A spy walks into a bar, along with a terrorism expert, a single mother and a woman struggling to manage a sometimes debilitating mental illness; bipolar disorder. There’s only one woman at the bar and she is all of these labels, and more. CIA agent Carrie Mathison has not been an easy character to love or to trust. She has never been anything less than intriguing, compelling and iconic, regardless of her likeability.
Debuting in 2011, Homeland launched onto screens during a period when terrorism, global political unrest, threats of major warfare and potential corruption within the FBI, CIA and the government was making headlines. It was the perfect drama at the perfect time. Though it has become a cult favourite in both the United States and Australia, beloved even by President Obama and Hilary Clinton, the series is based on the Israeli drama 'Prisoner of War'.
For the past decade, not only has the drama reflected current political and humanitarian issues of America and the world at large, it has bravely portrayed a woman doing her job in a largely misogynist, demanding, unruly system that is the CIA and counter-terrorism units. A woman who has not tried to "be a man", who has used her sexuality and her attractiveness to manipulate suspects and assets and tried to juggle being in a life-threatening job while raising a young daughter alone. A woman who has been entrusted with the security of the Western world, despite the security of her own mind being in a precarious position throughout the 8 seasons of Homeland. TV dramas have a history of portraying people with mental illnesses as deranged, or social misfits incapable of relationships or employment, or at the other end of the spectrum, twitching and compulsive, incapable of dressing or grooming themselves (remember 'Monk', anyone?).
The writers and producers have been meticulous in their depiction. Even the medications she is prescribed (clozapine, lithium, nortiptyline, clonazepam) are realistically appropriate, as well as the side effects. For the many women who suffer imposter syndrome and the resulting exhaustion, emotional conflict and career-ending self doubt, Carrie Mathison is evidence women can not only rise to the senior ranks of their industry, but that they can protect their country, defend the public and raise a child all while battling a major depressive illness and the side effects of mind-altering prescription drugs.
Throughout the life of Homeland, from the pilot to the current season, Mathison has proven troubling to fellow characters, not least Saul, and to viewers. Just as she has questioned whether she is delusional, irrational, euphoric or deeply distressed, so have viewers had to question her motivations and the moral acceptability of the risks she has taken.
In the eighth and final season, Carrie Mathison has become both the hunter and the hunted. Under suspicion of having been brainwashed during seven months in a spy-gulag run by the Russians, Mathison faces the doubts of her colleagues as well as her own suspicions that perhaps she can't be trusted entirely.
In the final season, currently screening on SBS VICELAND and SBS On Demand, Carrie's situation harks back to the premiere season where ex-Marine sergeant, Brody, has been brainwashed by Al-Qaeda operatives. Held hostage for eight years, Brody becomes both an asset and a risk to Carrie Mathison who must determine a way to work with this man she is sexually attracted to, suspicious of, intrigued by, and determined to use as an asset in the "war on terror".
Season 7 depicted Carrie's physical and emotional deterioration as a prisoner of the Russians. In the final episode, her long time mentor and friend, Saul Berenson takes her into his protection as the result of a prisoner exchange negotiated between the CIA and the Russians.
This final season takes place in Afghanistan. The tension buzzing from the final minutes of season 7 carries into the first episodes of season 8 as Carrie and Saul dance with and around each other on the precipice of global war and irreparable damage to the reputation of American security agencies, military and government. The questions that were raised from the first season are still being asked in season 8. What has September 11 taught us about the threat of terrorism in the free world? What does it mean to be loyal to your country when you suspect, or know, that the government is corrupt? Where is the limit when it comes to protecting your nation, or your lover? How do you raise a child in a world that is dangerous, full of aggression and risk? How do you differentiate the enemy from friends with no time and no room for error?
Claire Danes has masterfully created a woman who is all women - a sister, a daughter, a mother, a sexual being, a professional who is also an espionage agent at the top of her field. She is both relatable and impossible to contain and understand. In her every facial expression, from a pained, red-eyed, terror-filled yawl to the cock of an eyebrow, Danes has made Mathison compelling at every moment. Season 8 proves Danes' deftness, the impeccable script writing, research, production, direction and delivery of the entire Homeland team. Homeland has operated as a concurrent depiction and interrogation of our current political and global climate and shall serve as a time capsule throughout the next century.
The final season of Homeland airs on SBS VICELAND 9:30PM Mondays, with episodes available at SBS On Demand after broadcast. Catch up from episode 1 at SBS On Demand now.