"Homeland" Finale Recap: Love rules

In the last episode of the season, a show allegedly about geopolitics goes big on romance

Published December 17, 2012 7:00AM (EST)

A confession: At some point in the not so distant past, some time before the first season’s steamy cabin episode and up through the phenomenal interrogation episode of this now-completed second season, I was a devoted Brody and Carrie ‘shipper. Yes, their whole dynamic has always been a little implausible and a lot twisted, a partnership resting on a wacked power dynamic and a whole lot of chemistry, but I was into them. I, like the creators of “Homeland,” believed the show “elevated” when Brody and Carrie were on-screen together. I spent a lot of time thinking about why their seemingly unworkable thing worked. Sense be damned, I wished for the pair a cockamamie future, one in which they could be happy and crazy and never, ever — knock wood — have enormously messed-up children together.

So if at the beginning of “Homeland’s” second season you had told me, “Oh, this season is going to be like ‘Romeo & Juliet,’ except even better because neither Romeo nor Juliet dies, they just cry and make out in the woods and then have to take a break,” I would have been pleased and enthusiastic and very “you can take your realism and shove it because Carrie and Brody 4eva.” I was ‘shipping for those crazy kids, and ‘shipping for them hard. But that was nothing compared to “Homeland” creators and Carrie and Brody stans Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon, who are ‘shipping for Carrie and Brody so hard I would actually need to see their notebooks to believe they don’t doodle “Carrie and Brody 4eva” all over them.

“Homeland,” whether you take issue with its dramaturgy or its politics, began as a show uniquely interested in the complicated morality of geopolitics, the Middle East, the war on terror. If Carrie and Brody’s rapport has come to mean so much to the show, it was not the basis of the show. The show did not begin with the question: What if one fell in love with a sort-of-honorable terrorist? It began with: What if a terrorist was a war hero and white guy? Before shading a little into: Can a terrorist also be a patriot? And: Can a crazy person see most clearly?

As this season has gone on, these questions have been subsumed by the love question, and in the process a show that began with one of TV’s grayest main characters — a sympathetic terrorist — has developed an almost black-and-white understanding of its cast —people are either good or bad, nonviolent or violent, pure or evil of heart-— and also of geopolitics, where the bad guy is no longer a tortured war hero who takes issue with America’s droning policy, but bloodthirsty, life-destroying foreigners. To quote David Estes (R.I.P. even though he was a jerk), "What is all this squishy bullshit?"

If you apply standard-and-necessary-for-“Homeland” suspension of disbelief measures, the finale was a relatively satisfying stand-alone outing that — as with the two episodes before — continues to make hash of the season as a whole, because everything, even plausibility, is secondary to the Saga of Carrie and Brody. (Every ludicrous thing that happened in "Broken Hearts" happened because the show wanted to show us how much Brody really cares for Carrie.) The finale, as has become standard for "Homeland," was stuffed with things that taste good but are bad, like poison-laced marshmallows,  or taste good but make no sense, like pink marshmallows that come in the shape of a bird that can blow up to 10 times their original size in the microwave.

There were dozens of beats and scenes that were fun to watch. Do I want to see Carrie and Brody have kisses and feelings in front of a warm fireplace? You know what, I do. Do I want to see Saul dis Estes by calling him Javert (I hope “Les Miz” sent the product placement check over already; Mandy Patinkin is a primo spokesperson for that particular project) and chug milk and tell Carrie she is “the smartest and the dumbest fucking person [he’s] ever know?” Yes please! Do I want to think that Saul, a guy who was just detained for three days and is constantly butting heads with his superiors, could somehow now be all but in charge of the CIA? How many ways are there to say “hell yes”? Do I want to believe that our trained assassins occasionally question their orders, apply morality, and conclude that ruthless violence is not the right thing to do? Yes, yes, yes to infinity. Was I not sickened and moved — especially for the terrible way that fiction couldn't come close to anything as tragic and horrible as reality this past weekend — by the blowing up of 200-plus people at a funeral, including the adorable, lovely, still-growing-up-so-hard, boat-shoe-wearing Finn Walden? I was.

