"Claire Danes's performance remains a TV marvel" (Price Peterson, Vulture) in the fifth enthralling season of the Emmy-winning series Homeland. Now working at a private security firm in Berlin, Carrie is trying to start a new life, but she soon discovers she can't escape her past. Blindsided by stunning betrayals, and without Saul (Mandy Patinkin) and Quinn (Rupert Friend) to rely on, Carrie must uncover a deadly conspiracy that puts thousands of lives at risk, including her own.
A few seasons back, the wheels just about fell off the 'Homeland' bus - the result of the showrunners decision to keep the character of Nicholas Brody around a good season and a half longer than they should have. Season Four proved that the series could work quite well without the Brody character, although after a really good batch of episodes it ended with a season finale that felt more like an afterthought than a proper conclusion. Learning from past mistakes, however, 'Homeland' finally gets it right in Season Five, with a tense, intriguing storyline that is arguably the best the show has done since Season One. It pumps new life into a series that seemed very much to be on its last legs.
This season of 'Homeland' is set in Berlin, where the American CIA is secretly assisting the German intelligence community unbeknownst to the German people. The CIA's German station, led by Allison Carr (Miranda Otto), gets their info hacked and the attempts to keep the CIA/German relationship from going public is a thread that runs throughout the episodes. Also in Berlin is ex-CIA officer Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes), who is now working for a German foundation as head of their security detail. Her primarily duty as this season gets underway is to facilitate a visit of her boss (played by Sebastian Koch) to a Syrian refugee camp without incident. While the event goes off without any problems, there is an attempt on their lives upon exiting via a bomb explosion.
Meanwhile, Carrie's old CIA ally Quinn (Rupert Friend) is also in Berlin where he's been assigned by Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin) to assassinate certain undesirables. Saul places a name in a mailbox that Quinn checks on a regular basis. Quinn will then eliminate the person in question and return evidence of their demise to the same mailbox, upon which he'll get his next name. Surprisingly, after a few kills, the name that shows up in the mailbox is none other than Carrie Mathison.
Without giving too many spoilers away (and what I'm revealing now is covered in the first few episodes), it's not Saul who gave the order to kill Carrie, but rather someone else within the CIA. Quinn, naturally, can't bring himself to follow the order to kill her, but Quinn does learn that the bomb that Carrie thought was targeting her boss was actually targeting her instead. It's not going to be hard for most viewers to figure out who wants Carrie eliminated, and thankfully the showrunners reveal who it is shortly after Carrie learns someone is after her.
After learning the identity of the mole, the second half of Season Five focuses primarily on Carrie and Saul trying to bring that person to justice, as well as trying to stop a terrorist gas attack on Berlin. It all wraps up pretty satisfactorily, although one character's fate is left hanging in the balance as the final episode closes out (that fate has been revealed now that Season Six has premiered on Showtime).
Although I really loved this season of 'Homeland', it's not without a few flaws – almost all of which seem lazily created by the showrunners just to get the characters in situations they want to see them in. The hacking scene in the first episode shows a ridiculously inept CIA at work (they basically allow themselves to be hacked) and there's a cringe-worthy scene an episode or two later where Carrie intentionally goes off her bipolar medication because she believes it helps her think better (it's really just an excuse for Claire Danes to have a few scenes where she acts crazy). That said, I also think Season Five provides the best performance we've seen from Mandy Patinkin playing Saul. It's shocking to me that Patinkin has yet to win an acting award for this character (he's been nominated several times). He's really fantastic in these episodes – although one wishes the showrunners would find a way to have both him and Claire in a lot more scenes, since that's when both actors really shine.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
The fifth season of 'Homeland' finds its way to Blu-ray with this three-disc release. The 50GB Blu-rays are housed inside an Elite keepcase, with the second disc of the set held on a plastic hub. The reverse side of the keepcase's slick (seen from inside the case) contains a list of the episodes contained on each disc, as well as the bonus materials for Disc 3 (each disc contains four of the season's 12 episodes). A slipcover with artwork matching that of the keepcase slides overtop.
The first disc in the set is front-loaded with an advertisement for 20th Century Fox TV shows that are available on home video, plus a trailer for American Crime Story: The People vs O.J. Simpson. The main menu is a montage of footage from the season, with menu selections at the bottom center of the screen. Viewers should note that these discs provide a "Season Mode" option, allowing one to view the entire season without interruption (aside from switching discs, of course) as well as being able to come back and continue viewing exactly where one left off.
Despite the packaging claiming this is a Region A release, the Blu-rays in this set are actually region-free.
'Homeland' is shot digitally on the Arri Alexa Plus and is presented in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio. With this season being shot on-location in Berlin, the outdoor shots not only provide for some beautifully detailed video, but also a look to the series that is different from any previous season of the show. Things do get slightly soft and ever so slightly murky when scenes are indoors and not particularly well-lit, as has been the case with other shows I've viewed that were shot on Arri Alexa equipment. However, such moments are spread out far enough that the vast majority of what viewers get here looks great.
In terms of glitches, there were only a few instances of mild aliasing and a bit of noise creeping into the darker scenes, but for the most part this is a very good looking presentation of the episodes that fans of the show will be quite happy with. If you own any prior seasons of the series, the video quality is on par with those releases.
The featured audio for each episode is an English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track that provides for a fun – if not always immersive – listening experience. As is the case with most television series, the majority of dialogue is rendered through the front center speaker, with the rears primarily reserved for ambient sounds such as crowd noise, soundtrack enhancement, and just the general hustle and bustle of the city of Berlin. LFE use isn't frequent, but it does kick into action during several explosions that take place during the course of the season. Directionality is also used occasionally and is most evident during the last couple episodes, which send Carrie into the Berlin subway system.
There are no obvious glitches that stuck out to me when viewing these episodes, and much like the video, the audio here is on par with prior season releases of this series.
In addition to the lossless English track, Spanish (Castilian) and Italian DTS tracks are also an option for each episode. Subtitles are available in English SDH, Spanish (Castilian), Spanish (Latin), French, and Italian.
Note: The bonus materials listed below are both contained on Disc 3 of this set.
'Homeland' proves it still has plenty of gas left in the tank with a strong Season Five that is arguably one of the series' best. Despite the rather slim bonus materials on this release, the 12 episodes hold up to repeat viewings, landing this season of the show firmly in the "Recommended" category.