'Homeland,' Six Years On: Still the Most Israeli American TV Drama

The sixth season of U.S. version of Israel's 'Prisoners of War' promises to be thrilling, timely and relevant – although it features a new woman president.

Actress Claire Daines as Carrie Mathison, in the new, sixth season of "Homeland."
JoJo Whilden / Showtime / Yes

In the first episode of the new season of the hit television series “Homeland,” American politics are already entwined with Israeli politics. This looks to be an excellent basis for a suspenseful and fascinating season that will reflect current anxieties and developments, even if in reality, unlike in the television series, the incoming American president is not a woman.

The sixth season is set to premier on January 15 in the United States and also in Israel, via Yes cable TV.

“Homeland,” which started out as the American version of the Israeli show “Prisoners of War” ("Hatufim" in Hebrew), has long since shifted its focus away from the fraught relationship between CIA operations officer Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) and former American POW Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis). Over the last two years, the series has gradually changed in tone to become an action-packed spy thriller filled with references to American politics and current terror threats, covering subjects like U.S. drone strikes in Afghanistan, cyber espionage and ISIS.

Although “Homeland” has moved away from the plot of “Prisoners of War,” it still has a strong Israeli connection. Parts of the show were filmed in Israel, and the cast has included quite a number of Israeli actors, among them Mark Ivanir, Yael Sharoni, Yair Lotan and Clara Khoury.

Israel is also frequently mentioned in the plot. For example, in the fourth season, while talking with Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin) about arch-terrorist Hisam Haqqani, Dar Adal (F. Murray Abraham) notes that "[Menahem] Begin also killed 91 British soldiers in the bombing of the King David Hotel when he was the Irgun commander, before he became the prime minister of Israel.”

In the fifth season, the Israeli ambassador to Germany proposes that Saul desert and flee to Israel. Saul tries to escape, but is detained by a security guard (Oshri Cohen) on orders from the Mossad chief.

In the excellent first episode of the new season, which Showtime has already made available online, American politics is entwined with Israeli politics. In parallel to what is happening now, the plot is spread over the 72 days between the U.S. presidential election and the inauguration.

“This is a very strange time in America,” series co-creator Alex Gansa said at a conference of television critics last summer, adding that it was not totally clear who’s in charge, and that the new president would have to be educated as to what the job really entails.

“It’s a very complex transition of power, filled with all kinds of anxieties and competing forces. It’s a very dangerous time for democracy,” Gansa added.

Even before the results of the November election were tallied, it was known that “Homeland” would feature a woman president (actress Elizabeth Marvel of “House of Cards”). One might have imagined that Hillary Clinton’s loss would undermine the season’s credibility to some extent, but the show’s creators wrote the president’s character very carefully, endowing her with characteristics relevant to each of the presidential candidates.

For example, in a meeting with Saul and Dar, the new leader admits that she has no experience with classified security briefings, or knowledge of how things actually work in the White House. But she assertively informs the two spymasters that she intends to reduce the CIA’s power and to assume direct control over the use of drones.

Following the talk with the president-elect, Dar meets with Mossad agent Tova (Israeli actress Hadar Ratzon-Rotem) and tells her that the situation is worse than they expected, and that the new president will be very bad for Israel. “She’s not a fan of our joint operations,” he says. The two decided to “educate” her, apparently by means of fabricating a terror threat that will prove how invaluable they are in the new government.

Panic buttons

Also mentioned at the start of the new season is Meir Kahane, the extreme-right American-born rabbi who was murdered in 1990 by a Muslim Al-Qaida militant posing as a Jew. The Kahane assassination is described here by a young Nigerian, Sekou Bah (J. Mallory McCree from “Quantico”), who has created a website that surveys terror-attack sites in New York and includes the hotel where Kahane's murder occurred.

Bah explains on the site that, contrary to what most people think, the September 11 attacks were not the first Al-Qaida attacks on American soil: Kahane's assassination was. He notes that the Al-Qaida offshoot that the assassin belonged to was the first cell of the organization to be active in the U.S., and also the one that tried to blow up the Twin Towers in 1993 using a car bomb planted in the underground parking garage.

As any seasoned viewer would expect, all the plot lines lead to Mathison, who rebuffs all of Saul’s exhortations for her to return to the CIA after she left it (during the 2015 season). Instead, she concentrates on Quinn (Rupert Friend), who is having difficult recovering both physically and emotionally from the events of last season. After her return to the U.S., Mathison started working with an organization that provides legal aid to Muslims living in America. She crosses paths with Sekou Bah, who has been arrested for incitement to terrorist activity (in a plot line somewhat similar to that of another American TV series, “The Night of”).

Mathison comes to Bah's defense, describing him as just an angry kid who's upset with U.S. policy in Muslim countries. Meanwhile, an FBI agent (Dominic Fumusa) argues that the arrest is warranted since pictures of dead American soldiers have been found on the boy’s computer, along with links to sites with clips of suicide bombings. “I’m not about to take a chance, not here, not in New York,” he tells Mathison, evoking memories of September 11.

“Homeland,” which has already been renewed for a seventh and eighth season, aspires to be much more than an spy/action series. Its creators try to echo reality in an almost documentary fashion and to press viewers’ panic buttons with respect to terrorists and terror attacks.

The elusive boundary between the close parallels to reality and the often highly exaggerated bits of action and romance make “Homeland” unbalanced. Indeed each season has featured a thrilling but uneven plot. The new season will likely repeat that pattern, but the opening episode already promises that this season will be riveting and current, presenting a vivid reflection of today’s anxieties – and ensuring that “Homeland” will retain its standing as the most Israeli American drama on screen.