Major Homeland Spoilers through Season 6, Episode 7 follow.
Six seasons in, Showtime’s Homeland remains one of the best series on television, due in no small part to its actors. Over the years, some folks have rotated out — most notably Damian Lewis, whose Brody hijinks carried on long past their expiration date — but the incredible foursome who’ve been together since 2012 are the glue that keep the audience around, even through its trying third season and spotty in-betweens. After a long wait and a quieter than usual out the gate opening, this season’s beginnings may have left a few eyes rolling, when favorite, Peter Quinn (Rupert Friend) — who had ostensibly been killed off in the previous season finale — made a miraculous, if not full recovery. But, oh how rewarding his resilience has been. If you quit watching and only remembered Quinn, stone cold CIA Black Ops killer …
… who rarely showed anything resembling a softer side (as when exceedingly inebriated in Season 4), you’ll be blown away by the shockingly different Quinn we now have the privilege of watching. The manner of his return and Season 5 trickery aside, Rupert Friend has finally been given the freedom to access untapped acting prowess that has pushed him to the top of every viewer’s list; it’s nearly impossible to convey the character overhaul we’ve been witness to. Where in the past, we’d only a hint of emotion hiding behind the covert soldier’s (assassin’s) eyes, now Friend bares his soul. Here is Peter Quinn, destroyed, drugged out, his mind and body utterly broken, seemingly beyond repair. This is a man who has truly died, and like some comic hero returned from a Lazarus Pit, his resurrected incarnation is nothing like the Quinn we’ve come to know over these several years. With legs and arms that no longer cooperate, speech slurred, brain hazy or fuzzy (effects of the nerve agent and his medically jolted consciousness, from prescription drugs and psychotropic self-medication); his eyes well up at the drop of a word, scant memory or a mistaken interpretation of something Carrie says.
Over the past few episodes, Friend’s huge talent has broken free of a character’s restraints, and the unfurling bloom of this aching, lost version of a man who longs to be the someone he once was, is palpable — just give Rupert Friend the Emmy he deserves right now. Despite his injuries, Quinn’s sharp instincts remain locked inside him. He’s leading Carrie in the right direction — ironically, if only she’ll look past his apparent crazed rantings, and truly listen to what he’s telling her — and if she follows his cues, Carrie will discover the wicked truth.
Speaking of, from the instant F. Murray Abraham’s duplicitous Dar Adal was introduced, viewers have vacillated over which side he’s truly on. Abraham, himself says, “Nobody really knows who Dar Adal is”. From season to season, this fine actor with just the right amount of Snidely to his Whiplash, appears to relish every onscreen second. Each word he utters is said with absolute — even if we can’t discern — weight and purpose; every entendre quadrupled by expression, alone. As he’s risen through the CIA ranks, from Quinn’s handler to Director, it’s been clear Adal is always manipulating situations for his own purposes, but what we can’t ever work out is just what they are. Is he working solely to ensure his powerful position; is he secretly pushing some other leader’s agenda, or does he have even higher aspirations? Whatever his motivation, in this week’s “Imminent Risk”, Homeland flat out exposed the depths of Adal’s games, and oh, how wicked they are. During Dar’s conversation with Quinn — who Adal had kidnapped by Astrid (Nina Hoss) — the shocking reveal that Peter and Dar had a sexual encounter when Quinn was first recruited, sent stomachs lurching. “Dirty Old Man”, Quinn says; “Fair enough. For the record, though, I never forced myself on anybody” replies Adal. Our minds reeling, recalling that Quinn was only 16 when he was recruited and trained, we should have realized this was only one half of a one-two punch. Because, that other sinking feeling in our stomachs; the one caused by our thoughts of what was happening to Carrie (Frannie being taken into custody by CPS) this day? Yup, it turns out Dar is also the man behind those particular machinations, and he almost certainly had that bomb put in Sekou’s (J. Mallory McCree) van, which means Dar mothereffin’ Adal is behind just about everything bad this season, including manipulating President Elect Keane (Elizabeth Marvel) into a powerless place. And, you know what? We couldn’t have a better actor at Dar Adar’s helm than the same Academy Award winner who played Amadeus‘ Salieri. F. Murray Abraham employs similar (though more evil and deadly) characteristics here, and he’s clearly having a blast doing it.
