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'Homeland':  Saying goodbye to one of TV's best dramas

(L-R): Claire Danes as Carrie Mathison and Mandy

(L-R): Claire Danes as Carrie Mathison and Mandy Patinkin as Saul Berenson in "Homeland."   Credit: SHOWTIME/Erica Parise

More than any other series of the last decade, "Homeland" thrived on immediacy — the rare show forged in the zeitgeist and ripped from the headlines — then the pandemic happened, leaving it uncharacteristically adrift in this new world order. 

Talk about bad timing. After eight seasons of exploring the fallout from 9/11, "Homeland" wraps Sunday (Showtime at 9 p.m.) amid fallout of a whole different kind. The zeitgeist has shifted, the headlines too. We have other concerns at the moment, yet Carrie's (Claire Danes) and "Homeland's" feel like they come from the opposite side of the planet and a whole other era (and, in fact, have).

 It's a shame because this last season was a good one, and recapitulation of what so often energized the first seven. How American foreign policy has blundered along in the Middle East, and how the rest of us have forgotten about the consequences. How our political leaders are know-nothing toddlers who can't recall what they did an hour ago. How truth and facts are casualties, or as Saul (Mandy Patinkin) said in a recent episode, "the truth isn't much good if no one will listen." In the hard calculus of "Homeland," when no one listens, innocent people die. 

 And while other beloved characters have long gone, most recently Max Piotrowski (Maury Sterling), Saul and Carrie have remained our loyal proxies to the bitter end. Heroic — what else? — and single-minded to a fault, they still trigger Murphy's law instead of avoid it, but having a know-nothing in the "Oval" hasn't much helped this season. Sunday night's episode arrives as a final, and perhaps tragic, reaffirmation of the law of unintended consequences. 

In fact, "Homeland" was always about those unintended consequences.

Created by Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon, who had been friends and showrunners from "24" days, they wanted this to be both a continuation and redo of that long-ago Fox hit. "Homeland" was to be the adult counterpart to "24," which was raw, visceral, reactionary — a revenge fantasy for the post-9/11 viewing nation. By contrast, "Homeland" was nuanced, reflective, cool and progressive. It also had the benefit of hindsight. Revenge was the furthest thing from its mind.

"24's" Jack Bauer was all about the short game — he only had 24 hours, after all — while Carrie was about the long game. Existential messes, they were alone in the world and misunderstood, both orphaned from the last century, the so-called "American" one, and still clinging to the notion that American democracy was the world's last best hope. That was their tragic flaw because there was always someone to betray them and that last best hope, invariably someone in Washington.

Betrayal is the oldest of spy fiction tropes, dating back to at least John le Carré, but "Homeland" wanted to explore what happens when we betray ourselves and our allies in turn. The word "homeland" was meant to have a double meaning: Our homeland, but someone else's too, specifically in the Middle East, or Afghanistan this last season. The 8th in fact doubled back to the 4th season when Taliban leader Haissam Haqqani (Numan Acar) was Carrie's arch-nemesis, but by the start of this season he wants peace, the U.S. too. As usual, forces in D.C. and Kabul get in the way, and Haqqani faced a firing squad a couple episodes ago. 

Fiction — yes — but some nonfiction too. Gordon and Gansa produced a companion documentary, "The Longest War," which aired last Sunday as a stark reminder that the war in Afghanistan dates back to 1979, while countless Afghani have suffered over those decades, with 2,440 U.S. military deaths since 2001. 

 "Homeland" always wanted us to remember those victims and why they perished. It wanted to remind us that there are consequences to our actions, and that cataclysmic moments in history take us places we never expected or fully intended to go. 

With that parting and resonant message, maybe this isn't such a bad moment to wrap, after all. Maybe it's the perfect one. 

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