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By Jeff Jensen
Updated January 13, 2017 at 01:00 PM EST
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Credit: JoJo Whilden/SHOWTIME

Homeland was made for times like these. You can easily imagine Claire Danes’ brilliant yet stability-challenged CIA agent Carrie Mathison hunting election saboteurs or clashing with a headstrong commander-in-chief who refuses to read intelligence reports. Live-wire topics, for sure, but Homeland could use the zap. The perennial Emmy nominee has long since recovered from the early Nicholas Brody days that electrified the series, then crashed it. But entering season 6, Homeland faces the challenge of age. More than ever, it needs annual, rejuvenating shots of ripped-from-the-headlines zeitgeist.

It’s ironic, then, that the new season’s first two episodes demonstrate the risky business of writing to the future. “A new paradigm” is a thematic buzz phrase, with characters and their society chasing or adjusting to new realities. But their flux doesn’t quite speak to our own. It’s a case of so close yet so far away in terms of relevancy, and the misses distract and frustrate investment.

Set right this very second, amid the run-up to Inauguration Day, the story brings Homeland back to the U.S. after two seasons abroad and locates the action at ground zero of regime change, New York. The president-elect is working out of a penthouse suite and squabbling with spy agencies over the legitimacy of threats to national security and sweating a crisis in the Middle East. The concerns are familiar, but not on point: domestic Islamic terrorism, not hacking; nukes in Iran, not the war in Syria. Also, the PEOTUS isn’t close to being a riff on Donald Trump’s persona. She’s Elizabeth Keane (House of Cards‘ Elizabeth Marvel), a competent, confident former junior senator from New York. Whoops.

A key intrigue finds CIA honcho Dar Adal (F. Murray Abraham) scheming to manipulate or sabotage Keane before she can take office. Adal suspects she wants to gut his fiefdom because her soldier son died in Afghanistan. Please. The notion that a madam president would be so ruled by emotions that she can’t govern wisely is an insulting characterization, but perhaps Homeland wants us to wonder if its men might have issues with a female boss. Such sexism is, alas, always timely. It would have been more so if Hillary Clinton were in the White House.

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As for Carrie, she’s now a legal advocate for Muslim Americans, her activism motivated by regret over policies she once served. She takes the case of a young man (Quantico‘s J. Mallory McCree) who keeps a provocative blog that challenges people to empathize with Muslim terrorists. The story has promise as an exploration of free speech in a fraught culture, although I worry a blooming conspiracy plot might undermine it. It’s nice to see Carrie plugged in to righteous work, but removing her from the spy game (for now, anyway) distances her from Mandy Patinkin’s Saul, the show’s best relationship.

Carrie has some side action, including one that services Homeland‘s penchant for twists. She’s also playing caretaker to former superspy Quinn (Rupert Friend), last seen fighting for his life after getting poisoned by sarin gas. Impaired by stroke and trauma, Quinn represents an admirable bid to deal with soldier PTSD. It starts rough. Friend’s intensity sometimes feels forced, and the scenarios are cliché. Still, he and Danes close episode 2 with a lovely scene, and Quinn’s growing obsession with extreme right-wing media is ominous. Ultimately, Homeland‘s first two episodes do enough to earn your interest. But it feels a lot like Quinn: haunted by the past, disoriented in the present, and perhaps incapable of moving into the future. B-

Homeland returns for season 6 on Sunday, Jan. 15 at 9 p.m. ET.

Episode Recaps

Episode 601

Homeland

type
  • TV Show
seasons
  • 7
rating
  • TV-MA
genre
network
  • Showtime
stream service

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