Claire Danes Returns to the Turbulent Middle East for a Suspenseful Final Season of ‘Homeland’

After nearly a decade of chasing the headlines “Homeland” Homeland is calling it quits by venturing back into Afghanistan. In a deeper way it makes complete sense. This is one of the key post-9/11 TV thrillers, that has used the War on Terror culture to craft intelligent episodes that feel just authentic enough to be entirely believable. By now “Homeland” is for the loyal fans who have stuck through its last seven seasons of twists, turns, spies and torture sessions. This eighth season is a worthy final chapter sticking to the notes that have worked best.

When last we saw her, CIA operative Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) had been taken captive by Russian intelligence forces. After 213 days she’s released thanks to some backdoor brokering done by Saul (Mandy Patinkin), who is now National Security Adviser for the newly ascended President Warner (Beau Bridges). But out of those 213 days there 180 unaccounted for and Carrie is unsure of what transpired. Did she give up confidential information under interrogation? Her polygraph test indicates possible deception. Saul tries to protect her and warns that most people crack under intense Russian techniques. The focus shifts to Afghanistan where Saul is attempting to broker a final peace deal with Afghan vice president Abdul Qadir G’ulom (Mohammad Bakri), who is reluctant to release several Taliban prisoners. It turns out G’ulom knows Carrie from years before and so she is tasked with going to Kabul to meet with him, hopefully succeeding in getting backing for the deal. But the CIA is suspicious about Carrie and concoct a plan to keep her under watch. Rookie Jenna Bragg (Andrea Deck) is tasked with pretending to be a dutiful pupil to Carrie and see if she can snoop out any signs of treason.

“Homeland” took another long break between seasons, this time about two years. Mercifully the showrunners open this new round with both a helpful recap and a storyline that doesn’t depend on remembering every exact detail of season seven. When Carrie fell into Russian hands the real world political culture was obsessed with Russiagate and Robert Mueller. Now it’s an election year and barring a Sanders or Buttigieg cameo, the narrative shifts back to the seemingly endless war in Afghanistan. The Middle East was always the heart of this show and some of the writing meditates on Carrie returning to face the past. Back in Kabul she seeks out an asset named Roshan, instead she finds his widow who tells Carrie with understandable anger that Roshan was killed by the Taliban after being exposed as a CIA collaborator. Carrie has to wonder if she had given up his name while under Russian interrogation, but she can’t be sure of anything because her mind remains fragile and hazy. From the past we also get Tasneem Qureshi (Nimrat Kaur), known to longtime viewers as an ISI agent linked to the Taliban. There’s an early intense exchange between her and Saul, as she coldly looks on as Saul brings up how she had he response team stand down for two hours while 36 American troops were killed. “Homeland” has always walked a delicate line of delivering a thriller while navigating sensitive political waters. For example Tasneem is technically a villain, but like the Pentagon in the real world, Carrie’s superiors offer few valid reasons for even staying in Afghanistan. G’ulom has also been hosting Russian officials in his office, so we can be sure they’re up to no good which gives Carrie more good reason to venture deeper into the war zone.

The more action-heavy angle this season involves a combat outpost where Max (Maury Sterling) leads a group of soldiers setting up surveillance on Taliban forces. We get some fun jokes and buddy moments, but it also feels like a needed way to keep episodes an hour long while injecting some more energy. At least in the early chapters there’s a lot of expository dialogue involving Carrie, Saul and the other characters. That’s not to say it isn’t skillfully done. Carrie’s first meeting with G’ulom after arriving in Kabul has fantastic tension and Mohammad Bakri brings great presence to the scene. Bakri is one of Israel’s great underrated actors, with roles in films like “Hanna K” and shows like “The Night Of” that make one wish we would get more of him. Claire Danes gets her final season to evoke all the different ranges “Homeland” has let her experiment with, from psychologically vulnerable to action oriented. 

If you have remained a “Homeland” fan through the years and its gaps season eight will feel like a fitting return to basics. Carrie has battled terrorists and corrupt presidents in Washington, now she’s back to the starting point. It’s also fitting that Carrie return to the Middle East considering “Homeland” was actually inspired by an Israeli show, “Prisoners of War.” After nearly a decade this show returns to form, not chasing the headlines but finding suspense in a war we’ve chosen to discuss less, even as we’re still fighting it.

Homeland” season eight premieres Feb. 9 and airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on Showtime.