It's been eight years since Homeland premiered, and as much has changed in the real world as it has within the Claire Danes-led spy drama. When the show first debuted, 10 years after 9/11, the threat of suicide bombers and fear of the Middle East was the prevalent worry in America. Now, we're far more concerned with Russian hackers and election fraud.
Homeland will tackle both fronts in its final season as Carrie, who we last saw being held captive by the Russians without her medication, returns to the field to help Saul (Mandy Patinkin) salvage a U.S. treaty with the Taliban before all hell breaks loose. What happened to Carrie during her time with the Russians will be an "essential question" of the final season, though, as the show finds itself in eerily familiar territory in Season 8.
"I think we played a little bit with the perspective that echoes the first season, when Nicholas Brody's (Damian Lewis) own loyalty — even the definition of loyalty — was tested," executive producer Howard Gordon told TV Guide at the Television Critics Association winter press tour. "This [season] is really about being off balance with Carrie. ... She tests the edges of her conscience, of her behavior, of her loyalty, of her relationships, and of herself."
"Simply put, she actually becomes Brody in the final season," added fellow EP Alex Gansa.
As Carrie finds herself relating a little too hard to her dead ex-boyfriend — with whom she first became entangled because she was sure he was a terrorist working for his Afghan captors (he was) — her relationship with Saul will be tested. Saul needs her to be on her A-game, but she may not be ready, as doubts are raised about what the Russians were able to torture out of her. That tension pervades the upcoming episodes as the show plays out true-to-life current diplomatic events.
"The biggest obstacle that they're overcoming is Carrie's readiness to get back in the field. Saul really needs her in Afghanistan," Gansa explained. "He's the one who's actually shepherding the peace process there, which is a reflection of what's going on right now. The Taliban are in talks with the Afghan government, and with the United States and Doha, and Saul is our fictional representative at those peace talks. He really needs Carrie, and she's not quite ready to come back, but he needs her nevertheless. So, he take some risks and brings her back to the field. You've got a shaky protégé and a needy mentor. That's really the way that this story is set up."
When it comes to wrapping up Homeland, Gansa and Gordon want the show to represent how the world feels two decades after the deadliest terrorist attack ever to be committed on American soil. There are differing opinions on how America reacted to that threat, and that chaos is represented by Carrie's journey over the past eight years.
"Hopefully [the legacy of the show] is a subversive and controversial conversation piece about America's war on terror and how we reacted to 9/11, and what the world looks like 20 years later," Gordon said. "How did we do? How did we go about projecting our power overseas? And have we made the world a better place as a result? If you look at Carrie Mathison, she is the embodiment of that doubt and questioning about what our methods are and what we've done in the last 20 years."
That's a complicated legacy to unpack, but the producers intend it to be that way. While they want to end Carrie and Saul's story in a satisfying way, they also want fans to miss the show instead of being glad it's over.
"[Our goal] is to tell the story, and finish the story, in a way that honored its beginnings and all the things that had come — to stick the landing, and to leave people wanting more and missing it," Gansa concluded.
Homeland's final season premieres Sunday, Feb. 9 at 9/8c on Showtime.