Homeland, Channel 4, Sunday

So much has happened in the nine years since Homeland first aired, both in TV-land and in the real world the show seeks to represent, that it almost feels like a bridge back into history. When the show launched in 2011, Netflix’s first original production was still a year away and the phrase “streaming giant” could mean anything you wanted it to. Today, of course, we know exactly what it means, which companies it refers to and what we expect from them in terms of content – high quality, lavishly-funded dramas, and lots of them for us to scroll through at our leisure.

Politically much has changed too in the last nine years, and Homeland has (mostly) done well to follow and even anticipate the twists and turns. Conceived in the fall-out from the 9/11 attacks and the unholy mess the Americans and their British allies left behind in Iraq and Afghanistan the show reflected events in those theatres of war before developing plot lines that took in Iran, terrorism, the Alt-Right and (last season) Russia and its cyber-bots. Only the rise of Donald Trump blind-sided the writers: season six began shooting in August 2016, three months before Trump’s shock election, and featured America’s first female president. Well, you can’t win ’em all, right?

Homeland’s topicality is certainly a strength but it’s the characterisation which has given it such staying power. At the risk of incurring the wrath of the espionage purists I’d say Homeland’s spy-master-in-chief Saul Berenson (ever-watchable polymath Mandy Patinkin) is as fine and complex a creation as John le Carre's George Smiley. Meanwhile Berenson's protégé Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes, the show’s star) is a masterclass in likeable unlikeability. It’s quite the high wire act but Danes pulls it off season after season.

So where are we now? Series seven found the bipolar Mathison in the hands of the Russians and suffering one of her periodic breakdowns under interrogation. It ended with her being returned to the Americans in one of those dramatic slow-walk-across-a-bridge prisoner swaps. Sunday’s eighth season opened with her still under medical supervision and, given the six month blank in her memory, under suspicion from her former colleagues at the CIA. Enter Berenson, who needed Mathison for an operation in Afghanistan, one of her many old stomping grounds, and wasn't too bothered about how she was viewed and by whom. “Hell, yeah” she said when he made the offer. Next stop, Kabul, where everything passed in a typically Homelandian blur of tension, terse dialogue and tightly-controlled action sequences. It was an exemplary start to the final season of probably the most gripping geo-political thriller of the last decade.