(CNN)"Homeland" has often been eerily prescient in terms of art imitating the real-life battle against terrorism. The sixth season cheats a bit in that regard but still conjures thriller-style escapism informed by thought-provoking real-world echoes.
'Homeland' again imitates life with CIA-White House rift
The aforementioned cheat involves setting the story during the period between election and inauguration. The striking parallel is that the President-elect might be inordinately hostile to the CIA, causing its leaders to begin bracing for the worst.
As proof that the writers' crystal ball wasn't entirely clear, said commander in chief is a woman, played by Elizabeth Marvel, who also sought the office on "House of Cards."
Meanwhile, the show's damaged heroine, Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes), has moved on to a new career assisting Muslim-Americans caught up in the government's anti-terror furor -- including a young man introduced shooting videos documenting past U.S. atrocities.
How that plot will intersect with the machinations regarding her old boss Saul (Mandy Patinkin) and the agency remains murky after two installments that raise more questions than answers, reflecting "Homeland's" habit of slowly laying out its cards.
If there's one particularly flat aspect in these opening chapters, it involves Peter Quinn (Rupert Friend), the trained killing machine who barely survived a brutal near-death experience in the previous season. While one can appreciate why the producers would be reluctant to part with such a signature character, based on the initial storyline, this might be one of those instances where it would have been better to bite the bullet and move on.
Perhaps no series has been more in tune with the dichotomies raised by the terror threat, and the sacrifices -- both personal and to core U.S. values -- that potentially stem from efforts to guard against it. Moreover, the show possesses the creative latitude that doesn't always require reassuring or cathartic solutions.
To that extent, "Homeland" has become the brainier cousin of the more popcorn-flavored "24," which returns with a new protagonist -- but mostly the same old formula -- in February.
"Homeland's" penchant for big, risky narrative swings has yielded something of a mixed bag, producing uneven stretches in the program's run after its riveting first season. While it's unlikely the series will ever reach those heights again, the fifth season set in Germany served as a relatively strong and steady bounce-back year.
Despite the flaws, with Danes and Patinkin as emotional anchors the show has reasserted its standing as Showtime's signature series. Mindful of that, the pay network has already renewed the program for two more years, building toward its conclusion.
Whatever this season holds, that means "Homeland's" fight goes on, with no shortage of moral dilemmas to consider in its role as a dramatic proxy for a never-ending war.
"Homeland" premieres January 15 at 9 p.m. on Showtime.