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Review: Showtime's 'Homeland' Launches Final Season


CIA officer Carrie Mathison takes on one more assignment in the eighth and final season of Showtime's spy drama "Homeland," which launches on Sunday. NPR TV critic Eric Deggans has this review.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: In many ways, Claire Danes' Carrie Mathison has been the ultimate TV antihero - a crack CIA officer and intelligence agent who, due to her bipolar disorder, sometimes can't trust her own memory or thoughts.


CLAIRE DANES: (As Carrie Mathison) No, no, no, no. Not the cold (ph). No, no, no, no, no, no. Not the cold. Not the cold.

DEGGANS: As the first episodes of the new season begin, Carrie is flashing back to her time as a prisoner of the Russian government. Last season, we saw her returned to U.S. custody after seven months in Russia without her medication, looking like a feral animal. Now Carrie is undergoing evaluation by the CIA, hoping to resume her intelligence work. But a fellow agent isn't convinced she didn't crack under Russian interrogation.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) You did admit to giving up the location of a safe house in Beirut.

DANES: (As Carrie Mathison) Yeah, one that hasn't been active for decades. I believe, at that point, I'd been kept awake for 96 hours.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Did you ever reveal the identity of an asset?

DANES: (As Carrie Mathison) No.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Maybe somebody who died 10 years before?

DANES: (As Carrie Mathison) No, assets have families. I wouldn't do that.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) How can you be so sure if there's 180 days of your life you don't remember?

DEGGANS: In fact, she can't be sure. It's a smart twist that recalls the first few seasons of "Homeland" when Carrie was skeptical of Damian Lewis' character, Nicholas Brody. He's a U.S. Marine returned home after he was held captive by al-Qaida. Spoiler alert - Brody was turned by al-Qaida and nearly set off a suicide bomb vest. Now Carrie, a woman who's given up her lovers, her daughter and her freedom to protect American democracy, faces the bruising question of whether she was an unwitting traitor.

"Homeland's" plots have always reflected our greatest fantasies and worst fears in world affairs. That continues in the eighth season, when Carrie's mentor, Saul Berenson, is close to a triumph as a national security adviser that would feel like fantasy in real life - ending war in Afghanistan by brokering a peace deal with the Taliban.

Saul, played by Mandy Patinkin, implores a representative of Pakistan to stop sabotaging the deal. But the Pakistani official notes America's president has already said he's pulling troops out of the region.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Don't lecture me about peace in the region. You abandoned the region after the Soviets were sent packing. Then Sept. 11 happened and you're back. We've all seen this movie, we know how it ends - in chaos and civil war on our border.

MANDY PATINKIN: (As Saul Berenson) That's exactly what we're trying to avoid.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Then show some real resolve. At least make the Taliban think you aren't running for the exits.

DEGGANS: It may sound like dry geopolitics, and the first four episodes move slowly as Carrie is brought to Afghanistan to help Saul. But the series ends by asking the same question it posed when the show debuted nine years ago - what are the consequences of America's reaction to Sept. 11?

One criticism that's dogged "Homeland" over the years is how it portrays Muslims. Early on, the show was rebuked for stereotypically portraying a street in Beirut, for presenting Muslims as cartoonishly invasive threats, for getting tenets of the faith wrong and making it seem as if Brody's conversion to Islam was the main reason he became a terrorist.

This last season of "Homeland" treads more carefully, reintroducing a Taliban leader from earlier seasons as a humanized, weary soldier willing to try for peace. Given how often "Homeland" shows America's mistakes in the Middle East, it might do a little good to see a TV series where the U.S. has a real shot at lasting peace in the region. And if that peace actually happens, that might be the most unexpected epitaph for "Homeland" yet. I'm Eric Deggans.


Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.