It sure has been fascinating watching “Homeland” reinvent itself on the fly for going on its now third straight season. The show exhausted every ounce of Sgt. Nicholas Brody’s (Damien Lewis) usefulness to the story in its second and third seasons, at the expense of its main character’s credibility as an intelligence officer through some really forced and convoluted story turns. While it maybe hasn’t quite reached the high marks achieved in its standout first season, the directions taken in seasons four and five have done enough to return the show back from the brink of parity. I loved a lot of the Middle East-set, War on Terror-inspired fourth season, and season five, while far from perfect in more ways than one, explored and executed a lot of interesting ideas around the roles controversial surveillance practices and vigilantly journalism play in combating terrorism and government overreach.
Now back for its sixth season, “Homeland” finds itself on similarly stable footing. We return to the life of our favorite bossy, mostly unstable ex-CIA analyst Carrie Mathison (Claire Daines), now conveniently relocated to New York City along with the rest of the show’s principal cast, again out of the intelligence game and working now with an organization dedicated to protecting the civil liberties of Muslims. There’s also a new President (Elizabeth Marvel) – or President-elect, as she would correct me – and she’s scaring the hell out of the two CIA higher-ups tasked with briefing her on foreign affairs, Saul Berenson and Dar Adal (Mandy Patinken and F. Murray Abraham). She’s very clearly a Donald Trump-Hillary Clinton hybrid, confident and assured but also ignorant and lacking in consistent ideology. As we the audience experience a similarly daunting new world order in our own version of America, it will be interesting to see how “Homeland” approaches this situation going forward; for now it feels a bit on-the-nose, but that can quickly change as we get to know that character a bit better.
Other new characters include a young Muslim man who may or may not have been radicalized, along with his teenage sister and mother. As “Homeland” has been want to do throughout much of its mid-life reinvention, this new season appears rife with social and geopolitical issues relevant to our real world. Sometimes these issues are implemented organically into the narrative, other times the seams of the writers’ intent are glaringly obvious. I’d say throughout the one episode I’ve seen both sides of this story model remain apparent. There are few social issues in America and throughout the world as polarizing as the “non-Muslim’s opinion of the religion of Islam”, so it’s an interesting and important idea to tackle, and not one seen or done well on TV all that often. How in-depth and nuanced “Homeland” appears willing to take this issue is one of the things I remain most curious about going forward.
The areas of “Homeland” that keep its audience coming back are still there, as are the areas that tend to drive it justifiably crazy. If you think Carrie is an insufferable human being, you will probably still feel that way after this episode. If you love Saul and Dar, there’s plenty of the two of them to go around. It’s not always easy to judge a season of “Homeland” until we arrive at the real meat of it around the mid-way point, as the first few episodes mostly exist to set up the main plot and introduce the new players. Similarly to last season’s opener, this one takes its sweet time in doing that; it’s not the most exciting hour of TV you’ll see. As “Homeland” has conditioned me to view it, it’s always best to take things one episode at a time, and with one of 12 season six episodes in the books, so far so (mostly) good, I’d say.