It is fair to say that Homeland – Showtime’s flagship political thriller, which enters its sixth season this month – has battled with inconsistency. The first season was magnificent, and the second wasn’t far behind either, but seasons three and four took a severe nosedive in quality; a fall so drastic it seemed unlikely to recover. Then came the fifth, and everything changed. Somehow, after 48 hours of viewing, showrunners Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon turned in their masterpiece. It wasn’t just an emphatic revival, it went on to become the finest-ever season of the show, and one of the best TV shows in 2015 period. To this day, one would be hard-pressed to recall a hour of viewing more enthralling and impressive since “The Litvinov Ruse” (Season 5, Episode 9).
With this firmly in mind, the unveiling of Season 6 is cause for anticipation and excitement. After the dramatic and profound climax of the previous outing in Berlin, the action has now been transported to New York City; native home of lead actress Claire Danes. Armed with a new setting, a new perspective, and a narrative arc so desperately relevant in out current climate, is Homeland set to continue the exquisite momentum of its predecessor? Well, from premiere episode “Fair Game”, signs certainly look promising.
Staged between the presidential election day and inauguration day – yeah, it’s that relevant – we find Carrie Mathison (Danes) residing in Brooklyn with her young daughter Frannie. She is heading a non-profit foundation that defends Muslims against discrimination, somewhat similar to that of Otto Düring’s (Sebastian Koch) business in Germany where she was stationed last season. Peter Quinn (Rupert Friend) has been transported to a New York hospital as he undergoes extensive rehabilitation following his brutal ordeal at the climax of Season 5 (more on this later…), whilst Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin) and Dar Adal (F. Murray Abraham) are due to meet with the new president-elect – Elizabeth Keane (Elizabeth Marvel) – which suggests that perhaps the writers foresaw a Hilary Clinton-led White House as opposed to Donald Trump.
Meanwhile a young American Muslim, Sekou Bah (J. Mallory McCree), is maintaining a website growing in cultural influence and attraction. Posting a series of videos online, he visits locations of past domestic terrorism across the Big Apple and chronicles what happened. His actions are believed to be endangering the American public and he is therefore arrested by the FBI, charged with materially supporting terrorism. Carrie is requested to represent Bah based upon the information at hand, but extensive searches at the hands of FBI Special Agent Ray Conlin (Dominic Fumusa) unveil some suspicious evidence indeed.
Like the very best of Homeland, this season opener establishes thematic battle lines without having to force-feed. Through expertly realised dialogue sequences, intimate character moments, and poised sociopolitical themes, it is clear thats several elements are going to feature across the forthcoming episodes: the complex relationship between government and security, and indeed the President’s power and/or lack of when it comes to implementing CIA task forces and divisions, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action shared between the United Nations, the European Union, and Iran, and the representations of religious cultures in the media. In the final stages of this first episode, Conlin makes it clear to our protagonist that the CIA “will not take any chances. Not with New York,” in direct reference to the Taliban and the Sunni Islamic fundamentalist attacks. At this stage, we have little to no clue if Bah is subconsciously attempting to promote the Islamic State and terrorism in his home nation, or merely voicing his own political opinions via a creative outlet. The manner in which his words and footage resonates with the viewer is subjective, which in turn breeds doubts and stereotypes. An American Muslim speaking out against the US government of his own accord? There is only way way such behaviour seems to an organisation entrusted to protect the people of the Free World.
Perhaps the biggest narrative surprise in this episode is that of Quinn. When we last saw him in Season 5, he was firmly upon his death bad, having been tortured and severely poisoned with sarin gas, as well as subsequently suffering a cerebral haemorrhage due to Carrie and Saul insisting he be prematurely awoken from a medically-induced coma. Coughing up blood, sweating with feverish intensity, and lips sodden with foam, it seemed almost certain that Quinn was destined for either death, or a state of vegetation, which for a character of his nature, would likely prompt suicide. However when we meet him in “Fair Game”, he is most certainly alive, and no vegetable. Some people might consider this a cop-out, but you have to assess the physical and emotional state Quinn now resides, and indeed his importance to the development of the season. It is clear that he has suffered brain damage, and is lightheaded thanks to a cocktail of medication. His speech is slurred, movements are slow, and his aggression bursts in random spasms of intensity. He rejects Carrie’s assistance and support on multiple occasions throughout, clearly not wishing for her to see him in such a state, given the fact he did profusely express his undying love for her just some months prior. He also becomes embezzled with an unruly crowd of prostitutes and crooks who are looking to make a fast buck by taking advantage of his current predicament.
Had Quinn have been killed off, not only would we vastly miss his presence in the show, we’d miss out on what could be Season 6’s master brushstroke: the role reversal. Here we find Carrie back to her best – proactive, strong-minded, and relentless – a far-cry away from her spiralling states of depression and anxiety, whilst Quinn’s disarming impairments have led him down a route of much paranoia, doubt, and distress. The leading duo have swapped shoes, and as they tread in opposites, we are bound to see new textures and tones to their characterisation emerge as we press onwards. That is a far more rewarding payoff than a sombre departure.
Excellent performances, cinematography, and framing assisted this gripping hour of television, and as America readies to usher in an era of uncertainty, it is clear Homeland plans to ride the real-time rhythms as they happen. Carrie’s back everyone, and she returns in thought-provoking and captivating style.
Homeland Season 6 premieres on Channel 4 HD on Sunday, 22nd January in the UK.