Jo Jo Whilden/SHOWTIME
January 15, 2017 at 10:00 PM EST

It would be impossible to talk about Homeland without talking about its ripped-from-the-headlines MO, as our TV critic Jeff Jensen points out in his B- review of the new season. Season 6 is set in the days between the presidential election and the inauguration, with a new PEOTUS waiting in the wings to enter the Oval Office, Carrie Mathison back in the United States, and a disconnect brewing between American intelligence and the White House. Watching Homeland‘s premiere, therefore, feels like watching an alternate universe play out, no matter where you stand on U.S. politics.

But I’ll leave the eerie non-parallels of the setting behind for now. Even aside from the president-elect story line, there’s something odd about this season based on this first hour alone … something uncanny valley-ish so far that has nothing to do with our political climate. My guess? It’s because Carrie has nothing to do with Saul or the spy game at all.

You can’t blame her for benching herself. In season 5, she re-entered the CIA fray and stopped a terrorist attack in Berlin, but ended her arc watching Quinn suffer the consequences of sarin gas. By the time we meet her here, she’s wracked with guilt — and, I’m sure, a mix of love and hurt and hope from Quinn’s letter — and treks out to see Quinn every day. The former super-spy woke from his coma but now spends his time teetering around a VA rehab center, ignoring physical therapy and lashing out at Carrie, unable to be the person he had been before his traumatic brain injury.

The scenes between them are thoroughly uncomfortable, given how Carrie is practically smothering him in care and how he’s physically and mentally unable to receive it or understand it. When she tries to encourage him to keep getting better, he yells at her to leave. She finally does when his doctor says his treatment team thinks she’s only agitating him with daily visits.

Carrie, hurt by this assessment, leaves and heads to her new job working for a foundation that does Muslim outreach and counseling. There, Otto During waits. Her former employer in Berlin is eager to see her again and asks to have dinner, but Carrie rejects both him and the offer she knows is coming: He wants her to work for him again and to, as he condescendingly puts it, stop working in Brooklyn on “small potatoes.”

Insulted, Carrie tells him to leave, but he has one last small potato to tell her: He says he’s met someone, and it’s a revelation at which Carrie can only laugh. “If it’s not me, Carrie,” he says. “Let it be someone else.” We never saw these two together together on screen, but it’s pretty clear what Otto means — and it’s also not exactly subtle of the show to cut straight to Quinn after Otto gives his last piece of advice.

Yet, Quinn is in no condition to be Carrie’s significant other. Sitting on his bed in the rehab center, he shouts at a neighboring ward and stares, unseeing, at the door to his drab room. He finally lights up when a nurse picks him up and takes him outside to a woman who greets him warmly and makes sure he has the “check.” But the check for what?

Oh, for … this. The woman drives Quinn to get cash and takes him to a hostess who asks for the money before allowing him to enter a brothel, where Quinn gets plenty of action and substances and, well, a reprieve from his days of being surrounded by doctors and machinery and therapy. And yet, even though he’s happily drunk and dancing away the night like an extra in Across the Universe, trouble arrives for the wounded soldier: Quinn’s female friend brings in Tommy, a gun-toting associate who makes a false scene and takes the rest of Quinn’s cash after knocking him out.

RELATED: Breaking Down Homeland’s Strangely Relevant Season

Meanwhile, Saul and Dar Adal are getting a headache of their own in the form of President-elect Keane (House of Cards‘ Elizabeth Marvel, who memorably did not win the presidential election in that political universe), who’s meeting with officials to get the lowdown on the state of the union before her inauguration. Outside her suite, General McClendon (Robert Knepper, a new recurring cast member) greets the CIA pair and warns them of what they’re about to face. “On the plus side,” he says. “It didn’t last long.”

It really doesn’t. Keane skips ahead to what she wants immediately, asking whether they would consider simply not invading or occupying Syria to handle ISIS. “If the war isn’t winnable, what are we still doing there?” she asks. Saul and Dar look vaguely shell-shocked before Keane moves on to their classified briefing. The men present “Operation Signpost,” a covert operation against Iran that would exploit Iranian computers, but Keane interrupts to wonder how much she would even be able to influence this operation before becoming president. Saul says she has no authority over covert actions for now. “I didn’t think so,” she says. “Why don’t we just skip ahead to the good stuff, then?” The good stuff, it turns out, are the lethal programs, the drone and paramilitary operations that clearly throw Saul and Dar for a loop.

Later, the two discuss their strange meeting with the PEOTUS. Saul looks on the bright side, saying she’ll learn to work with them in time. Dar doesn’t feel the same way: He says he’s concerned about her personal ties to foreign policy. After all, her son died in Iraq, and Dar theorizes Keane may want to “hold us all accountable.”

Dar decides to act on what he wants, just in case. He meets with an Israeli operative, reporting that the PEOTUS doesn’t like the covert operation program and that they must move quickly on their operation before the inauguration. They don’t go over specifics, but by the end of the episode, Dar is meeting behind closed doors with General McClendon and a senator with whom Saul had met earlier to discuss PEOTUS’ domestic agenda over homeland security. They’re meeting without Saul — but Dar isn’t concerned. “It’s probably for the best,” he says.

NEXT: A new case for Carrie

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