‘Homeland’ Signs on to America First — but Maybe Not Quite Like You Might Think

Finely attuned as always to the mood of the moment, this season’s Homeland is putting America first.

The seventh season of the acclaimed national security drama, which premieres Sunday at 9 p.m. ET on Showtime, doubles down on last season’s tacit suggestion that our biggest problems may lie within our borders and start with our own leaders.

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Claire Danes as Carrie Mathison.

While that doesn’t exactly give Homeland a new direction, it does continue to lessen the show’s original focus on foreign elements as the primary threat to American security.

If this season has a mission statement, it’s Maggie Mathison (Amy Hargreaves) saying, with careful and deliberate restraint, “We have a president who’s behaving in ways that are upsetting.”

The president in question is Elizabeth Keane (Elizabeth Marvel), not to be confused with the Elizabeth Keen on NBC’s The Blacklist, though come to think of it, that Elizabeth has shown some extreme behavior this season, too.

Homeland’s Elizabeth Keane positioned herself as a champion of both national security and individual rights in getting elected president last season.

Then, following a failed attempt on her life — an army of machine gunners who ambushed her car somehow missed with every one of their several hundred shots — Keane ordered a mass detention of 200 innocent people, including Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin).

It’s a move more associated with Third World dictators, and it has put Keane under fire from both the civil liberties community and conservative provocateur talk show host Brett O’Keefe (Jake Weber).

This season begins with an unfazed Keane arguing for the execution of the general convicted of masterminding the assassination plot. Several other developments also suggest she thinks her personal wishes and impulses should supersede traditions like due process.

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Mandy Patinkin as Saul Berenson.

Saul being in prison and all, the major burden of trying to save America from this disturbing prospect falls once again on Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes), star of the show and sister of Maggie Mathison.

Carrie, an old friend of Keane, last year defended the president’s intentions, calling them tough but honorable.

After the detentions made it clear Carrie had just been used, she left government service — again — and is now nominally looking for work while trying to find someone who can explain and expose the real Machiavellian schemes in play here.

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Elizabeth Marvel as President Elizabeth Keane.

It’s not yet clear whether the president herself is really the Big Bad. At the very least it’s likely the show will expand its villain cluster as the season goes along, while incorporating other current issues like immigration and manipulation of public opinion.

This season also may dig more deeply into one of Homeland’s less explored subplots: the relationship between Carrie and Maggie, a psychiatrist who has provided Carrie’s most consistent support.

Now that the unemployed Carrie and her daughter Frannie have moved in with Maggie, her husband and their teenage daughter Josie (Courtney Grosbeck), we seem to be seeing more tension and conflict. All the things that are, as they say, baked into the Carrie package.

The season’s first episode, again in keeping with past writing strategy, lays out the task Carrie faces and lets us watch her best hope crumble. The odds against Carrie are steep, in other words, and her available weapons few.

With Saul in prison, Carrie starts out as the only real veteran we know on the good guy team aside from her nervous inside tech guy Max (Maury Sterling).

There’s nothing wrong with the other characters, older and newer. The turnover in the ranks just makes Homeland more than ever a Carrie show, and while you couldn’t have a better actor than Danes to carry that weight, the seventh season may need a couple of episodes before it feels like a full ensemble again.

Creator Alex Gansa and his team have said next year’s eighth season will close out the story and presumably are writing this season with that in mind. Considering all the nuances, grey areas and Socratic questioning Homeland has offered over the years, bringing it all back home won’t be easy. Or, in all likelihood, predictable.

David Hinckley wrote for the New York Daily News for 35 years. Now he drives his wife crazy by randomly quoting Bob Dylan and “Casablanca.”

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