As it begins its fifth season, Homeland may finally be operating as the show it was always meant to be.
Owing to its creators' recent history before the Showtime drama's launch, many described the show as a more sophisticated 24 with Claire Danes' Carrie Mathison serving as a female Jack Bauer. Although Homeland's first season was often more nuanced (and thrilling) than 24, after three seasons of playing out a tortured romance between Carrie and her terrorist target-turned-lover Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis), Season 4 began to ease into "CIA agent with a new mission each year" territory.
That seems even more clearly to be the case in Season 5, which premieres Sunday at 9/8c on Showtime, and leans on one of 24's favorite tropes: luring the hero back to the job she's turned away from. Two years have passed since the end of Season 4, when Carrie's relationship with mentor Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin) was shattered. As a result, Carrie has left the CIA and is now working private security for philanthropist Otto During (Sebastian Koch) in Berlin. Of course, it isn't long before Saul ends up crossing paths with his former protégé and the dance toward their eventual reconciliation begins.
"I think that there's no question that Homeland is a franchise," executive producer Alex Gansa tells TVGuide.com. "It's about an intelligence officer at some level who needs to protect the world, but the truth is that the longevity of this series is going to be determined by Carrie's emotional journey and how many times can we find a new story to tell for her."
Fortunately for the show, this season's story might not be as straightforward as it seems about pulling Carrie kicking and screaming back into the CIA. "We told the story last season of a woman who all of a sudden found herself the drone queen and she had to be re-humanized," Gansa says. "This season we find her fully humanized and having to deal with what she's done now that the scales have fallen from her eyes. She has to look squarely at what she's done, and over her shoulder, here it comes catching up with her."
So what will that mean for Carrie? Here are seven things you can expect from the new season.
1. Carrie's got religion. The season's opening scene finds Carrie at a Catholic mass praying and taking communion. Although Gansa says Carrie has always been a lapsed Catholic, there's much strong symbolism at play. "She now finds herself at a place where she is in need of an absolution of a kind," he says. "She needs to forgive herself or to be forgiven for the sins that she's committed in her professional work as an intelligence officer, and so she's come back to the church. At the end of Season 4 she had come to the conclusion that... the blood on her hands was real, and she had committed sins that needed to be forgiven. Religion and faith has been one of the ways that she's tried to do that, as well as doing good works in the world."
2. There's a new guy in Carrie's life. Fans hoping for a relationship between Carrie and Quinn (Rupert Friend) will have to wait. While doing her good works at the During Foundation, Carrie also met legal counsel Jonas Happich (Alexander Fehling), with whom she is living as the season begins. And even though he's a ginger (Carrie does seem to have a type), that's not the basis of his appeal. "She's attracted to him because of the work that he does... but I think she's attracted to him for a larger reason that he is not Nick Brody, he is not Peter Quinn," Gansa says. "This is a guy who is not dark and complex and twisted and hard to read. This is a stable, serious, good-minded person. This is a suitable life partner. This is nobody that she's dated before, and she finds a tremendous amount of comfort and security in that fact."
3. Carrie is being an attentive mother. Another aspect of Carrie's newly balanced home life involves the little girl she seemed to consider drowning in a bathtub a season ago. Gansa says Carrie's conversation with her mother at the end of last season allowed her to be "emotionally released from a false world view ," and that is perhaps most evident in her commitment to her daughter. "She's still learning as she goes along [but] she has recommitted herself to be a mother," Gansa says. "I think she understands that being an intelligence officer and being a mother for her were impossible to reconcile, and now that she is out of that business, she can go home at night without the weight of the world on her shoulders, without some terrible impending disaster, without some life-and-death decision to make. Now, she can go home and be fully with her daughter, and that has, again, provided a lot of meaning to her."
4. The plot feels as relevant as ever. The new season feels ripped from the headlines, incorporating elements that will make viewers think of Edward Snowden and ISIS, among other real-world geopolitical issues. Saul ends up in Berlin when an inadvertent hack leaks CIA documents about government surveillance, and Carrie's security work finds her dealing with potentially terrorist regimes, depending on the point of view of certain characters. "I don't think the show is trying to comment on what's going on now, but certainly, the characters in the show are commenting in various ways with different perspectives, some of which are not ours as writers," Gansa says. "We try to be relevant, and it's interesting to see what's unfolding on the real world stage and how we mirror or shade that reality in our fiction."
5. Saul is a company man. As Carrie has turned her back on the CIA, Saul has doubled down on his commitment to the agency. That makes it even harder for him to understand Carrie's choices and also makes Saul even more difficult to negotiate with. "Saul made a very conscious choice at the end of last season to jump back into his job with two feet and firmly plant himself there," Gansa says. "He's realized that institution, the institution of the CIA, is what he's married to. His own personal marriage has dissolved, and he's decided to embrace his destiny at that place. He's thriving in the position of authority, and when you give yourself over to something like that, there's clarity and liberation about that decision."
6. Quinn is as dangerous as ever. Like Saul, Quinn has returned to his CIA duties in earnest, having run a black ops squad in Syria and once again taking out high-priority targets. And it was Carrie's rejection of Quinn's affections last season that pushed him back to the dark side. "He desperately needed Carrie's help to extricate himself from the work that he does," Gansa says. "It exerted a tremendous gravitational tug on him, and without Carrie to reach down and to help him out of that black hole, he was destined to sink back. It's what he does, it's what he's always known, and it's what he's best at, and that's something very difficult to resist. He's seen some pretty horrible things and has probably done some pretty horrible things. Whatever humanity was peeking out towards the end of last season I think has been pretty much paved over this year." And let's just say that doesn't bode well for his first reunion with Carrie.
7. You will get more crazy Carrie, even if you don't want it. Naturally, Carrie's peaceful life can only last so long. And once the season's first big twist is revealed, Carrie must revisit much of her old cases to find answers. As such, she convinces herself and Jonas that she needs to go off her meds once again to activate the part of her bipolar brain that does her best work. The result is more of Dane's Emmy-winning aggressive fidgeting, but you can't help but feel the diminishing returns of this device.
However, Gansa insists the choice had a more important purpose this season. "The topic sentence of the season is can you escape your past," he says. "When you have worked in sort of the darker arts of the intelligence world, I think the answer is pretty clear. As fast as you run, it's always going to be right there over your shoulder. Perhaps the more interesting question is: To have a full and complete relationship with Jonas, how much of what she experienced in her other life must she reveal to him? For Carrie to be fully known, somebody would have to embrace all of her."
Homeland premieres Sunday at 9/8c on Showtime. Will you watch?
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