Following the death of Nicholas Brody at the end of series three, Homeland was faced with the task of redefining itself without the presence of one of its main characters. This left much of series four feeling like a recalibration in some ways. New obstacles were introduced for Carrie like her new-born baby (the child of her dead lover), and the growing emotional relationship she shared with Quinn. The series struggled to gather pace until its final episodes and then squandered it with a meandering, meditative finale. Series five, then, acts as a second attempt at a reboot for the series.
With Carrie now living in Berlin with her daughter and new boyfriend (a work colleague), and working a private security job, her days in the CIA seem firmly in her past. But Carrie Mathison is rarely absent from CIA proceedings for long. When an amateur hacker manages to steal confidential files from the CIA, she comes crashing back into the world of secret surveillance deals and murky underground meetings. The opening of the episode cleverly plays on audience stereotypes, as we follow a man carrying a large duffel bag through a train station and into a neon-lit hallway of girls live-streaming porn. The reveal that he and his friend are just messing around online is smart, and it points to how easily classified information can fall into the wrong hands. It also sets up what could be a recurring theme for this series. Where the events of last series were incited by drone strikes, this series seem to be incited by cyber threats and hacking.
Whilst Carrie struggles to maintain her distance from the CIA, and the world she left behind for her daughter, Quinn has fully embraced the hunter lifestyle. Last series we saw a Quinn who was desperate for a way out, only to be pulled back in by a selfish Carrie. Whereas in series five, Quinn seems driven by the methodical nature of receiving a name and then killing the person behind it. As he meets with Saul to confirm the kill, his new outlook is clear. He does not allow himself to see a way out anymore, instead he finds himself stuck in a purgatory of Saul’s own design. The sentiment is echoed in his words to Saul about one of his targets, “He’s a martyr in paradise, and I’m stuck here”.
Relocating the three central characters to Berlin is a smart move, and doing it in the series premiere allows for more face-to-face interaction between them as the series goes on. In series four, we were too often starved of Saul and Carrie scenes in the opening half. Here we get one halfway through the first episode. This encounter is unlike any we’ve witnessed before, though. Carrie is forced to stage an awkward run-in with Saul just to speak to him, and Saul does not even allow her that luxury for much of their encounter, instead giving her an angry, silent stare. As it transpires, Saul blames Carrie for his failure at regaining his role as director of the CIA. His words to Carrie are blunt, calling her “naive and stupid”. This new dynamic offers great potential for the future, as Carrie attempts to rebuild her relationship with Saul while still attempting to maintain distance from her past life.
This, unsurprisingly, proves difficult. The episode sees Carrie, critically, being abducted off the street and shoved into a van for a meeting with the Hezbollah leader. The abduction is a well orchestrated sequence: a simple misunderstanding (a woman chains her bike up along with Carrie’s) quickly erupts into a full-blown kidnapping as Carrie repeatedly calls to the woman calmly leaving the scene. The meeting highlights the complicated reality of the Syrian conflict and the reasons the Hezbollah have for fighting. “You killed my son in Beirut. I will fight you forever”, her captor says. It’s effective and harkens back to Brody’s turning in series one due to the murder of Abu Nazir’s son Issa.
The episode feels impressively light considering the amount of narrative plates spinning all at once. The unifying piece of course is Carrie. As the series progresses, and she inevitably becomes embroiled deeper in each, her ability to maintain a normal life with her daughter will be tested. She has built a wall around her new life, one which now involves faith and family, and which will struggle to hold up to the pressures of outside forces.
At the episode’s end, Carrie gets the call that she and her boss have been granted access to Lebanon. The cracks are already beginning to show…