Although Claire Danes and Mandy Patinkin are still present to provide a continuing center of gravity, the HOMELAND that concluded its sixth season tonight is almost unrecognizable from the one that premiered in 2011. That series was a dazzling mix of doomed romance and psychological spy thriller, about a bipolar CIA agent who couldn’t shake her fascination with a potential double agent and suicide bomber. It moved at a rocket pace, and teemed with emotional complications. The current Homeland is more of a successor to 24 (with which it shares some writer-producers), well-crafted but superficial, with fine acting and muddled conspiratorial plotting.
Tonight’s season finale, written by Executive Producer Alex Gansa and Co-Executive Producer Ron Nyswaner, and directed by Lesli Linka Glatter, was a proper end to an entertaining mess of a season. The first half was an effective action movie, in which we finally learned that while the ever-untrustworthy Dar Adal (F. Murray Abraham) had been undermining President-Elect Elizabeth Keane (Elizabeth Marvel) on behalf of the intelligence community, there was an even worse uber-right-wing conspiracy, involving Senators and the military and possibly in league with loathsome online talk show host Brett O’Keefe (Jake Weber), out to assassinate her, with Peter Quinn (Rupert Friend) as their patsy. Glatter made good use of the uncertainty about who was and wasn’t one of the shadowy bad guys, as Carrie Mathison (Danes) and Quinn tried to save the President-Elect. It ended with what certainly seemed to be permanent proof that Peter Quinn was mortal after all, as the survivor of countless bullets, toxins, beatings, and bombs over the seasons finally succumbed to a fusillade of gunfire, sacrificing himself for his beloved Carrie.
After that, things got weird. This season that had begun as almost a spin-off of itself, with Carrie as a quasi-legal representative of an accused Muslim terrorist (another patsy, as it turned out), pulled itself inside out once again. We were given a series of oddly-paced sequences set 6 weeks into the Keane administration, where Carrie was offered a White House job, then had the suddenly drunken Max (Maury Sterling) almost interrupt the excruciatingly detailed house examination Carrie needed to endure to get her daughter back. Played out with long periods of silence, it almost seemed like the set-up portion of a horror movie. And that turned out to be true, sort of, as we learned that really, Elizabeth Keane was the uber-uber-Big Bad, as she manipulated Carrie and arrested half the government, including Saul Berenson (Patinkin), using tyrannical secret authorizations, and was last seem glowering into the camera like she’d been taking Presidential lessons from Kevin Spacey’s Frank Underwood. Was she always a villain? Had the plot against her transformed her into one? The cliffhanger didn’t say.
Homeland has been renewed for what has been announced as its final two seasons, and this ending presumably sets the stage for the show’s final crisis. But what that is, exactly, is unclear: the apocalyptic rise of a left-wing dictator? After spending half this season detailing excesses from the far right, Homeland seems to be throwing up its hands with a “plague on both your houses” attitude. Its characters make less sense than ever. As brilliant as Danes continues to be, hardly any of the original Carrie Mathison remains in the show except her intensity, Quinn was bounced around to fit whatever narrative hole needed to be filled in a given week, and only the producers know what they’re doing with Max, who seemed to be taking up Quinn’s vacant room both in Carrie’s house and in the storyline.
Homeland was once a show that touched greatness, but as Peak TV has introduced one exciting series after another, it’s gone into decline. It has two seasons to either revive itself or obscure the memory of its initial heights.