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The Final Season of 'Homeland' Completes a Long Journey
February 9, 2020  | By David Hinckley

Watching the final season of Homeland feels like watching the two veteran stars of your favorite team suit up for one last game – battered, bruised, haunted by the ghosts of teammates and battles past, yet determined to find a way somehow not to lose.

If that sounds like an oddly modest goal, it reflects the fact that a show revolving around the American military presence in the Middle East has never suggested victory could be an option.

The optimal outcome for everyone in Homeland, whose eighth and last season launches Sunday at 9 p.m. ET on Showtime, would be to stay alive and not to leave the Middle East too much more precarious than they found it, many long years earlier.

The two Americans on whom the show has focused all along, CIA agent Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes, top) and her mentor boss Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin, top), have never been bad guys and don't become bad guys in this last round.

They've simply been handed the impossible task of trying to make the American presence in the Middle East create a positive result when it has, at tremendous cost, often done the opposite.

They have won small skirmishes along the way, thwarting a few individuals and organizations that truly are bad guys.

Their limits are perfectly summarized, however, by the mission of the last season: to help get America out of Afghanistan without losing too much face or leaving too much unchecked carnage in her wake.

"You don't want peace," Pakistani intelligence agent Tasneem Qureshi (Nimrat Kaur) tells Saul. "You want out."

Saul, who is now the national security advisor to President Ralph Warner (Beau Bridges), has always been a quick, articulate, and able defender of American policy. In this case, he has no reply, since that's exactly what the president wants.

The President, and therefore Saul, requires, in return, only the thinnest of cover, in the form of a peace agreement with the Taliban.

Saul knows that no one believes the Taliban would honor such an agreement. It is considered sufficient, nonetheless, because it would enable President Warner to say America has accomplished its goal and leaves with honor.

It's a fundamentally dishonest game in which honorable players like Berensen and Mathison – and others, on all sides – long ago realized that peace is an illusion. The realistic hope is survival.

Carrie's task, as the season begins, isn't unlike her role at the beginning of Season 1. She's scurrying through a shattered city trying to find a man whose information might eventually, many steps down the road, help put the city back together.

In Homeland, as in the real world, that never plays out as smoothly as hoped. In this case, however, we're only half focused on Carrie's mission – because Carrie herself is also teetering on the edge.

She was recently released from 213 days of captivity and interrogation by Russian agents in a Soviet Gulag. That seems to have been every bit as unpleasant as it sounds, compounded by Russian agents withholding the medication that has, at least off and on, kept her bipolar disorder under control.

She has told CIA debriefers that she remembers only disjointed and, quite possibly, imaginary fragments from the last six months of her captivity.

This has led some officials and agents to wonder whether, under interrogation, she may have given up the names of agents or contacts – which would make her poison at best, traitorous at worst.

Saul is not among those who think Carrie would ever do that. So when the Taliban threatens to walk away from peace talks, Saul acts against the warnings of Carrie's doctors and sends her back to Kabul, because she still has better contacts there than anyone else in the local office.

Unsurprisingly, this plunges her back into the psychological purgatory of her time in the Gulag.

Specifically, she runs into one Lt. Col. Yevgeny Gromov (Costa Ronin), who may have a direct and profound connection to the Gulag team. 

So Carrie's mental health struggle runs in a vivid and perhaps metaphoric parallel to Saul's struggle with the equally elusive goal of making things come out right in the Middle East.

They both honor the mission. They are not responsible for the nature and rules of the game, or for the false façade of glory in which some on both sides would cloak it. Homeland's final season is about bringing it all back home.

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