The timely and psychologically acute fifth season of Homeland takes place largely in Berlin, where Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) now makes her living with her daughter, a caring boyfriend, and a swanky job running security for Otto Düring (Sebastian Koch), a powerful, obscenely rich industrialist. Not long into the season, however, Carrie’s work brings her back into a warzone of sorts in Lebanon, to escort her boss through a Syrian refugee camp, which is largely run by Hezbollah. While there one night, Düring jumps at a sudden flurry of gunfire in the distance, which Mathis quickly, without much proof, identifies as celebratory, likely from a wedding. It’s a moment that speaks to Carrie’s optimism, however fleeting, but also reiterates how political preconceptions often veil personal prejudices and false righteousness, the interweaving of which remains an elemental part of the show’s allure.
This dichotomy is embedded in the season’s two major story arcs, which focus on a cyber attack in Berlin and an attempted terrorist assault on Düring and Carrie while they’re in Lebanon. It’s the former incident, involving leaked information from the C.I.A. about a secret spying pact between America and Germany, that brings all-around C.I.A. heavy and Carrie’s former mentor, Saul (Mandy Patinkin), to Berlin to manage the crisis, which he begins to believe involves Carrie speaking with Laura Sutton (Sarah Sokolovic), the journalist who leaked the classified information. Saul ends up teaming up with Allison Carr (Miranda Otto), the head of the C.I.A.’s Berlin operations, another relationship that’s political on the surface, but is finally far more intimate in nature. This inevitably leads to a brief encounter between Saul and Carrie, and the unfriendly exchange speaks to how both the political intrigue and personal drama is based in a conflict between America’s yearning for global progress and its astounding history of widespread murder in the name of peace and safety.
This tension also comes home to roost for Carrie, who begins to believe the assault in Lebanon was carried out as a revenge plot against her, and subsequently goes off her medication to figure out who’s after her, a dangerous but proven method of freeing her mind to think outside of the proverbial box. While the first two episodes of the season are made up mostly of insightful political discussion and formidable, thrilling spy-work, the third focuses on Carrie’s downward spiral following her decision to ditch the meds, and the result is a whirlwind of psychological self-flagellation that hints at the lacerating arguments and moments of quiet self-torment that denote the works of Ingmar Bergman, touched with the political mindfulness of Kathryn Bigelow. Left alone in the room with photos of all the people she’s helped harm, betray, or kill, Carrie feels a world of hurt being returned on her. In a handful of close-ups, Danes’s darting eyes and trembling jaw suggest torrents of uncertainty, guilt, and helplessness roiling inside her.
Like the excellent fourth season of Homeland, season five suggests a politically wise and deeply skeptical update of John le Carré’s very best spy-centric work, seeing the fury, confusion, and accepted hypocrisy of international diplomacy with the same clarity as the lies and duplicitous acts the show’s characters indulge in on a regular basis. In an early scene, Rupert Friend’s Quinn is asked to give his take on how to fix the situation in Syria, and his answer is brutally honest: either put down a cumbersome amount of troops on the ground or level the entire area. And of course, they ignore his suggestion, choosing to not face the dire reality of what their involvement with ISIS and Syria means, and the cost of a successful campaign to rid the area of the Caliphate.
For Carrie to move on in her own life, to give her child and her boyfriend the life they want, she must face her violent, maybe even heartless, past—the very act of which threatens the emotional and mental stability she’s seemingly finally secured in her career with Düring. As her reputation with Saul and F. Murray Abraham’s nefarious Dar worsens, however, she begins to see how alone she is in the world, and how the U.S.’s retaliation toward a traitor isn’t all that different from other countries’ responses.