Homeland has always had an uncanny ability for prescience. In season four (released in 2014) it discusses the ethical violations of using drones. In season five an attack occurs in Europe and Russia interferes in American domestic affairs.
Homeland’s sixth season explores a political reality that reflects our own again, with its president-elect and the tense relationship she has with the intelligence community. Homeland has had to be near-prophetic since the creative team re-worked the premise to extend the show’s lifespan past that of Nicholas Brody.
Not everything in the future can be predicted, however. As evident by referring to the president-elect as a “she,” Homeland’s sixth season has a female president, but do not assume she is a Hillary Clinton clone.
Elizabeth Keane (Elizabeth Marvel) is an amalgamation of different presidential candidates in the 2016 election cycle. She has Trump’s disdain for the intelligence community and intelligence briefings. She possesses Hillary Clinton’s intelligence as well as Bernie Sanders’s progressive agenda. Still, Homeland has reached the stage where it constantly needs to write about current events to feel revitalized.
Taking place within the days between Election Day and Inauguration Day, Carrie (Claire Danes) now works at a legal firm in New York that defends the rights of Muslim-Americans. She takes on the case of Sekou, a young Muslim blogger who was arrested for promoting acts of terrorism against the U.S. She is also acting as a caretaker for Quinn (Rupert Friend), who is recovering from the effects of last season’s sarin attack. Saul (Mandy Patinkin) and Dar Adal (F. Murray Abraham) are still in the CIA, and are in charge of briefing the president-elect.
Even if you had only seen the pilot, you would believe that Homeland has begun to adhere to a specific formula. Time gaps run between each season—Carrie seeking repentance, Dar Adal keeping up to no good, etc.—but the second episode does wonders with recalibrating the series for this season. The episode delves deep into the relationship between Carrie and Quinn (their scene together in the end is beautifully poignant) and briefly explores Carrie and Saul’s relationship, as well as that of Saul and Dar Adal.
Surprisingly, it is the character moments in this season that have really shone, which is why it is so disappointing that these moments are so few and far between in a boring faux-Night Of storyline (a departure for a show that is typically about spy espionage).
The deliberate pace seen in the first two episodes only serves to further highlight the problems in season six. The Sekou storyline is not only uninteresting but makes the show hammer down points to its audience that could have been much subtler. The new characters are also so thinly written that it’s difficult to even care about what happens to Sekou.
A weak season of Homeland is still better than a lot of television, so there is still much to praise about the series. As a result of post-2016 election events, the series has refused to dramatize a fictional terrorist attack this season.
The writers are also adept at showing the audience the cumulative toll of the War on Terror on those who have waged it, from field soldiers to intelligence analysts. Director of photography David Klein makes New York a beautiful backdrop. Keith Gordon directs the first episodes, and employs some interesting visual techniques that help us understand how Quinn’s character is handling rehabilitation.
The performances in the series are also still amazing. Danes is one the best actresses on television, and she understands Carrie as a character, hitting a perfect balance of new yet still familiar. The actions she takes fit the mold of the character, but new shadings of Carrie continue to be revealed.
However, it is Friend whose raw performance draws the greatest sympathy as a character. She has not only sacrificed much for Carrie, but is also living out his worst nightmare. Still, even if the writing is not all there, you have to appreciate the series for maturing gracefully and attempting an exercise in subtlety, even if by the end we realize that Homeland is anything but subtle.