It has been nearly a decade since Homeland debuted to critical acclaim on Showtime, now Carrie Mathison’s (Claire Danes) service to the United States is coming to an end with the eighth and final season. Originally adapted from Israeli series Prisoners of War, the political and global landscape has shifted both on-screen and in the real world. The rise of disinformation as a weapon featured heavily in the penultimate season and Russia has become a featured presence. Nevertheless, in Season 8, the Emmy Award-winning series is relying on some of the old hits: a seemingly endless war without resolution and Carrie putting her work before her mental health. New York City and Washington D.C. provided the backdrop for much of the previous two seasons, but domestic political machinations are put on the backburner in the Season 8 premiere, “Deception Indicated.”
Carrie is foggy about what she experienced while she was held captive in a Russian gulag for seven months, viewers will likely feel similar due to the big gap between seasons (the last episode aired in May 2018). Thankfully, a rather comprehensive “Previously On” fills in the blanks and flashbacks to Carrie’s capture underscore why she is still in recovery. Aggressive interrogation techniques pepper the action and her treatment is discussed at length. There is a sense of finality to this premiere as a result of this being the concluding run of episodes, which gives a much-needed jolt to the narrative. For those viewers who stuck it out when the buzz wore off and the plot took some outlandish turns — Quinn coming back from the dead only to be killed off the following season, anyone? — the urgency from earlier seasons is back. And in true final season tradition, Carrie’s journey has come full circle. However, now she is the one who can’t be trusted.
The success of Homeland’s first season was, in part, down to the inability to read Brody’s (Damien Lewis) intentions or where his loyalty lay. Carrie was the audience entry point into this potential deception, but she was also an unreliable narrator. Highly skilled as a CIA officer, but dogged by past mistakes made by the agency before and after 9/11, Carrie’s bipolar disorder was a stand-in at times for the fractured psyche of the country. Now it has been wielded as a weapon, her medication was withheld so she would crack under the pressure. She was detained in Russia for 213 days, including what she believes to be 30 days of interrogation. And because of this experience, she is now the one being watched with a suspicious eye. Did she give up vital secrets during her time in Russian captivity?
Loyalty to the country is something Carrie proved when she sacrificed her parental rights in order to protect the newly ascendant President Warner (Beau Bridges). However, her ongoing medical treatment at a German facility reveals inconsistencies in her testimony and big holes in her memory. She cannot be reinstated or have security clearance with 180 unaccounted for days and her polygraph results show “deception indicated.” Even if she didn’t knowingly give something or someone up, it still raises huge questions about her ability to perform out in the field. Carrie has always been a loose cannon, but this is the most dangerous she has been in all eight seasons. An unexpected encounter with Russian GRU Senior Operations Officer Yevgeny (Costa Ronin) at the end of the episode jogs her memory, in which she sees her captor offering comfort during her psychosis. So maybe she did give up her source? At this very early juncture, it is unlikely that Homeland would lay out its cards, and there is much more to this story than Carrie’s loose lips.
The death of innocent lives haunts Homeland. Brody was motivated to work against the United States by the drone attack that killed 82 children while he was being held captive and Carrie has been involved in her fair share of humans-as-collateral incidents. She comes face-to-face with the family of one of her informants, an informant who was dragged from his home before he was killed by the Taliban, as a result of helping the CIA. Carrie insists the leak couldn’t have come from her as she has never burned a source, but the cloudy flashbacks coupled with the Yevgeny reveal suggest otherwise. It is unclear how far Homeland will dive into its portrayal of US accountability, but as Carrie grapples with her role in this death, is the series reckoning with its own messy legacy? A legacy that has seen the Homeland team come under fire for the depiction of Pakistan and the lack of nuance in its portrayal of Muslim culture — “Homeland is racist” was graffitied on the set by artists hired in Season 5.
Finding a resolution to the “forever war” in Afghanistan is the focus, which Saul (Mandy Patinkin) is attempting to broker in his new role as the National Security Advisor to President Warner. “The president is an optimist, me I’m a spy,” he remarks after initial peace negotiations fall apart. His skepticism has seen him through a lot of battles, which is why he turns to his closest ally in this time of instability (despite her instability). Even with his new power heavy credentials, the whiff of implausibility at Saul being able to utilize Carrie out in the field is strong, but as it is the final season let’s just roll with this development. “Hell yes!” is his protégé’s response when he offers her the assignment, which is the first time Carrie comes alive in this premiere.
The love affair with Brody was short, her relationship with Quinn (Rupert Friend) a non-starter as a result of their all-too-similar fractured psyches — I am still mad about how they didn’t resolve the incredible chemistry between the pair and instead chose to kill Quinn. The heart of Homeland is Carrie’s complex bond with Saul, which has been put through the wringer over the eight seasons. Not all over stories are romantic and while Quinn was mishandled, it is poetic that Saul outlasted every other Carrie confidant. Trust is a commodity that doesn’t come easy in the world of espionage, despite previous betrayals, there is no one Saul believes in more than Carrie Mathison. The fact it could be detrimental to her precarious recovery is a risk they are willing to take, but could it backfire on them both?
Danger lurks at every corner and veteran Homeland director Lesli Linka Glatter ensures tension levels are at their highest, whether in the narrow Kabul alleyways or out in the desert on a dangerous covert operation. There are several moments in which I found myself yelling at the screen, one was at Carrie quickly finding herself in a perilous situation — I was also concerned she was going to get yet another innocent person killed — and the second involved surveillance expert Max (Maury Sterling). Having made it all the way from the pilot to the Season 8 premiere, it seemed viable that he would bite the dust or at least one of the people in the platoon protecting him would die. The real surprise, Max not only survived (despite stumbling in a valley of death), but he also reconnected the vital communication listening device, and the only casualty was a water pack. This being Homeland, a sense of doom lingers, but for now, he remains safe. Other familiar faces are back, including Nimrat Kaur as a member of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence, Tasneem Qureshi who loves to go toe-to-toe with Saul and Numan Acar returning as Taliban leader Haissam Haqqani.
Even during the years in which the storylines stagnated and this character was at her most reckless, Danes still managed to light up the screen as the troubled CIA officer. Playing a character for this long can lead to periods of phoning it in, but this was never a problem on Homeland. Every chin quiver, scream, and period of lucidity feels earned. What makes her performance so potent isn’t the big displays of emotions, but the smaller moments: a giddy smile when she first makes contact in Kabul, teary-eyed guilt coupled with confusion about her burned source, and then the controlled panic at almost getting caught. The jolt of adrenaline is not enough to counteract the months of damage her brutal ordeal to did to her body and mind. Setting the stage before the final curtain, Homeland and Claire Danes have reminded audiences why we were so enraptured when it first debuted nearly 10 years ago.