‘Homeland’ Recap: Meet the New Carrie Mathison in ‘Separation Anxiety’

Who is this Carrie Mathison? “Homeland’s” fifth season opens with our intrepid hero in a very, very different place than we’ve ever seen her — emotionally, spiritually and mentally. Particularly mentally.

SPOILER ALERT: Stop reading if you have not seen “Homeland’s” fifth season premiere, “Separation Anxiety.”

It seems notable that there’s no mention (that I noticed) of Carrie’s bipolar burden in the opener. In fact, she seems downright content for the first half of the episode, which is sharply written by Chip Johannessen and Ted Mann and directed with verve by Lesli Linka Glatter.

Carrie’s not exactly a hausfrau, but in her new life in Berlin she’s become a churchgoer and a devoted mom at long last to little Franny. She has been known to wear a balloon animal on her head. She’s got a new Teutonic beau and a new job heading security for the nebulously defined During Foundation. We don’t exactly know what they do but they clearly have a lot of money to do it with.

Carrie is outwardly happy to be rid of her ties to the CIA, but of course it doesn’t take long before all the old skills are summoned when she faces an unexpected challenge on the job.

The Berlin setting ingeniously allows the show to weave in ripped-from-the-headlines stories that give the show resonance and a perspective on global politics that no other series is offering at present. There are references to the refugee crises in Syria and Lebanon, the “new” Germany, the persecution of Christians and the ever-present tension in the U.S. about how we wage the war on terror.

From the back room of a streaming Internet porn sweatshop, we see a pair of miscreant hackers stumble into what seems to be the central plot device, the fallout from a security breach of the CIA’s internal network that portends all sorts of Edward Snowden-style muckraking.

Claire Danes, once again, would be compelling to watch even if she were stuck in an interrogation room and forced to read the Berlin phone book. But “Homeland” has always been good about surrounding her with great character players. Mandy Patinkin (Saul Berenson) and Rupert Friend (Peter Quinn) are so good and oh-so intense. Friend just looks haunted. Miranda Otto is an intriguing addition as Allison Carr, the CIA’s Berlin station chief who has a history with Carrie in Baghdad. Sara Sokolovic plays Laura, an idealistic During Foundation staffer who’s skeptical of Carrie’s past and has an itchy trigger finger when it comes to publishing documents that come her way from the CIA’s security breach. Laura’s intensity even gives Carrie pause, and that’s saying something.

We learn that Carrie and Saul Berenson are once again on the outs and that he is the CIA’s European division station chief. And Quinn, for all his dreams of living a normal life, is deeper in than he’s ever been, and going deeper still on a rogue mission to pick off targets.

Friend explains more about the shortcomings and challenges of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East in a five-minute scene where he briefs CIA bigwigs than most people could get from a year’s worth of reading Foreign Affairs.

“Tell me what the strategy is, and I’ll tell you if it’s working,” Quinn says of efforts to combat ISIL and their nefarious ilk. Unless they want to dispatch 200,000 American troops and “an equal number of doctors and elementary school teachers” not much is going to change, he tells the room of policymakers and administrators. And after that bombshell, he goes back to his one-man mission to take down the ones that deserve it most.

Perhaps the most intense scene of the episode is the face off between Carrie and Saul when they bump into each other at the CIA’s Berlin station. Danes and Patinkin get better together every year. When Saul snidely calls her “naive and stupid” the subtle twitches that Danes registers on her face speak louder than words.

Carrie tried to get out but they pulllllllled her back in. She gets kidnapped in the course of trying to deliver a message through back channels to Hezbollah heavyweights to allow Mr. During Foundation (cooly played by Sebastian Koch) to travel to Lebanon on a private fundraising mission to aid refugees streaming into the country. It’s a worthy cause but a messy business to get him to Lebanon safely.

By the end, Carrie is battered and bruised but she gets the job done. Bring it on, “Homeland.” We’ve missed you.

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