Obviously, for those who’ve NOT seen the conclusion to Homeland’s thrilling and trailblazing debut season, this is your SPOILER ALERT. SPOILERS ABOUND IN THIS REVIEW FROM THIS POINT ON. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
In preparation for this review I scoured the interwebs for the published opinions of fellow critics, professional and—well, otherwise—and what I found was a disconnect. For the most part said “critics” rejoiced. “Homeland” had capped an ambitious first season with a satisfying and yet unsettling finale that answered many questions while inciting many other as I believe all good dramas will do. But then there were the “fans” who had armed themselves with torches and pitchforks ready to satiate their grave disappointment with virtual rioting. Their grievances seemed to center around “logic.” Words like “contrivances,” “deus ex machinas” and “gimmicks” were flung around the cyber food fight, as well as the stickier “failure” “let-down” and “awful.”
Apparently, a lot of quotation marks are needed to explain this message board disgust, huh?
Now I’m not sure if this makes me more “critic” minded, but I was able to forgive and not be phased by what these commenters deemed illogical, because of the emotional payoff. I was never pulled into this show because I felt it was a dead-on reenactment of a potential terrorist threat. I watched for the damaged characters, the moral ambiguity, and the palpable tension. Sure, in a lot of ways the events of the finale may appear merely coincidental. But this was not lazy writing by any stretch. Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa accomplished precisely what they had intended to do. They provided us with an unabashed glimpse into the sacrifices made by Americans fighting for their ideals. Whether those ideals include security, justice, family, or even revenge, they weren’t tackled cheaply. And maybe they had to take liberties in believability to attain these ends, but I did not feel manipulated because of this as an audience member. I felt lots of things watching this finale unfold, but I never felt lied to, because the characters were not betrayed in the slightest. The plot may have some logistical holes, and I will certainly address those, but I’m not sure you can argue that those maneuvers didn’t serve their purpose in providing some of the most compelling drama this year.
I couldn’t help, but think of Shakespeare when addressing these confounding concerns of the finale. Everyone has, at the very least, a working knowledge of Shakespeare. He’s considered one of the greatest storytellers, dramatists and writers of all time. He was also a HUGE fan of contrivance. Need I remind you of the many “inevitable” tragedies that were brought on by coincidence? If Romeo had received a letter he and his lover might have lived. Had Hamlet stopped talking to himself for just a second and avenged his father with a bit more haste, many people might have lived, including himself. Had Three Witches not messed around with Macbeth perception of his destiny he might not have become an uncontrollable murder and Scotland would be more pleasant. My point is that the man achieved extraordinary heights with his plays. The tragedies specifically were, and still are, poignant and astute observations of human flaw and the good and evil potentials within us that could lead to our own downfall. But he couldn’t have gotten there without a little help from his friends like “unfortunate timing,” and “miscommunications.” It was easily avoidable instances like these that made the deaths of our heroes and antiheroes all the more tragic. Now I would never argue that Homeland has established itself as being on par with The Bard, but I would contend that if like Shakespeare we may feel some of that tragic twinge, true to our characters’ natures, because of a few coincidences then I believe judgement should be reserved in those counts.
Now, maybe with those caveats aside, I can get to the good stuff.
This was quite possibly the sweatiest, shakiest, dizziest, throat gulping-ist 85 minutes I have ever experienced. I was afraid for everyone involved, and without any reprieve for that feeling until maybe 10 minutes after the credits. Though much of the novelty in the episode’s beginning was stripped due its reveal in last week’s previews, which showed a chunk of it, I was still transfixed by Brody’s recording. It immediately established a context with which to view Brody’s actions. Despite the unmistakeable terrorist motives Brody had accepted due to his friendship with Nazir, Brody still fashioned himself a Marine, a patriot. He was defending his country from “domestic enemies.” Maybe this speech was all smoke and mirrors, a way to convince not only his loved ones, but himself that he had made the right choice. But to see a man try and justify the atrocities he was to commit is chilling, and set the tone for a mad dash to save the nation and the tortured souls of Brody and Carrie.
Carrie begins the episode in a bedridden depression, “in the wake of her mania” as her sister-doctor diagnoses. Saul comforts her bedside, hoping to provide solace as the person he clearly cares for watching her life’s work slip from her grasp. Even she jokes about the days she called him “Mr. Berenson.” He recalls, “Back when I could piss in a straight line.” But quickly Carrie devolves into hysterics, Danes again provides exceptional range as she goes from calmed adult confidante to angst riddled teenager seeking fatherly guidance as to why the mean boy would hurt her. “Why did he do it,” in reference to Brody ratting her out to the CIA, is spoken with such equal parts bitterness and despair that as viewers we feel like Carrie’s mental illness is shedding her of the last layers that made her invulnerable and now she is exposed, naked in all of her insecurity and struggle to be right and righteous, possibly in that order. Patinkin of course supports like a champ, showing an almost equally devastating horror when he discovers she has fallen in love with Brody, a nightmarish scenario that further affirms her sickness and distances the current Carrie from the one that he backed all these years.
