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Claire Danes, Mandy Patinkin on thriller's last run

“Homeland” has long confronted the global complexities of terrorism and national security, but its final season gets very personal for Carrie Mathison, the self-sacrificing superspy at the center of the Showtime thriller (Sunday, 9 EST/PST).

Season 8, much like the series, hinges on the relationship between Carrie (Claire Danes) and her mentor, National Security Advisor Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin), but it also marks a callback, metaphorically and spiritually, to Nicholas Brody, the P.O.W. hero and suspected turncoat played by Damian Lewis who became Carrie’s lover at the start of the series.

“Homeland” has enjoyed a distinguished run, earning eight Emmys – including two for Danes and best drama in 2012 – along with praise for mirroring real security issues.  It did so in early 2017 with a storyline that featured a president dueling with U.S. intelligence agencies and Russian political misinformation. In a sign of its attention to detail, an Iranian intelligence chief from earlier seasons was modeled on Qasem Soleimani, the Iranian leader recently killed by a U.S. drone strike ordered by President Trump. 

After months of confinement in a Russian gulag, Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes), left, is under examination - and suspicion - after she returns to the CIA fold in the final season of Showtime's 'Homeland.'

As the premiere opens, Carrie struggles to recover from months of isolation in a Russian gulag, where she was taken after a heroic effort to extract a witness last season. Her colleagues are suspicious of whether she’s been “turned” by the Russians; even Carrie, who has bipolar disorder, isn’t certain.

“Carrie’s kind of morphed into Brody,” Danes says. “She’s definitely in a circumstance that’s similar to where he was in the very beginning,” leaving viewers wondering whose side he was really on.

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From international terrorist incidents to domestic security threats, the relationship of CIA boss Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin), left, and protege and operative Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) has anchored Showtime's 'Homeland' over eight seasons.

But Saul needs her field expertise and personal connections as he negotiates a peace settlement with the Taliban to end the long-running war in Afghanistan, another real-life parallel.  

So he accepts that risk by sending his impaired operative into a hostile environment.

“That’s been a consistent battle for Saul throughout the entire journey. This young lady is his protégé, his hope for keeping the country and world a safe place,” Patinkin says. “But he has put her at risk through the eight years and would do it again because of the possibility of how many millions she might be able to save versus the life of one.”

Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes), right, crosses paths (again) with Russian spy rival Yevgeny Gromov (Costa Ronin) in Season 8 of Showtime's 'Homeland.'

In typical “Homeland” fashion, Saul and Carrie’s plan runs into an obstacle that allows the show to revisit its roots: how the nation responded to the Sept. 11 attacks with the “war on terror.” 

A tense situation “poses the question: What did we learn from our previous experience, and do we take a moment to pause, reflect and make a considered move? Or do we act impulsively and reflexively in a way that’s really inflammatory?” Danes says. In answering those questions, “the primary relationship between Carrie and Saul is taken to its edge in surprising ways.”

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