A few months ago, Showtime announced that its Emmy-winning drama Homeland would end its run with season 8. The decision was as interesting for its faith in the long-running series as it was for the show’s Peter Quinn-like resilience, having survived the decision to turn what would have been one of the most thrilling one-and-done miniseries in the history of television into a potentially ill-fitting love story that, two too many Sgt. Brody-centric seasons later, rebooted into the sort of spy thriller its various attributes had always suggested it could become. Even then, though, the show never quite seemed ready to let go of the ghost of Damian Lewis, even when he found new life as a hedge fund manager on what is, presumably, the network’s new flagship program, Billions.
Of the last two installments, it was perhaps the season 5 reboot that came closest to delivering the sort of spy drama the show flirted with becoming post season 1. The story had all the trappings of a good le Carré novel, complete with its European setting and characters so enmeshed in the deep web of the intelligence community their machinations had come to resemble self-interest more than the prevention of yet another terrorist attack. The season featured a great supporting performance from Miranda Otto, as an agent compromised by Russia long ago and beholden to that country’s own intelligence agenda, likely making many at Showtime wish it could have aired in 2017.
While season 5 demonstrated what Homeland could do now that it had, more or less, escaped the shadow of its award-worthy seasons, bad habits still persisted. For one, the show was so convinced that Carrie’s mental illness was, in fact, some sort of otherworldly ability, it actually titled an episode in which she deliberately went off her medication to gain perspective on a confounding situation ‘Super Powers’. At the same time, the series continued to push the Carrie-Quinn romance plot, before bathing the assassin in a heavenly white light that suggested Rupert Friend’s time on the series was done.
As it turns out, Quinn lives, and Carrie – along with Saul and Dar Adal – have all relocated to New York City, as Homeland transitions toward another soft reboot that also includes Elizabeth Marvel as President-elect Elizabeth Keane and a significant shift in focus for the series’ protagonist. Upon her return to the U.S. and attempts to distance herself from Saul and the intelligence community, Carrie has taken up a role as advocate for Muslim Americans through the auspices of potential paramour Otto Düring (Sebastian Koch). It is a fascinating role for the series to place her in, and one that, as the season progresses will hopefully feel more earned.
There are suggestions throughout the first hour that, in 2017, Carrie and Homeland have developed a different perspective on U.S. foreign policy, and in the wake of things like Edward Snowden, have also seen their evaluation of the intelligence community shift as a means of, if nothing else, providing a source of conflict for the series to explore. The first hour, ‘Fair Game’, does what it can to find the edges of that conflict and establish the boundaries in which the new season will unfold. In doing so, Homeland takes a risk by allowing Carrie, Saul, and Dar Adal to stay more or less in the margins while the hour works to underline the cost of Quinn’s survival, and the early tension that exists between the CIA and the president-elect. It also introduces J. Mallory McCree as Sekou Bah, arrested by agent Ray Conlin (Nurse Jackie‘s Dominic Fumusa) for comments he made online allegedly intended to incite radicalized extremists into committing acts of terror on U.S. soil. The effect of which suggests a greater ambiguity this season, in terms of the roles various characters will play and how the New York-based storyline will play a role in those characters’ perception of the various duties they’ve been tasked with upholding.
The series is so well-known by now and the inner workings of its plot mechanics is understood by those watching that Homeland can afford to kick-off a new season with little more than an introduction of several new plot threads and, perhaps, a burgeoning new ideology for its main character. It’s a low-key affair that spends a good chunk of its time exploring Quinn’s pitiable state – the effects of the sarin gas and other numerous near-death experiences have ravaged his body and mind – as he skips physical therapy to get mugged in a crack den before moving into Carrie’s basement apartment. Meanwhile, Dar Adal organizes a secret cabal behind closed doors in an effort to outmaneuver the incoming president he fears has already established an antagonistic relationship with those in the intelligence community.
As with most Homeland premieres, we are only seeing vague hints of the larger goings-on that will dictate where the season goes. But unlike previous seasons, there is a sense that the characters have begun to reap what they have sown, and that the cost of eternal vigilance and fears over another domestic terror attack have created a bubble of sorts, one Carrie is only now seeing the outside of. The same holds true for Quinn, who is perhaps the most obvious example of the series’ shifting emphasis toward an exploration of what five seasons worth anti-terrorist narratives have wrought. Time will tell whether or not Homeland is turning a corner with regard to its own storytelling devices, or if this is just a feint before taking the series down a familiar path in yet another brand new setting.
Homeland continues next Sunday with ‘The Man in the Basement’ at 9pm on Showtime.
Photos: Jo Jo Whilden and Mark Schafer/Showtime