I don’t have a lot in common with Carrie Mathison, the beleaguered heroine of Showtime’s Homeland, which is at long last returning for an eighth and final season. For one thing, I didn’t sleep with/fall in love with/have a child with a war hero/sleeper agent. I’m not in the CIA. I didn’t spend 213 days in a Russian prison.
But we do have one very important thing in common: every time we think we are out, Homeland pulls us back in. The season begins less than a year after the seventh season finale, with Carrie (Claire Danes, forever queen of the glorious ugly cry) in a medical treatment facility in Germany trying to account for the 180 days in captivity she can’t recall.
Her mind, addled by the lack of her bipolar medication, sees things in a fuzzy blur, a series of fraught images and incomprehensible clues. She’s failed the polygraph test and, in an homage to how the series began, those interrogating her think Russia may have turned her during her time in captivity. She’s adamant there’s no way that could have happened but begins to doubt herself. Could she now be the double agent Brody (Damian Lewis) once was? The show comes full circle with a sledgehammer.
Carrie’s mental state is fragile at best. So, of course her mentor Saul (Mandy Patinkin), now the National Security Advisor to President Warner (Beau Bridges) pulls her into a mission in Afghanistan where Saul is trying to end the war and forge peace with both the Taliban and Afghanistan. No one else can do what Carrie can do. Her mental well-being be dammed.
Carrie and Saul’s dysfunctional relationship continues to sink to new lows as he throws her into the lion’s den, knowing she may not quite be ready for the pressures of CIA spy work. For Saul and for Carrie, the ends have always justified the means. They have left many dead bodies and ruined relationships in their wake in the name of national security.
Let’s pause now to reflect on how long the show has been off the air. The seventh season finale aired April 29, 2018, almost two years ago. It’s hard for me to remember in detail when I did two years ago, let alone what happened on an aging TV series. Unless you’ve recently re-watched the series, the return of some of the characters such as Tanseem (Nimrat Kaur) and Haissam Haqqani (Numan Acar), last seen on the series in 2014 during Season 4, don’t pack the same emotional punch.
The other pervasive problem is that the series has devolved somewhat into a caricature of itself. Like executive producers Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon other series 24, it gets more preposterous with each passing season that only Carrie and Saul can do the job that needs to be done. Even though the series was filmed on location Morocco, the setting doesn’t feel that authentic, and the Afghan characters are increasingly stereotypical.
Let’s talk about the positive. Fan favorite Max Piotrowski (Maury Sterling) is back and in a much more prominent role. Max is now in the field in Afghanistan setting up remote listening devices that can pick up enemy communication. When the battalion he’s with makes it across a dangerous open area without harm, they all decide Max is their lucky charm. As long as he’s around, they won’t get hurt. That means they’re rubbing Max’s stomach or touching his head each time before they head out. Max doesn’t like it and feels it’s ridiculous. The young soldiers, full of swagger and fear, seem to be teetering on the precipice of implosion, or worse, explosion.
Costa Ronin returns as Russian agent Yevgeny Gromov. Much as he did on The Americans, Ronin excels at playing a duplicitous character who can’t be trusted unless, of course, he can be trusted. What happened between Yevgeny and Carrie in Russia is one of the season’s central mysteries.
But overall the first four episodes made available for review plod along. I can’t think of a show that has changed more since its original inception than Homeland. Those taut early seasons where Brody’s allegiance was in question. (Remember how hating Brody’s children, and in particular his daughter Dana, was a whole thing?) In many ways, it remains true that the series should have ended when Brody died at the end of the Season 3 (Editor: Or the end of Season 1!). Sure there have been some good seasons since then, but there have also been plenty of mediocre and bad ones.
But then, just as I’m about to write off this final season, something happens at the end of the fourth episode that pulls me right back in. Just like Carrie, I can’t seem to let go.
Homeland premieres February 9 on Showtime.
Amy Amatangelo, the TV Gal®, is a Boston-based freelance writer, a member of the Television Critics Association and the Assistant TV Editor for Paste. She wasn’t allowed to watch much TV as a child and now her parents have to live with this as her career. You can follow her on Twitter (@AmyTVGal).
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