We may be less than a week away from Donald Trump's inauguration as the 45th president of the United States, but in an alternate universe, the first female president is preparing to take office.
That would be Elizabeth Keane, the president-elect on Season 6 of Showtime's Homeland, played by new cast member Elizabeth Marvel. The sixth season takes place in the 72-day period between Election Day and Inauguration Day, and officially premieres on Sunday at 9/8c. (The first episode is already available to Showtime subscribers online and via OnDemand.)
Though Homeland producers were undoubtedly anticipating a Hillary Clinton presidential victory when they conceived of the new character, the show once again features eerie similarities to real life, despite there being a woman about to occupy the Oval Office.
In the premiere, we discover that Saul (Mandy Patinkin) and Dar Adal (F. Murray Abraham) have their work cut out for them: The incoming commander-in-chief is extremely distrustful of the country's intelligence agencies, and is more interested in scaling back black ops and military operations than she is in ramping them up.
But Homeland, true to form, keeps things interesting. A surprise revelation in the first episode reveals that President-elect Keane's motivations for not trusting intelligence communities may be more personal than political. And are there other forces at work, pulling her policy strings? We'll find out in Episode 2.
She also wants to be briefed on operations that (for now) don't require a presidential sign-off, indicating that one of the biggest domestic threats the CIA may face this season is a micromanaging, skeptical boss whose true motivations are unclear.
"She's looked at the past 60 years of intelligence work in this country and she sees, from her perspective, one failure after the next - the most recent devastating one being the WMD issue in Iraq. So she is determined to shake that up," Homeland creator Alex Gansa tells TVGuide.com. "Crazily enough, that's what we're seeing happen right now. ... Apparently it's a bit of a tug of war that happens in every transition."
Gansa allows that the writers did alter a few things about Season 6 in the wake of the Nov. 8 election; however, none of the changes pertained to the fictional president-elect.
"The part of the story that we've adjusted slightly is the way that social media impacted the campaign and the way fake news spread across Twitter and Facebook," Gansa says. "We're really looking at how somebody like a new president-elect [responds to that]."
An Alex Jones-esque conspiracy theorist radio host character portrayed by Jake Webber will take on a larger role than was initially planned. Originally set to be introduced in Episode 8, the character is now first seen — er, heard — in Episode 2.
So what about Carrie (Claire Danes)? The show's hero has relocated to New York, where she's living in Brooklyn with her (now 4-year-old) daughter Frannie and working for an advocacy organization that, among other things, provides legal aid to Muslims who are accused of engaging in terrorist activities. Also, while that marriage proposal from Otto [Sebastian Koch] apparently didn't pan out, that doesn't mean he's out of the picture.
Her newest client is Sekou Bah (J. Mallory McCree), a devout young Muslim who's targeted by the FBI for posting inflammatory videos on YouTube about domestic acts of terrorism. The character is yet another example of Homeland residing where it's most comfortable, in the gray area. Via Sekou, the show raises important questions about freedom of speech, racial profiling, and how much vigilance is too much. Don't hold your breath for concrete answers.
"Our political climate right now is crazy, and as a storyteller, if I can add any depth to that and do it justice and serve it in the right way, I'm all about it," McCree tells TVGuide.com. "It couldn't be a more important time to give voice to a community of people who are afraid for their lives. ... This is a scary time for a lot of people. Not just Muslims. For women, minorities, the LGBTQ community. I don't know about this Make America Great Again. I think we just need to make America great, for everyone."
Sekou, who lives in New York with his sister and mother and is planning a trip to Nigeria to visit his deported father, "has a legitimate gripe against the United States government," Gansa notes. And Carrie has a unique familiarity with his situation. "Certainly she's been on the other side of things," Gansa says. "She was actively participating in these extrajudicial killings. I think she bears a tremendous amount of guilt, and this is the logical result of that. She's decided to come back to the United States and ... take up the cause."
Based on how, shall we say, invested Carrie has gotten in some of the former causes she's worked on, and how that's turned out for the people around her (RIP Aayan), longtime Homeland fans may cringe at the thought. However, McCree assures that Carrie forges "a different type of intimacy" with Sekou.
"We all know Carrie's backstory," the actor says. "Is she just trying to make up for the past stuff that she's done wrong, or is she really invested in this kid? Homeland does a great job this season ... in trying to figure out what Carrie's real motives are. So that relationship between [Sekou] and Carrie, it's rocky, because he doesn't trust her at all. And he doesn't know what her motives are, and he's not about to [give] up his beliefs."
Carrie also devotes a significant portion of her personal time to visiting Quinn (Rupert Friend), who's a full-time patient at the VA hospital. We had previously heard that Quinn would be "a changed man" in Season 6, and that's an understatement. Though he's made significant strides since he was dosed with saran gas at the end of Season 5, Quinn is a shell of the person he once was — both physically and mentally — and is exhibiting all the classic signs and behaviors of PTSD. It's painful to watch, although Friend's performance is Emmy-worthy.
"When Homeland was first discussed, one of the things that we noticed was that there was nothing on television that dramatized the return of our soldiers," Gansa tells TVGuide.com. "We didn't get to see people reintegrating back into their old lives. We sort of have a chance to do that again with Quinn, who was really on the front lines in the War on Terror for the last seven or eight years. We get to see the effects of that on him and we get to see what can really happen to someone as powerful a character as Peter Quinn. He is much diminished."
And Quinn's not the only character who seems altered. Along with Carrie's new job, we also see a different side of her as a fully engaged mother. Her bipolar disorder is (for now), blessedly, under control. And her devotion to those around her — Frannie, Quinn, Sekou — is (again, for now) motivated by something more grounded than the threat of an impending terrorist attack.
So where does Carrie Mathison go from here? Wherever Season 6 takes her, it will undoubtedly be a thrilling ride. As McCree teases: "It'll be interesting to see what her real agenda is this season, because that sets the tone for everything."
Homeland premieres Sunday at 9/8c on HBO.
(Full disclosure: TVGuide.com is owned by CBS, Showtime's parent company.)