds in these moments, it’s less sure when dealing with interpersonal relationships. Carrie working with Max (Maury Sterling) to run down the paper trail of a key witness is great. Carrie asking Max to make sure Quinn takes his meds doesn’t work quite as well.
And yet, if you’re still sticking with Homeland after all of these years then you’ll know that despite the missteps, the show still provides plenty of reasons to watch. The foremost has been, and remains, Claire Danes’ performance, as well as the twisted scenarios that play out thanks to Saul and Dar’s backroom machinations. Now that the show is back on U.S. soil, it’s also leaning in to its political commentary and setting up the intriguing premise of a Presidential transition — something that, again, is eerily timely and therefore an even more fascinating subject to broach.
But while the last few seasons have kicked off with sound and fury, Season 6 is quiet and taking its time to build its case. For fans still here through six seasons, it’s a safe bet that we’ll keep giving it time, wherever it may lead.
Rating: ★★★ Good — Proceed with cautious optimism
Homeland premieres Sunday, January 15th on Showtime