Cast: Claire Danes, Rupert Friend, F. Murray Abraham, Mandy Patinkin, Elizabeth Marvel
After spending the last five years abroad in places like Pakistan, Iran, and Germany, Showtime’s Homeland finally came back to America this year for its sixth season – and with good reason. Homeland has always been a show that has dealt with issues relevant to the modern day real world, especially when it came to seasons four and five- set in Pakistan and Germany for the most part. And this season is no different. Set between the Election Day and inauguration day of a new president, the show’s tone bears a lot of context, especially considering Donald Trump’s election as President.
The show has a quick start, introducing us to the status quo of all of its characters. We see Elizabeth Keane (Elizabeth Marvel) as the President-elect of the United States and a former junior senator from New York. Amongst the key members of her staff are Rob Emmons (Hill Harper)-her chief of staff- and Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes). Carrie is also now working for a foundation that fights for Muslims mistreated by domestic law enforcement, having left the CIA in a bid to spend more time with her daughter Franny.
Dar Adal (F. Murray Abraham) and Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin) are still working with the CIA. Meanwhile, Peter Quinn (Rupert Friend) is in a mental health facility, recovering from a stroke which was given to him by Carrie when she forcibly woke him up from coma for a few seconds in Berlin towards the end of the previous season.
The show is multifaceted, as has been tradition with the series. It starts with a lot of loose, seemingly unconnected ends but manages to tie them up together in the end. We see President-elect Keane have a disdain for the way the security services like the CIA operate and want to change things- a change fuelled on by two people. The first is her son, Michael, who it is revealed died in battle, and the second is by Carrie, who is acting as her advisor. Dar Adal sees right through Keane and figures out that Carrie is behind the new radical policy changes. And in order to make sure that the president doesn’t make a mistake, he sets in motion a smear-campaign- well within the sphere of immorality to force Keane’s hand and not have her policies go through.
I could go through all the details of the plot but there’s just too many of them for me to say and plus what is the point of the show if I write it all down? So let’s get down to seeing what went right and wrong for the show.
Dar Adal has always been in the moral grey area, so to speak. He is not Saul Berenson and he has always been more than willing to cross an occasional line. This season, I like that the show finally exploited what they had been building up and projecting Dar as the bad guy. And the setting of a potential future president with a national security agenda that could blow up every single thing they had been working for was perfect. Murray Abraham sort of eases into the role without much difficulty but one can also see a lot of imperfections in his character portrayal. And his storyline had loopholes in some parts. For example, one would assume it was common sense that one of the highest ranking CIA officials would call a mercenary he hired on some sort of a secure line- especially after he was just attacked by Peter Quinn inside his own house. It’s a rookie mistake that cannot be made by someone in the CIA, especially a veteran. But I did like where Dar’s story was going even though it could have done better.
Carrie Mathison faces the eternal struggle between quiet family life and her dark past catching up to her once again. Is it because part of her misses being the “Drone Queen”? Maybe. She starts off as the advisor to the President-elect and as part of a team to get a wrongly accused Muslim man, Sekou Ba (J. Mallory-McCree) out of jail, but soon finds herself embroiled in the conspiracy that Dar Adal started- the tipping point of which involves Sekou Ba allegedly committing a suicide bombing. Once again, she is teamed up with Saul- with whom she has a frosty relationship- and Quinn – with whom she has a strained relationship following Berlin – in different scenarios. Claire Danes this year brings out a lot of Carrie’s emotional side- more than her previous seasons. The show does a good job of giving her many subplots to show her acting chops, especially the episodes involving her and Quinn in any way and those showing Carrie’s separation from her daughter. By the looks of it, an Emmy nomination looks very likely but I think that compared to previous years, she still leaves a bit to be desired.
Of all the actors on the show, Elizabeth Marvel makes one of the biggest impressions on you as President-elect Elizabeth Keane. Throughout the show, she transitions from a confident leader to one who has insecurities and doubts herself. And finally, following the assassination attempt on her life, she morphs into a full-blown monster who has both the power and the means to fulfil her revenge on anyone even remotely involved with the attempt. The show builds her character well and subtly leaving viewers with a “Wow!” moment when she does what she does in the season finale before they wonder a little bit as to why they didn’t see it coming.
To me, Rupert Friend was one of the downsides of the show. Compared to what he was the previous year, his portrayal of Peter Quinn was underwhelming. Whether the show intended it as part of showing him to be struggling following what happened to him in Berlin, I do not know. But instead of being good acting, it turned out to be an under-utilisation of one of the central characters of the show and one of the best actors on the show. One thing that did stand out for me was the way the show depicted his relationship with Carrie. They managed to always picture a strangely romantic undercurrent between the two – especially following one of the most moving confessions of love from Quinn to Carrie at the end of last season. As for Mandy Patinkin, he was his usual solid self with nothing remarkable on either side of the scale.
The story began as a realistic proposition but ballooned into an over-the-top plot. I’m sure the CIA has disagreements with policy but to have a senior CIA official go to the lengths that Dar Adal did to manipulate her into changing policy was a little too much. And what makes matters laughable is how in the end Dar says he didn’t think it would go this far. A storyline that starts with a bombing on the Brooklyn Bridge and a smear campaign against Keane’s son, in which he had a fairly big role, changes the definition of “far”. The plot in general has quite a few inconsistencies and loopholes which is uncharacteristic for a show of Homeland’s stature.
The technical aspects of the show were some of the most impressive parts of it. Camera work was exemplary in parts while the background score served to ratchet up emotions whenever it could. The simulation of the bomb blast at the old mission base of General Jamie McClendon (Robert Knepper) was, however, not great- to put it lightly. But it’s a minor flaw that can be overlooked in the general context of the show. The show does make use of a lot of good supporting actors but Nina Hoss as German intelligence agent Astrid and Jake Weber as radio talk show host Brett O’Keefe are by far a class apart.
Overall, Homeland this year is not as bulletproof as the previous five seasons. Chief reasons among them are holes in the plot as well as some deficiencies in acting. But the finale did set an interesting ending. Where does Carrie go from here, now that Quinn is gone forever? And what of her now betrayed trust in Elizabeth Keane? Where does America go from here and what will the relationship between the intelligence community and the government be from here on out? These are questions that will only be answered next year. And I’m really hoping, for the sake of the show, that they answer it in a better way than they did this year.