As a TV series, Homeland has always had a strange history. The plot hook of the first season revolved around a marine returning from supposed KIA status to the United States. This sparked the suspicions of CIA prodigy Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes), who believed him to be a sleeper agent. This arc carried on for three seasons and before concluding, when the showrunners decided to risk a soft reboot.
Yet this strategy paid off. The following seasons were strong, and almost anthological. They shifted too, running a good balancing act between questions of foreign policy and civil rights. The fourth revolved around Pakistan. The fifth in Germany, where Carrie’s lingering connections with the CIA ended. With the premiere of the sixth season last Sunday, Homeland has returned home. Or to Brooklyn, to be more specific.
The election has concluded, and President-Elect Elizabeth Keane (Elizabeth Marvel) doesn’t sound particularly thrilled with the CIA’s current course of action in countering ISIS. This greatly concerns Dar Adal (F. Murray Abraham), the ever paranoid and ever vigilant Black Operations Director. These fears are not entirely shared by his partner Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin), the current Director of the CIA. A cooler head, Saul adopts a wait-and-see attitude regarding Keane, an act that Dar seems incapable of mirroring.
The troubling hook this season comes from a young man named Sekou Bah (J. Mallory McCree). An African-American Muslim who has taken an interest in documenting violent hate crimes against his religion, his voice is angry and suggestive of an equal and opposite reply. But before he departs to visit his father in Nigeria, which is currently held by Boko Haram, Sekou finds himself arrested by FBI Special Agent Ray Conlin (Dominic Fumusa). More brow raising is that Sekou somehow has $5,000 in his possession.
However, Carrie has picked up the civil rights torch dropped by firebrand Laura Sutton, though with far less controversial flair. Now working for a non-profit focused on protecting the rights of American-Muslims, Carrie comes to Sekou’s defense. A lingering flame from last season reappears as her former boss Otto Düring (Sebastian Koch), shows up to encourage her to accept his offer from before: to be married and carry on the philanthropic work they began. But Carrie proves that she is, once and for all, uninterested.
The rest of Carrie’s time is spent trying to save the soul of Peter Quinn (Rupert Friend), now a resident of a VA hospital. A victim of a sarin gas attack, he was left partially paralyzed and suffering from PTSD and other neurological complications. With the aid of a bribed attendant, Quinn has slipped into exchanging his government checks for drugs and the affections of prostitutes. After a violent outburst at the hospital, Carrie has had enough and makes a drastic decision to house Quinn in her own home.
The episode ends with Dar having a closed-door meeting with several officials, commenting that Saul’s nonattendance “is probably for the best.”
From its inception, Homeland’s approach has been that it’s less about what people have done but distrusting them for what they’re about to do. Even the main characters often prove unreliable. Carrie for example is brilliant as a field agent and analyst, but her brilliance seems to come at the cost of being bipolar, her instincts suspect. What’s more, sometimes the protagonists don’t win, even though it doesn’t necessarily mean death and destruction. This was the case with the fourth season, and proved the show can turn tropes on its head when it needs to.
With these traits in mind, McCree stokes the good kind of ambivalence with his portrayal of Sekou. Was his intention truly to see his father, or did he plan to join the ranks of Boko Haram? Are his videos an attempt to promote awareness of civil rights, or the guise for a manifesto of his anger and faith? Further details and evidence have yet to be examined, leaving Sekou something of a question mark.
Otto Düring’s appearance this episode is either a larger mystery or nothing more than parting wave to the prior finale. While an interesting character during the fifth season, there is some hope that this is the last we see of him. The showrunners have struggled to accept letting go of characters before, and there is likely little value in a persistent Düring.
Which begs the question of whether or not Peter Quinn will or should survive this season.
There’s no denying that Peter has been an exceptional character and person. A troubled individual firmly capable of violence, there is a goodness to him that makes for a perpetually interesting character. But his current condition isn’t just the manifestation of last season’s events, but rather a series of decisions and flaws that are finally exactly a cost. A constant theme of Homeland has always been harsh truths, and maybe this time Peter Quinn just doesn’t want to recover. Or maybe he shouldn’t.
Finally, this maybe the season Dar becomes the central villain. He has never been a protagonist; at best an ally, at worst a counter current with his own agenda. But as this season takes place domestically, we may finally see him blossom into a full antagonist of his own. And that’s something many long-time fans have been waiting for.