If the fourth season of Homeland taught us anything, it was that this show still has good stories to tell. Brody was out, there was a change of location and new problems for Carrie Mathison and the CIA to face, and perhaps surprisingly we were treated to the best season of the American espionage show since its first. However the conclusion of season four left us in the same position and asking the same questions as that which preceded it: what, and where, next?
Well, the ‘where’ in that question can be answered with Berlin, in which Carrie is enjoying life with her daughter and a new love interest outside of the CIA, for now. Working for the Düring Foundation, a philanthropic organization with a somewhat nebulous objective, the former spy seems happy to have left the agency after the morally dubious deals that were made towards the end of last year’s season. However it doesn’t take long for Claire Danes’ character to find herself plunged back into the world of Middle Eastern terrorism as she is given three days to prepare for a trip to a Syrian refugee camp in Lebanon.Meanwhile a pair of computer hackers accidentally stumble upon CIA intel after pranking ISIS, whilst sharpshooter and all round badass Peter Quinn gives the men in suits the whole “you wouldn’t know man, you weren’t there!” about the state of operations in Syria (before doing some textbook dirty work for the main man Saul Berenson). It’s the most current Homeland has ever been, giving season five the edge and danger that it needs if the show wants to remain relevant.
The episode served adequately as a setup for the season, establishing Carrie’s situation as well as that of her former colleagues. The frosty confrontation between her and Saul was a particular highlight, a two year gap between seasons four and five adding a new dimension to their relationship – we might have known where everyone was at by last season’s conclusion but with this amount of time having passed it would seem as if we’ve got some catching up to do.
Homeland’s priorities as a show have changed as well, at least for now. By setting up a story involving cyber hacking and Snowden-esque expose, as well as name checking ISIS and questioning the legality behind western surveillance, the show has chosen to dissect topical issues, as opposed to using them as a backdrop as has been the case in previous seasons. The moral questions surrounding drone warfare were touched upon but not as fully explored as some may have preferred last season, Homeland having always focused more on its characters within the context of modern issues as opposed to examining the issues themselves.With the new man in Carrie’s life and a couple of her colleagues briefly introduced in this first episode, one gets the impression that before long we’ll be delving back into her personal affairs – “What are you atoning for, keeping America safe?” For now however it’s good to see a spy show tackle issues that affect its audience head on.
“Tell me what the strategy is and I’ll tell you if it’s working” says Quinn in his meeting with the agency. America’s plan might be a bit all over the place, but Homeland looks like it’s got its shit together. One ironically gets a feeling of security, like the writers know what they’re doing, at least a lot more than the characters do.
The stage is set; pack your bags, we’re going to Lebanon.