Some of the absolute best television scenes you’ll see are of Abraham’s Adal and Mandy Patinkin’s grizzled, beaten down (and perhaps losing his sharpness) Saul Berenson. The proverbial teddy bear to Dar’s devil-on-our-shoulder, these contemporaries are the perfect pairing we never knew we needed until Homeland brought them together. Every moment these two share onscreen is a master class in words and breath; every pause and glance has meaning.
Of course, either actor on his own imparts the same gifts and over the course of six seasons, Patinkin’s Saul has remained a favorite — we love him even when he lets us down. I don’t know a Homeland viewer who will ever forget feeling personally crushed and broken over Saul’s apparent abandonment of Carrie, then the sharp twinge of not-quite-forgiveness and a softening when it was revealed Carrie’s whole psychiatric lockdown was part of a shared plan.
Through Berenson’s highs and lows, his ambitious rise toward directorship, and his crushing defeat; losing his wife and later, a traitorous lover; through kidnappings and torture, Saul has remained steadfast — the flawed good-guy we always want to believe in. Smart as he is, Carrie has consistently been one step ahead, but in Season 6 it really seems like his weariness is catching up with Saul. Is he oblivious to Adal’s manipulations, or is Saul once again playing us all? It is Patinkin’s gift that we can believe both or either.
Last but not even close to least, the Girl with all the Gif(t)s; Claire Danes’ Carrie Mathison is still full of surprises. Those who gave up Homeland should beat a path back, because Carrie’s already pulled a few shocking reveals from her hidden back pocket. Crying memes aside, Season 6 brings forth her fully fleshed character, the one we weren’t sure we’d ever see. As the years have gone by, Danes has slowly unpeeled the layers of her sometimes medicated, sometimes not, bipolar, once and former agent, who now works in the private sector and simultaneously freelances, giving advice to the first female President Elect (who’s a great nod to the real-life election, incorporating bits of both Clinton and Trump). In between the years of wild highs and lows, Carrie’s manic brilliance often crashed into disaster, but as seasons passed, she’s miraculously come of age. No one could have predicted Carrie’s true warmth and love for her daughter, which may sound crazy, but if you’ve watched all the way through you know what I mean. Through the grace of her experience, this character has finally learned to stabilize herself in a place where she can maximize her talents in work, and share the closeness of a true mother-daughter relationship (which is why Dar’s latest deed is the pinnacle of evil). Whatever tears Carrie has cried, non have felt a fraction as real as the ones that rolled down Danes’ face this past Sunday; her evolution (though, let’s be real, Danes’ Homeland performance has been steadily magnificent) complete. Likewise, when Carrie perfectly straight-faced and irritatedly lied to Saul about advising Keane, we were privy to the sharper, self-regulated and completely in-control Carrie we really want to see. With Danes’ adroitness at the most subtle facial movements, there’s still a slight veering back and forth, especially with scenes involving Quinn (she’s clearly wrestling with her feelings about him) or her daughter. Though Dar Adal may right this moment have gotten the upper hand, there’s no doubt in my mind — adding in a little wine and perhaps an unintended side effect of Adal’s plotting, a momentary and very slight loss of control — Carrie is going to figure out exactly who put her in this position. And when she does, we’re in for a real treat, because … well, you know what they say about mothers.
If you haven’t yet caught Homeland, Season 6, I highly recommend you get back in the spy game, immediately. Rupert Friend, F. Murray Abraham, Mandy Patinkin and Claire Danes guarantee a great ride.
Homeland airs on Showtime Sunday nights.