Few female characters in recent memory have been put through the wringer as much as former CIA agent Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes), who has lost family, friends, colleagues, lovers and assets while doing what she believes she must to defend America. But in season seven, Carrie is living in a very different America, one where a paranoid president is imprisoning members of the intelligence community and “loyalty to the country” might actually mean going up against its most powerful people.
Of course, Carrie has plenty of experience challenging authority. Like movie detectives who can only solve the case once the captain’s suspended them, Carrie works best when she’s on the outs. In seasons one and two, it was Carrie who figured out former POW Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis) was actually a terrorist, while in season three, she was the only one who could see that he’d been framed for a terrorist act. But the higher-ups never seemed to listen to her until it was too late. In season six, she finally had the ear of the president, but unfortunately, the president turned out to be the one person on Earth even more paranoid than Carrie.
One of the reasons Carrie is constantly dismissed is because she has bipolar disorder and she hasn’t always been religious about taking her medication or abstaining from alcohol, so she’s often been written off as “crazy Carrie”. But it’s her disorder that sometimes – she believes – allows her to make connections others can’t. In season five, in order to figure out who was plotting against her, Carrie deliberately went off her medication, straining (and eventually ruining) her relationship with her German boyfriend, Jonas (Alexander Fehling).
This is a familiar pattern for Carrie. She has a tendency to pick the wrong men – Brody ended up fathering her child before being hanged for treason in Iran. But even when she picks the right men, like Jonas, she invariably pushes them away. This is partly because of her own fractured family history – her parents split up when she was a teen because of her mother’s constant infidelity – and partly because, for Carrie, the mission always comes first.
This dedication led to Carrie making one of her most difficult – and polarising – decisions. In season five, she insisted on having an injured Quinn (Rupert Friend), her friend, former colleague and would-be lover, woken from a coma, despite being warned of the danger to him. Carrie was seeking information to stop a terrorist attack, putting the welfare of many ahead of the welfare of one.
Quinn couldn’t help and Carrie stopped the attack anyway, but the consequences for his health were devastating and he ended up a broken man. Even so, at the end of season six, Quinn sacrificed his own life to save Carrie and President Keane (Elizabeth Marvel), devastating fans of the popular character. (And although Quinn has escaped death many times before, this time it’s for real, says Friend.)
Carrie has made a lot of deadly decisions throughout her career – in season four, she was nicknamed “the Drone Queen” after she ordered an airstrike which killed 40 civilians at a Pakistani wedding – but her involvement in Quinn’s decline and death was probably the hardest for fans of the show to deal with. It’s testament to Claire Danes’ acting skills, however, that she always manages to bring Carrie back from the brink.
Carrie can be frustrating, obsessive and selfish. She’s an ambivalent mother – in season four she also contemplated drowning her baby in the bath – and yet, in season six, when the dastardly Dar Adal (F Murray Abraham) had her daughter taken away from her, she fought tooth and nail to get her back. But Danes – ably supported by a stellar cast, most notably Mandy Patinkin as her former boss/father figure/friend/foe, Saul Berenson – always manages to convey Carrie’s humanity and her absolute dedication to her country. And nobody, but nobody, does ugly crying better than Danes.
Having such a fascinating central character has kept Homeland going. And in the current political climate, the series’ examination of issues such as “fake news” and “sock puppets” being used to spread conspiracy theories and misinformation on the internet made season six particularly prescient.
As season seven begins, Carrie is no longer working for the duplicitous president and is back living with her sister. But, of course, whenever Carrie experiences a modicum of domestic bliss, it means everything is about to go terribly terribly wrong…
Watch Homeland on Friday 16 February at 8:30pm on SBS.