It all comes down to trust.
In the opening two episodes of “Homeland” Season 6, an ample number of suspicious storylines emerge for a series built on spycraft: Carrie (Claire Danes) is working out of New York for Otto During, the billionaire philanthropist introduced last season in Berlin. But is she there for the right reasons? Is he? Saul (Mandy Patinkin) is still working closely with Dar Adal (F. Murray Abraham), as the two vet the new President-Elect (Elizabeth Marvel) for the CIA. Yet her true motivations — personal and political — are kept in the dark, at least to the two men looking for the light. Meanwhile, a young black Muslim named Sekou Bah (newcomer J. Mallory McCree) is busy recording passionate videos chronicling terrorist attacks around New York City. Is he a legitimate terrorist threat or just a politically active kid?
Oh, and in case anyone cares, the Quinn question hanging over the series since Season 5’s finale is immediately and definitively answered in the premiere’s first scene. (Kidding, of course: Rupert Friend’s fate was our top priority.)
After two seasons of the revamped, post-Brody “Homeland,” fans know what’s going on in these first two episodes — especially the premiere. Though not anthological, the seasons have become more singular than serialized since Brody died in Season 3. We jump forward in time during breaks, allowing for the writers to easily install fresh scenarios (fitted to be as topical as possible) and introduce new characters that connect to Carrie, Saul, and Quinn’s ongoing stories. But after a slightly disappointing Season 5 (in comparison to a brilliantly structured Season 4), the best one can hope from analyzing these initial two hours is whether or not we can trust Season 6 to sustain itself over 12 episodes.
Short answer: Yes, I’d bet we can.
Told with great attention paid to the particulars and without as many gasp-inducing shocks, the sixth season of “Homeland” feels as deliberately paced as the last two seasons. Since Damian Lewis left the show, showrunner Alex Gansa and showrunning director Lesli Linka Glatter’s Showtime drama have transformed their ambitious drama into a more slow-moving beast, prioritizing Carrie’s emotional journey (as the solo lead of what used to be a shared load) over keeping the audience on the edge of our seats. Exciting episodes pop up to stir the pot, pulling viewers out from the back of their sofas and pushing the narrative forward, but we’re less tightly wound now.
While binge addicts will certainly crave “the good ol’ days,” such a shift has been proven to be good for the series. Season 4 got off to a slow start but used Carrie’s repetitious behavior to take her (and thus us) somewhere terrifying. (She ordered a drone strike that would’ve killed Saul!) Season 5, meanwhile, was similarly built, if a bit too focused on action in early episodes and too traditional in unveiling its villain down the line. (Think of how rewarding the reveal of Allison Carr’s duplicitous secret life would have been had it not been exposed so early.)
But when “Homeland” finds its groove, its storytelling style emphasizes the issues along with the characters. No one will forget Carrie as “The Drone Queen” in Season 4, and the show’s moral analysis of pilotless warfare should be driving real world questions even now. The producers are counting on it, as those events come up in Season 6 via an intriguing, relevant manner. Similarly, the series gets back to its roots by repurposing them, making one of Carrie’s clients a person of interest who may or may not be a terrorist; the difference between Brody and Sekou being that the series isn’t as focused on making us question the purity of the latter, as it is curious to study Carrie’s reactions when new details emerge.
It’s in these studious details that “Homeland” gains its veteran edge. By Season 6, we know these characters quite well. The extreme situations surrounding them force development and drama, but the writers know to craft seemingly innocuous dialogue that cuts deep or casually incorporate key details that come back in a big way. There’s a lot of trust shown on the writers’ end by not cramming in too many shocks, twists, or other jarring surprises. Instead, they believe we’ll stick with these people for more than the explosions and assassinations, investing in their inner journeys — so carefully captured in crucial scenes I can’t yet talk about — as the worldwide ramifications under scrutiny become clearer and clearer with every personal and professional decision.
Such trust is appreciated and largely earned, but it’s also a two-way street. If they’re willing to put their trust in the audience, the least we can do after all this time is to trust them, too.