In its final outing, Homeland heads once again to the middle east, where the United States is brokering peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban. Peace, however, won’t come easy, as a lot of forces are working towards preventing it.
A sense of deja vu
Even the staunchest fans of Homeland agree that there was an evident decline in the show’s quality after the first three seasons. Many are of the opinion that the show has overstayed its welcome. While that may be the case, the show does resurrect itself one last time before bowing into sunset. Returning after a gap of two years for its swansong, the show delivers an intelligent and thought-provoking final season laden with elements that made Homeland a rage in its early years.
For starters, the show revisits the theme of the turned agent in the American establishment. This time, however, there isn’t a Sergeant Brody to make Carrie (Claire Danes) suspicious. The suspect is Carrie herself, who has returned home after being held captive in a Russian gulag where she was tortured, interrogated and deprived of her meds. While she is recuperating well, she fails a polygraph test whose result shows “deception indicated”. Many in the CIA believe Carrie has been turned by the Russians during her time in the gulag.
This season returns to Afghanistan for the first time since season four. Haissam Haqqani (Numan Acar), the Taliban commander, has realised that there isn’t going to be a winner in this endless war, and is ready for a truce. Peace in the region finally seems a possibility, and Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin), the national security advisor, is helming the peace talks. However, there are elements whose interests wouldn’t be served by peace. There’s Abdul Qadir G’ulom (Mohammad Bakri), the Afghan vice-president whose idea of an ideal Afghanistan is a military regime that would crush the Taliban. Then there’s Pakistan, which thrives on chaos in the region. Nimrat Kaur returns as the smooth, manipulative ISI agent Tasneem Qureshi, putting in a superb performance. Lastly, there’s Yevgeny Gromov (Costa Ronin), the Russian agent and Carrie’s tormentor-in-chief in the gulag, who is in Afghanistan. Nobody knows what his motives are, but a man of his reputation cannot be up to any good.
Yevgeny is the most intriguing character. The chief antagonist in the previous season, he suspiciously plays the good Samaritan, aiding Carrie in her endeavours in Afghanistan. It’s a reflection of the convoluted ways of the intelligence world that Carrie often seeks help from a man she has every reason to despise. Their equation is one of the highlights of the season. Carrie knows Yevgeny isn’t one to be trusted. Yet she finds herself strangely drawn towards him, which is reminiscent of her relationship with Nicholas Brody in the early seasons.
The dance of diplomacy
Homeland is at its best while showing the intricacies of global politics. The focus isn’t on the battlefield but in drawing rooms, where the real battles are fought. A case in point is the United States’ uneasy alliance with Pakistan, a country that has been providing safe haven to the Taliban for years. Poor decisions made in the White House put the two countries on the brink of war. Perhaps the makers have tried to mirror American governance in the real world today. Having a leadership that’s more macho than diplomatic can have catastrophic repercussions. It is the need of the hour to sort out global issues with dialogue and negotiation. You cannot always arm wrestle your way into achieving your ends, even if you’re the most powerful country in the world.
This season is essentially about rising above prejudices and political agendas and looking at the bigger picture. Saul is rooting for a peace treaty with Haissam Haqqani, the very man who once broke into the American embassy in Islamabad and pumped bullets into Americans. He knows it’s for the greater good. “This country went stupid crazy after 9/11,” Carrie minces no words while highlighting the follies America has made since 2001. This is their shot at making amends. The question is, how far must Carrie and Saul go to make peace a reality.
Carrie and Saul light up the season
The season beautifully plays out the dynamics between the two characters we’re invested in since the very beginning. Saul has always been the calm to Carrie’s storm. Carrie goes about her maverick ways knowing that he always has her back. Saul has a paternal quality to him that is largely visible around Carrie. In one of the most emotionally charged moments of the season, he admonishes Carrie for her disregard for rules. But he is also the first one to stand up for her. Carrie makes mistakes, but she never loses sight of what’s important, he says on one occasion.
This makes the climactic face-off between the two particularly significant. It isn’t what either of them would have wanted. But such are the deceitful ways of spycraft, as Homeland has often portrayed. At the end of the day, it really is the greater good that matters, and for that one must be a Judas if he has to.
Claire Danes puts in another inspired performance as the eccentric and bipolar Carrie Mathison. Her mental troubles aren’t in focus this time around. Instead she must fight allegations of being a traitor. But being Carrie, she isn’t fazed. Mandy Patinkin is a delight this season, giving us many memorable moments. He is at his best while expressing dismay (a lot of the time), with just a slight amount of angst in his voice and a hint of condescension. The one time that Saul loses his cool, it’s a ruse. The scene makes for great viewing.
WATCH OR NOT
Homeland bids adieu with a compelling final season that casts an intelligent lens on global politics. The show also recalls themes from previous seasons, something that’s bound to send fans on a nostalgia trip.
Directors: Lesli Linka Glatter, Keith Gordon, Seith Mann, Alex Graves
Writers: Gideon Raff (original Israeli series Prisoners Of War), Alex Gansa, Howard Gordon, Nick Leith Baker, Jonathan Redding
Cast: Claire Danes, Mandy Patinkin, Costa Ronin, Maury Sterling, Nimrat Kaur
Streaming on: Hotstar Premium
For recaps of all episodes of season 8, see here.