Brody’s daughter Dana (played by Morgan Saylor) is given a chance to shine as she becomes the catalyst for Brody’s regrets. Her suspicion seems to generate when he leads the “grace” at dinner and he recites a surprisingly touching dedication to God. Dana must not have remembered Dad being a devoted follower of Christ, so we aren’t surprised when she walks in on him later in the garage, on a hunch, and sees him bowing towards Mecca. Her Dad, cornered, admits to his conversion to Islam. He binds her to the promise of keeping it from Mom “since she wouldn’t understand,” but clearly that didn’t quell her concerns. This sets the stage for Dana to prevent him from hitting the switch, guilting him into realizing that he would be abandoning her and the family when they need him the most.
The next day, as Brody straps on his vest, Dana continues her sleuthing, expressing her gut feelings about attending the announcement (of VP Walden’s candidacy), citing the extensive security as a reason to avoid the risk. Maybe a part of her suspects he is about to do something, though she can’t bring herself to say it. Last week he told her at Gettysburg to take care of her mom “when he’s gone.” Her worries are not out of nowhere. But Brody gets in his limo nonetheless, heading to the announcement where Carrie has coerced Virgil to take her. As she is surveying the scene, trying to scope out any sign of Nazir’s master plan, Walker shoots down VP Walden’s political advisor, Elizabeth Gaines, and two other security personnel. Carrie sees this as a clear diversion to get all the political officials sequestered. But who would be a threat in that group? Brody. Carrie then calls Saul to explain her theory and he regretfully calls some agents over to contain her, hoping to save her from herself. Virgil delays them, and she darts off she heads for Brody’s home, grasping at straws thinking maybe someone from Brody’s family can get through to him.
Meanwhile, the sweatiest, shakiest TV episode of all time begins. Also what should clearly be Damian Lewis’ submission tape, if last week’s was Claire Danes’, for the Emmy. Finally alone with the VP, Brody becomes drenched in his reluctance. He breathes deeply, staggering, recalling Nazir’s words of encouragement. His face is both determined, and noncommittal. His fingers on the trigger are shaky and yet firm. He then grits his teeth and flicks the switch. And nothing happens. Clearly, this is one of the contrivances that has so angered the fan base, but for me it was the perfect illustration of tragic inevitability. Brody is committed to the idea, but ultimately this was not ever what he was meant to do. Brody has been a man without a country all season and even with Nazir in his ear reminding him of Issa’s cruel murder at the hands of VP Walden’s drone strike, fate would not allow him the chance to wipe that painful memory away so easily. So Brody ducks into the bathroom to try and reconfigure the vest while Carrie arrives at his abode.
When Dana answers the door, she is clearly frightened, but to some degree not shocked at what Carrie tries to convince her. Dad’s working with the terrorists and his friend, Tom Walker. She outwardly calls her nuts, and when Carrie hands her a phone to call her Dad with to talk him out of mass murder she only calls the police. Jess, her mom, arrives home and a domestic shitshow begins, ending with an almost Springer-worthy arrest of Carrie. Her attempts to save a nation have been thwarted, due in large part to her own indiscretion. If she hadn’t betrayed Jess’ trust by sleeping with Brody, would she have come off less nuts, and the information more credible CIA intelligence? Regardless, Carrie planted enough of a seed to stir Dana. Dana ends up calling the secret service number and getting through to her Dad, just as he’s about to flick the switch of the newly reconfigured vest. Again, I understand the extreme suspensions of disbelief that must occur to accept the timing of this scene, but the ensuing conversation where his daughter sweetly strong-arms him into promising he will return home safe is both pulse-pounding, and earnestly tear-jerking. She’s the obvious reminder that no matter what justice he tries to accomplish the family he loves will be left alone, without his love and compassion, the quality that has fueled his entire justifications to follow Nazir, their mutual sympathies for the innocent as victims of war.