And yet, for all these enjoyable if maybe-implausible moments — and tossing up my hands at the totally implausible ones, because I really don't know why the president wouldn't be at a memorial service for his own vice-president — there was also a lot of spinelessness. This last episode of "Homeland" spent more time on Carrie and Brody getting up the courage to use the "L" word, than it did on sorting out that other problematic "L" word: logic. It spent so much time on the pair's situation, maybe you didn't notice that Saul's detention and Quinn's orders to kill Brody, both story lines that have taken up much of the last four episodes, didn't really matter at all.

If there is one thing we know about “Homeland” and will know about “Homeland” for as long as it is on the air, it’s that Carrie Mathison will be working for the CIA. As soon as Brody and Carrie started talking about her Brody-or-her-job conundrum, there was hocus-pocus going on, hocus-pocus that lasted for nearly 40 minutes, but was deplete of real tension. Carrie might choose Brody, but she would never be allowed to permanently choose Brody, because then there would be no television show: We were waiting for the bomb to go off. (While we were waiting we got the thing I hated most in this episode — and that includes Mike's new mini-pompadour hairdo— the camera cutting away as Quinn fingered the trigger behind Brody’s unprotected head, leaving us to wonder if Quinn shot him or not. Premium cable showrunners talk often about how great it is not to have to worry about cutting to commercial breaks, but that moment needed a commercial break to make it anything but laughable.)

But “Homeland” did have another choice to make: to kill Brody or not. Yes, Damian Lewis just won an Emmy and he is a big part of the show, but Brody — who is no longer a threat or a source — is really only integral to the show if you believe “Homeland” is mostly about the continuing love affair between Carrie and Brody, and not about a host of other things, including but not limited to the development of Carrie Mathison’s character.

What would have happened if, after being flattened by a car’s worth of C4, Carrie had killed Brody as she first intended? Or brought him to the CIA? Then we would have an entire season ahead of us where Carrie is wracked by both self-doubt — how could she have trusted Brody again? — and eventually guilt — he didn’t do it. Instead, Brody is off in the wilds of Canada, where he will pop up in future episodes, in what I can only assume will be super-realistic ways. Carrie is no longer primarily a zealot for the safety of the United States, but a zealot for clearing Brody’s name. (Carrie and Brody, their “hearts and sex scenes will go and on,” Celine Dion sings from somewhere in Vegas.)

So, could Brody still really be a bad guy? Is Carrie getting played? It was definitely Carrie who suggested they leave the memorial first. And if Brody knew his car had a bomb in it, he either would have stayed at the memorial to die, or left sooner and gotten farther away to live. I think the leaking of his previous confession by a terrorist organization further confirms that it was Nazir’s not Brody’s plan, because even Brody wouldn't want to screw his family or himself that badly.

I did find the scene where Carrie tells Brody she wants to be with him suspicious — Brody’s sad-face-that-was-supposed-to-be-happy came at a very strange time, and it was awfully convenient he noticed his car mid-makeout session — but I think those were just awkward acting choices. After all, Brody’s extreme, spazzy performance in “Broken Hearts” was just that. (And everything else in “Broken Hearts” still doesn’t make sense. If the VP dying was integral to Nazir’s plan, why did he let Carrie go before he knew Brody had killed him again?)

If one wants to go looking for new conspiracy theories, however, check out one Mr. Peter Quinn. (Cute moment: When Finn called Brody “Mr. Brody.” Aw, Finn.) Maybe it’s Quinn who’s the mole, and the reason he didn’t kill Brody wasn’t because he suddenly got emo, but because he knew Brody had to live for Nazir's evil plan to work. Alternately, Quinn just got the story line Carrie should have— he's the one who has to live with having been "wrong" about Brody. It's something to obsess about next season, anyway.

And I will be obsessing about it next season. Obviously, I think  “Homeland” can be completely banana-go-nuts. I think it ended this season weakly, and much more seriously, has consistently sacrificed complicated, thorny, knotty issues and perspectives for romance and action-thrills. But this season's middle four episodes were some of the most riveting, fun television I've ever watched and, damn, if that Claire Danes can’t act. Did you see Saul’s smile when Carrie appeared at the end of the episode, saying his name as he delivered the Mourner's Kaddish, and for a minute he thought he was just imagining the voice he most wanted to hear? I want to know what happens five minutes later, when his immediate joy fades, and Saul realizes Carrie has been missing for 24 hours, doing God knows what, God knows where, with a guy who has, according to Saul, a lousy soul. Until then.

By Willa Paskin

Willa Paskin is Salon's staff TV writer.

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