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‘Homeland’ review: Season 7 seems in a strange place

Claire Danes stars as Carrie Mathison in

Claire Danes stars as Carrie Mathison in "Homeland." Photo Credit: Showtime / Jacob Coppage

THE SERIES “Homeland”

WHEN | WHERE Season 7 premiere Sunday at 9 p.m. on Showtime

WHAT IT’S ABOUT The seventh (and penultimate) season picks up a few months after the sixth left off, with President Elizabeth Keane (Elizabeth Marvel) jailing a couple of hundred people who may have known something about the assassination plot that was foiled by Peter Quinn (Rupert Friend), who was killed in the process.

Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin) finds himself behind bars, too, while fake TV news king Brett O’Keefe (Jake Weber) is on the lam, streaming off-with-her-head jeremiads from various secret locations around Washington. Keane’s prosecutorial zeal has alienated Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) from both the president and her chief of staff, David Wellington (Linus Roache).

Living with her sister, Maggie (Amy Hargreaves), and family outside Washington, she knows Keane needs to be stopped, and goes to old friend Max (Maury Sterling) and a new one, Dante Allen (Morgan Spector, who joins this season), for help. Meanwhile, Saul gets an offer that he can, in fact, refuse. (Only the first episode was available for review.)

MY SAY Let’s talk about Quinn, because “Homeland” obviously doesn’t want to anymore. Killed in the sixth-season finale, he’s a distant memory by the start of the seventh. With Saul in jail, Carrie on a mission to save democracy, and crazy Keane drooling, so to speak, over her iPad in the Oval Office, Washington has gone nuts. Where is Peter now that we need him?

Killing off Quinn was the single most controversial move in “Homeland” history. Arguably more than Carrie, certainly more than Saul, “Homeland’s” own psychically tortured Jason Bourne had become the soul of this series, and to a certain extent, remains the ghost in its machine. By excising Quinn, “Homeland” excised one of the better parts of itself: the part that says Deep State assassins like him are mere tools of the corrupt political establishment they serve. Shaped, or rather poisoned, by Dar Adal (F. Murray Abraham), the true angels of Peter’s nature ultimately prevailed, and he died saving Keane. No matter what they do or whom they kill, Carrie and Saul will always land on their feet, in a better job, or closer (and closer) to the seat of power. They’re the winners of “Homeland.” Peter Quinn was the loser. Losers, particularly this one, are often more interesting.

Absent his stabilizing presence, or his ballast to the Carrie/Saul axis, “Homeland” seems in an especially strange, vertiginous place by the start of the seventh. That’s partly by design, of course. “Homeland” doesn’t like to just reflect the zeitgeist but become it: If a real president is battling with the intelligence community, and if real civil liberties are threatened, and if real fake news has become real news, then so goes “Homeland.”

“We have a president who’s behaving in ways that are upsetting everyone,” says Carrie’s sister, Maggie, of Keane, in perhaps the single greatest understatement of the entire series’ run. “Everyone is confused, disoriented [and] paranoid.”

Nevertheless, there’s something off about this season’s particular brand of paranoia. Marvel’s Keane has morphed from a progressive New Century Democrat (last season) into a reactionary autocrat who prosecutes thought crimes and has her own, more sinister, version of George Orwell’s Room 101. She’s not channeling Trump. Stalin’s her man.

As the light of democracy dims, Carrie has become more manic (understandable), and Saul more resolute. The world has turned upside down, and only they can set it right. We know they’ll eventually save the presidency, hopefully the president, too. We know real news will eventually prevail over O’Keefe’s incendiary fake variety.

We know all this, but we also suspect the ride would be a lot more fun if Peter was along for it.

BOTTOM LINE Judging from one episode, there’s something off about the seventh season and someone sorely missed.

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