By Cynthia Littleton
LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) - Quinn is alive, Saul is more dedicated to the CIA than ever before and Carrie is getting back in the intelligence game in the sixth season of "Homeland," but on her own terms.
Those were the big hints "Homeland" exec producer Alex Gansa dropped on Thursday during the Television Critics Association panel session to tease the Showtime drama's upcoming season, which begins shooting next week in New York.
The "Homeland" team of Gansa and stars Claire Danes and Mandy Patinkin had the tough assignment of closing out the 16-day slog of the summer press tour at the Beverly Hilton. But the sizable crowd that stuck around in the ballroom through the TCA's last gasp was eager for scoop on "Homeland," which was recently renewed through its eight season.
Gansa elaborated on the plans for season six, to bow Jan. 15, which will focus on the transfer of presidential power in the U.S. and the 70-day period between Election Day and the inauguration. In what could well be a case of art imitating life, "Homeland" will revolve around the experiences of the nation's first female president-elect as she's brought up to speed by the intelligence community on the nation's most pressing security threats.
Here are 10 things we learned about season six of "Homeland":
Rupert Friend's Peter Quinn is most definitely alive, despite his apparent demise at the end of season five. "Quinn is alive, but we want to be careful," Gansa said. "He suffered a major stroke and his very existence was in question. You're going to see a very altered Quinn this season."
Danes and Gansa gave strong hints that Danes' Carrie Mathison will be in a better place mentally in season six. She'll be working in the U.S. as an advocate for Muslims who have been mistreated at the hands of domestic law enforcement. It's a natural outgrowth of her disillusionment with the CIA and the tactics employed in the war on terror. "She's advocating on behalf of Muslims who have been unjustly accused and unfairly treated, but I think she has a bigger agenda that she's not admitting to fully," Danes said.
Counterterrorism policies in the U.S. will be the big focus of season six. As will the practical application of Obama administration's nuclear agreement with Iran -- the pact that has faced so much criticism during Donald Trump's real-life presidential campaign. Those themes are a direct result of "Homeland" producers' annual field trip to Washington, D.C. to take the pulse of intelligence officials. "We talked about the Iran nuclear deal, so that's a fairly big part of the show, and also about how law enforcement in this country is treating the Muslim community right now, and how they've been treating the Muslim community since 9/11," Gansa said. "There are strong feelings on both sides."
Danes suggested that Carrie is coming to grips with her identity after years of fighting competing impulses complicated by her bipolar condition. "Maybe she does have this calling, which is big and demanding," Danes said. "She's a rogue spirit, she's a really good spy, I don't think she'll ever not want to be a spy in some capacity (but) it'll manifest itself differently this time around. She's in the game again in a way she wasn't last season. She's rewriting the rules in her head."
Elizabeth Keane, the president-elect character played by Elizabeth Marvel, is a junior senator from New York. But that doesn't mean she's a Hillary Clinton clone. "She's a little bit Hillary, a little bit Donald Trump, a little bit Bernie Sanders," Gansa said.
Danes and Patinkin couldn't be happier about filming season six in New York, where they both live. The storyline, as always, could not be more timely. "There's something very heartening and lovely about getting to produce it from our home turf, and New York is very fertile territory for our stories," Danes said. "As usual, 'Homeland' is charging towards the most compelling event in our culture, which happens to be what's happening in politics right now."
Saul Berenson and F. Murray Abraham's Dar Adal will be in charge of briefing the president-elect on the realpolitik of national security crises. Gansa described Dar as the ultimate example of the "permanent government" that rules the country no matter who lives in the White House. "Dar's the ultimate barnacle on the side of the intelligence ship, and probably the most threatened by Elizabeth Keane," Gansa said. "He's a firm believer that the ends justify the means."
Saul and Carrie will still be at odds, but they also still have an unbreakable bond. Carrie is not likely to take up Saul's offer to rejoin the CIA. "There has been a split that they've been working on repairing over the course of the past couple of seasons," Danes said. "I think that Saul has committed himself even more fully to the agency, and Carrie rejects some fundamental principles of it. They are so profoundly bonded, that's not anything that they will be able to rid themselves of, nor would they want to. She's matured into a very different place from where he has matured to."
As much as "Homeland" fans love Saul Berenson, Mandy Patinkin loves him more. "I like Saul better than I like Mandy," Patinkin said, emphasizing that he tries to learn from the character's struggles ever year. More important, the profile he's gained from "Homeland" has allowed Patinkin to use his celebrity to further his personal goals. He has been Hollywood's most vocal advocates calling on Americans to embrace refugees from Syria's devastating civil war. "To be able to be the voice for so many people who have no voice - that's just some of the gifts" he's received from playing Saul, Patinkin said.
Patinkin grabbed the attention of the room by adding that he sees his job on "Homeland" as to demonstrate to viewers that the intelligence community needs to be supported to the "highest degree imaginable" and also to "remind people to keep their humanity up to an equally high degree or there will be nothing left to defend."
To the big question of the ultimate end game for "Homeland," Gansa indicated in his post-panel remarks that he sees season eight as the last round. During the most recent series renewal negotiation between producer 20th Century Fox TV and Showtime, Gansa was consulted on the length of the deal. "We asked ourselves how many years can we keep this going and keep the quality up? We said seven or eight seasons sounded about right," he said.