How Homeland quietly regained its place as one of the best dramas on TV

Fans and critics turned on Claire Danes's drama after season one – now it's finally won our trust back, says Susanna Lazarus

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It feels weird to use the word “quiet” in the headline of a piece about Homeland. Anyone who has watched the last two episodes of the US drama will know it’s anything but, mastering fiery chaos with similar tact to the bubbling tension it does so well. 

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Yet tell people you’re hooked on Homeland and you’re often met with casual indifference: “Oh, I used to watch that before it got bad” or “Didn’t they kill off Brody?” 

Yes, they did. And it was the bravest and best decision the show has made.

I remember watching in quiet horror when Damian Lewis’s character breathed his last in a square thick with chants and jeers as he was publicly hanged for taking out Iranian intelligence chief General Akbari (on the orders of the CIA, lest we forget). 

How does a series built on the tug between two characters continue with just one of them? Lewis’s final series had flashes of nerve-shredding brilliance – particularly at its climax – but Homeland’s path had been thorny since its gripping first run.

Still, as the action moved from the United States to Islamabad for series four – with Carrie (Claire Danes) as the newly installed station chief – those flashes of brilliance gradually became more frequent. We discovered a new cast, a new setting, and the series finally got rid of Brody’s dreary family (no more Dana, hurrah).

It was during that spell in Pakistan that Homeland’s stock began to rise again. Carrie became the focus, and rightly so. In her former CIA agent, Danes has given us a female anti-hero to root for – yes, she’s seriously flawed, reckless, irresponsible and capable of a scrunched-up crying face that reminds us of a crumpled grape. But from series four onwards her character was no longer diluted by her relationship with Brody.

The series was at its saggiest when the two were trying to ‘make it work’ against the odds; Homeland had written itself into a corner with a relationship so implausible once that Langley bomb had detonated that hindsight tells us it was their biggest mistake not to kill Brody off in that suicide vest.

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Damian Lewis and Claire Danes in Homeland

But – with the ex-Marine consigned to memory – Islamabad got Carrie’s full attention and Homeland was the richer for it. Rupert Friend’s Peter Quinn finally landed the airtime he deserved and, while his feelings for Carrie were clear, their romance never hijacked the storyline. 

For those of us who stuck with it – and there weren’t many – we learned to trust the show and its creators again. While series two and three often led us down pointless dead ends (Brody in Caracas? Dana and her new boyfriend?) the drama’s fourth and fifth outings have been precisely-plotted slow burners with maximum pay-off.

In Islamabad, and subsequently Berlin, Homeland has taken a softly-softly approach, slowly introducing characters and a new set-up, gradually revealing allegiances and betrayals, always questioning who is and isn’t trustworthy – all setting the stage for an explosive climax.

In Islamabad it was marked by Haqqani’s underground assault on the US embassy and its bloody consequences for Carrie’s colleagues; in Berlin, we were moments from a literal train wreck as Carrie sprinted through underground tunnels to halt the use of a catastrophic biological weapon.

With both story arcs, Homeland proved it’s once again a show that deserves our investment. Nowadays the pay off is always worth it and the drama produces some of the best episodes on television right now. It’s as if the showrunners finally figured out exactly what made their show tick in season one – and have trimmed off all the unnecessary fat that spun out of that undetonated suicide vest.

Here in the UK, less than a million viewers tune into Homeland week-on-week, down from the four million who watched the series one finale. It seems a shame that so much of the show’s old audience have deserted it – I just hope that one day they realise just how far this drama has come. 

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Homeland series six continues on Sundays at 9pm on Channel 4. Series 1-5 are available to stream on Netflix UK