“Fair Game” is boring. It’s not only boring by Homeland standards, thriller standards, or premium cable drama standards. It’s just plain boring, full stop. It’s as dull and bland as “Long Time Coming,” the limp noodle of a finale for a fourth season that had otherwise charted Homeland’s slow but steady return to form. But that episode justified its existence by giving Carrie some much needed closure on her relationship with her estranged mother, jump-starting Carrie and Quinn’s long-simmering romantic tension, and sowing seeds of discord between Carrie and Saul. “Fair Game” doesn’t do much of anything to push the story forward, and whereas “Long Time Coming” was a tepid farewell, “Fair Game” is an underwhelming first impression.
But as Homeland embarks on its sixth season (of a planned eight), it’s hard to imagine what an ideal version of this show looks like at this stage. Discerning fans of the show pleaded with the producers to drop driving the Brody story into the ground, but now that they’ve done so, I’m not even sure what I want from a sixth season of Homeland. I know I want more action, suspense, and spycraft, but with a full-fledged 24 reboot coming down the pike (complete with Homeland alumna Miranda Otto), I might be able to get those cravings satisfied elsewhere. It may sound like I’m putting in a lot of effort to polish a turd, and maybe I am. But so many of the themes in this premiere were surprisingly resonant in a political climate no one anticipated. “Fair Game” may not be the Homeland anyone wants, but it might be the Homeland we need.
Three months have passed since we last saw Carrie Mathison in Berlin, reunited with Franny, back on speaking terms with Saul, and at peace with a potential future without Peter Quinn or counterintelligence work. In the interim, Carrie has relocated to Brooklyn where she lives with Franny and works at a nonprofit that offers legal assistance to Muslim citizens. The new Carrie is so determined to leave her own life behind, she has a new job that doesn’t even require her to carry a weapon. She’s content to a routine of riding the bus to her important but relatively low-impact gig, then going home to spend time with her kid. She also makes daily visits to Quinn, who is a shell of his former self and can’t stand her visits. He’s lucky to be alive, considering he was last seen in a critical care unit coughing up a substance that looked like Marmite Jello. But he’s still got significant nerve damage and a serious drug problem. If not for some divine intervention, Quinn won’t be carrying out any covert actions anytime soon.
Speaking of covert actions, Saul and Dar Adal are busy briefing President-Elect Elizabeth Keane (Elizabeth Marvel) on a massive cyber-intelligence operation in Iran, but Keane isn’t much interested in their agenda. Keane is a weirdly conceived character, equal parts Hillary Clinton’s biography and Donald Trump’s bluster. But she’s easily the most exciting element of the new season and puts Homeland, as long in the tooth as it is, among the most thematically relevant shows on television. The season takes place during the interregnum between an outgoing president and an incoming president with opaque intentions and a dead-on-arrival working relationship with the American intelligence community. It’s arguably a little too relevant, even going so far as to ground its new setting in its history of terrorist attacks including the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the assassination of Meir Kahane.
People are certain to talk about this season of Homeland, but it probably won’t be because of the plot, or even the characters. At this point, Carrie is basically a couture gown and a Magnolia cupcake away from being just another rom-com blonde trying to have it all in the Big Apple. Quinn is narratively inert, boarding in Carrie’s basement unit since there’s basically no other way to keep him in the story. (Hope you weren’t convinced he was about to get the drop on the mugger who held his gun well-within Quinn’s grasp. I was convinced, and therefore disappointed.)
Meanwhile, Saul is still nursing his wounds after being finessed by Allison and seems to be taking an unusually laissez-faire approach to the work of getting the new president on board with the agency’s agenda. Dar Adal is a lot more paranoid, and naturally he’s maneuvering behind the scenes because anxious people tend to revert to what they do best. But Dar has always worked better as a garnish than as a main ingredient. He was a complete moron for the back half of season five, and he generally seemed more interesting and menacing when he was more mysterious. Now he’s just a careerist company man—sure, more ruthlessly pragmatic than most, but not a character dynamic enough to carry a moment like the final shot of “Fair Game.” It should come as no surprise to anyone—including Saul—that Dar will happily screw over Saul if it’ll further his own agenda.
In a recent interview, executive producer Lesli Linka Glatter talked about how each season premiere is essentially a new pilot. Were “Fair Game” a pilot, I’d say it was handsomely shot and well-acted but dull. I might give it another episode or two, but I certainly wouldn’t be recommending it to people. But this is Homeland, and watching the show now means accepting that the relentless pace and constant surprises of earlier seasons are now the exceptions not the norm. Like the political realities that factor into it, season-six Homeland is something entirely new, and it may take a while to figure out if I like it or not.
- Welcome to season six! I’ll be around all year.
- I can’t say enough how much it bums me out to see Quinn in this condition. After a season of putting him through the wringer again and again, the writers should have just given him a send off or retire him for the season. Last season around this time Quinn was pulling names out of a kill box. Sigh.
- I’m so excited to see what Elizabeth Marvel does with this role.
- Dominic Fumusa and Hill Harper also join this year’s cast.
- As does J. Mallory McCree, whose lot in life is apparently playing dudes who are annoying as hell…and also maybe terrorists? This character is really similar to the one he played on Quantico.