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‘Homeland’ season 6 premiere review: New episode hints at more thought, less action

Claire Danes stars in "Homeland," with season 6

Claire Danes stars in "Homeland," with season 6 taking place stateside again in New York. Credit: SHOWTIME / JoJo Whilden

THE SERIES “Homeland”

WHEN | WHERE Season 6 premiere Sunday at 9 p.m. on Showtime


WHAT IT’S ABOUT The fifth season ended with Quinn (Rupert Friend) near death after the sarin poisoning in Berlin, with Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) at his bedside. The sixth finds them both back in New York — Carrie working for a pro bono law firm that helps Muslim clients who have been unfairly targeted by law enforcement. The past, of course, keeps clawing at her. In a VA hospital recovering, Quinn may have suffered brain damage. He is clearly psychically damaged. Meanwhile, a new president-elect, Elizabeth Keane (Elizabeth Marvel), who suspiciously eyes the intelligence counsel she is getting from two old warriors — Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin) and Dar Adal (F. Murray Abraham) — may be ready to upset their Old World order.

MY SAY Let’s talk about Peter Quinn because he seems to be all anyone wants to talk about anyway.

First things first: He’s alive. Even casual fans know that much by now because Showtime released the season premiere more than two weeks ago on streaming service Showtime Anytime. Essentially obliterating the new season’s biggest spoiler may have been good for business, but salutary for fans, too, because at least they’ve absorbed the shock of the New Peter Quinn.

A crackhead who patronizes prostitutes and the local liquor store, he’s one step away from the streets. And this is what five seasons have come to. He has saved the world, or at least Carrie, how many times? The wages of sin may be death, but what are the wages of virtue? Brain damage, seizures and self-medication courtesy of his new best friends, Bud tallboys.

“Virtue” of course was never exactly a word anyone used around Quinn. He began his fall at the beginning of the third season, when he assassinated his target — so called “Tin Man” — but also Tin Man’s very young son. Quinn’s been falling ever since, with guilt accelerating the descent.

Some “Homeland” observers were exasperated by the fifth season wrap because the show appeared to be playing the old “is he dead or alive?” card that got so much action last year, notably one Jon Snow. But this season’s first two episodes establish that it wasn’t so much a stunt as a necessity: Quinn has a vitally important part to play here. What is that?

Some rough guesses: Subtle themes this season include fathers and sons, mothers and sons, mothers and daughters. But Quinn was a foundling — no mother, no father, unless you count Dar (who would?). There’s a journey at the heart of all great series, and at the heart of “Homeland” is Carrie’s — whose moral, ethical and medical dilemmas have fueled these five seasons. But it’s clear that this journey has no hope of ending — satisfactorily anyway — without Saul or Quinn.

Showrunner Alex Gansa has said in interviews that the sixth season won’t inflict any “24”-inspired homeland terror traumas on (say) the poor defenseless Empire State Building because as far as he is aware there aren’t known plots against New York at the moment.

That conceivably (or hopefully) will free up this fine series — which will end at the eighth season — to dramatically deepen and enrich those big themes that have preoccupied since the first episode: What are the moral consequences of the war on terror? Or what’s a “homeland” anyway, without home or family?

Quinn’s already explored those questions firsthand. The sixth season looks like it will tease out even more nuanced answers.

BOTTOM LINE The first two episodes promise a contemplative sixth as opposed to a shock-and-awe one. Carrie — I think we can all agree — deserves the breather.

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