The use of jazz music in Homeland has long been synonymous with the mental state of protagonist Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes); cast your mind back to the heady days of season one when, in the throes of the 'is he-isn't he' terrorist story arc circling Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis), the show would amp up the snarling trumpet and erratic plinking of piano keys as Carrie's psychosis spiralled.
Season six Carrie is world's away from that place and the music deployed in the opening scene is gentle proof to the fact. After a season foiling terrorist plots in Islamabad and cyber hacks in Berlin, she's now set up shop with daughter Frannie in New York. The last time we saw Mathison (2016 was a Homeland -less year), she had turned down one huge offer - a job with Saul in the CIA - while considering another - Otto Düring's proposal, no less.
The writing's certainly on the wall: it's established early on that this season takes place during the 72 days between the presidential election and inauguration; yes, Homeland is continuing with its trait of resting its finger firmly on the pulse much in the same manner as President-elect Donald Trump - unashamedly brash.
Carrie's position at the organisation introduces her to Sekou Bah Jr (J Mallory McCree), a young Muslim American arrested for posting videos online chronicling past terrorist attacks. According to FBI Special Agent Conlin (Dominic Fumusa), he's booked flights to Nigeria and possesses an unaccounted for $5,000. "I don't know about you but I'm not taking any chances," he tells Carrie. "Not here. Not in New York." The topical threat of ISIS runs through this as fervently as drones and Edward Snowden have in seasons past.
It's not all topical fare, however, a large chunk of this episode focusing on the state of Peter Quinn (Rupert Friend), the paramilitary assassin we last saw moribund having suffered a brain haemorrhage. With slurred speech and impaired vision - Keith Gordon inventively opting to cloud his POV scenes - Quinn is alive but a fragment of his former self. The friendship/love affair/whatever-the-hell-it-is with Carrie the show has so often tried to amp up (for nothing, it seems) is in tatters. Smoking crack and drinking with prostitutes, his character is plummeting full-speed down a slope destined for oblivion; not for the first time, it's looking unlikely things can improve for the veteran.
Homeland first aired in 2010 and its first season was as thrilling and topical a TV series you could get. However, stringing out Brody's story arc for two further seasons seriously hampered its reputation leaving Homeland continually attempting to justify its existence despite the high-calibre performances (the ever brilliant Danes, Mandy Patinkin as bearded ally Saul Berenson and F. Murray Abraham's shady Dar Adal - the latter two of whom also return this season).
Killing off Lewis' character dealt the show a drastic lifeline; embracing the standalone season format has proved a genius move by creators Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa with the past two outings remaining gripping pieces of work. Season 6 premiere 'Fair Game' may merely skim the surface of what is surely to come, but judging by this opener, it's looking like viewers are in for more of the same.
Homeland may not feel as necessary as it once did but it's more relevant than ever.
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