When Showtime renewed “Homeland” through an eighth season, the three-year extension offered the prospect of a big buildup and whiz-bang finish. What emerged fell short of that, culminating in a tense, high-stakes finale that still felt like a much-diminished show from the one whose debut rightfully earned awards, critical praise and President Obama’s endorsement.

Appropriately, the final season set up a showdown between the central characters, CIA agent Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) and her mentor Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin), in another one of those smart “Homeland” scenarios that offer tough alternatives, no great choices and various shades of gray.

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Claire Danes as Carrie Mathison and Mandy Patinkin as Saul Berenson in HOMELAND

“Homeland” has consistently enjoyed uncanny timing, and the finale was no exception. That included the pivotal role played by Russia as a nefarious presence, with Saul describing the country as “a mortal enemy who’s slowly but surely strangling our democracy.

If the series has accomplished anything, it’s been compelling viewers to look at the tradeoffs and sacrifices associated with conducting a “war” against terrorism, where the US, or at least the people running it, can become as great a threat as those intent on the nation’s destruction. The last season saw just that sort of situation develop.

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A green, indecisive vice president (Sam Trammell), elevated by tragedy into the Oval Office, brought the country to the brink of a nuclear confrontation with Pakistan by heeding the advice of a zealous aide (Hugh Dancy, Danes’ real-life husband).