And just when you thought the season would end happily, with America still standing and the Brody family intact as well, we are thrust into the developments that will keep the wheels turning for next season. When Brody returns to the spot he hid his confession video, he finds the memory card is not where he left it. As a result, he goes to visit Tom Walker. Walker points a gun to his head, distraught that he didn’t complete his objective. He entraps Brody by having Nazir there listening, on the phone. Brody begs for forgiveness explaining that his vest malfunctioned, and attempts to convince that this grants him a new opportunity to get close to the VP as a Congressman. He can enact change in policy and influence the man. Nazir quips,”Why kill a man, when you can kill an idea?” And suddenly Brody regains his favor, but not so fast. He has to show his dedication by eliminating a “wild-card.” He then hands the phone to Walker and shoots him in the face. Brody’s soul is not entirely saved, as he is still under the service of Nazir, for now.
As for Carrie? She’s bailed out of jail by her sister, and confronted by Brody in the parking lot, again. He asserts that she must believe that he isn’t a terrorist, and that it is imperative she stay away from his family. She obliges, somewhat hesitantly as she knows she doesn’t want to admit defeat. She sobs uncontrollably afterwards, crawling like she’s weak in the backseat, and she decides to be rushed to the hospital. Why? Because she needs to forget Brody AND finally confront her bipolar if she wants a shred of her dignity and a shot in hell at returning to the work she was meant to do. How? Shock therapy. Saul tries to talk her down in another brilliantly acted scene where he reveals the digging he has been doing in the background of the episode. He not only proved Carrie’s theory that Nazir was mourning during his “yellow period” but he uncovered the VP’s attempts to hide the “collateral damage” of the 82 children murdered int the drone strike. Carrie is grateful for his discovery as Saul has once again proved his steadfast loyalty. She asks who Nazir was mourning and he tells her that it was his youngest, Issa. Despite the evidence she wasn’t all wrong, her mind is made up though.
As Carrie is flattened on the slab, being pumped with anesthesia, she remembers the beautiful times with Brody, the tenderness, the real connection, and then she remembers him screaming “Issa” in his sleep. She puts two and two together. Brody was with Nazir then, he saw Issa murdered in the drone strike. That’s how he was turned. And just at the precise moment she could unveil to all why she was right about EVERYTHING she goes under and they begin the shocks that will probably deprive of her that memory, and her triumph. Seeing those electrodes pump the charge through her was like watching all the pain she’d endured to save her country run through again, while her path the truth was slowly being released from her body, and all we could do was sit back and watch her chances at internal peace slip into the ether. Carrie is obviously an unstable person, in need of medical attention, but to subject herself to this horrid invasion of her valuable mind is heartbreaking to say the least. The season ends on the somber note we expected and yet leaves us hoping that there is redemption for both Brody and Carrie somewhere down the line…
There’s no doubt this finale had a lot of expectation attached to it. Not only had the episodes before it set the bar in terms of what it could achieve in terms of suspenseful storytelling, but the writers had to justify a second season. The whole series was predicated on Carrie’s chase of Brody, whether he was a terrorist or not, and what (if anything) he was going to do? And with all that in mind they had to bring the season to an honest to goodness conclusion without providing unnecessary cliffhangers to bridge into season 2. With that in mind, I believe the writers exceeded expectations. I’m glad they went the difficult route of not having Brody die by flipping the switch. Did I want Brody to cause a catastrophic meltdown of the U.S government? No. What I wanted was a relief. For most of the episode the sense of impending doom choked me gently, but relentlessly, and just when I thought the vest-bomb was about to blow away my suffocation, “Homeland” prolonged it, twice. Were the ways in which they manufactured that tension perhaps slightly “contrived” as some fans have described? Yes. But was it what needed to happen for these characters? Absolutely.
So while I can recognize these chinks in what seemed like the impenetrable armor of “Homeland’s” labyrinth thriller, I don’t believe the train derailed. I think it veered off onto a different track while maintaining the course of a show that at its foundation has made us consider America’s War On Terror in a critical way, has given us the opportunity to explore characters with a great deal of instabilities that at any moment can be further destroyed even when redemption is in sight, and it has provided us with painfully rendered performances that pulled no punches in confronting the uncomfortable position we hold ourselves in as observers in a time of ideological battles being waged all around us, whether we admit it or not. For this reason, I’m embracing the superficial imperfections in Gordon and Gansa’s storytelling and instead commending my newest TV lovely for wrapping a spectacular first season with the same gall and artistry it started with. It’s unflinching focus on the bleakest of human confrontations—what they choose to believe vs. who they want to be—is as admirable an aspiration as any I’ve seen in dramatic television. I salute “Marine One” specifically for its commitment to character revelations over plot-based intrigue by awarding the show’s staff soldiers with an A.