'Homeland' season finale review: Radical solutions

Homeland finished up its first season on Sunday night with an expanded episode that pushed the parallel narratives of Claire Danes’ Carrie Mathison and Damian Lewis’ Nicholas Brody to extremes that worked as both cliff-hangers and as provocative revelations.

Carrie was a figure isolated by her psychic agony and the fanatical devotion to her job that had left even Many Patinkin’s Saul dubious about her, for a while. Brody was a figure who craved isolation — he needed it to pray, to plot, to ponder his destiny. Juxtaposed in this manner, sometimes converging in explosively emotional ways, this duo ended up being more radical in their thinking than most viewers (certainly I) could have imagined (or hoped for).

The finale’s beautifully choreographed set piece was the way Homeland maneuvered the bomb-rigged Brody into position next to Vice President Walden. (Hasn’t Jamey Sheridan done a wonderful job of capturing the charm and cynicism of a career politician, a kind of Mitt Romney with warmth, a Bill Clinton without the pol’s ooze? Wouldn’t you like to know what his party affiliation is? Step up, Homeland!). Intercut with scenes of Walker (Chris Chalk, completing a fully fleshed portrait of a haunted, dehumanized man) setting up his assassination position, these government scenes were tense yet loose, never so mechanical that they didn’t allow for fine, even humorous details, such as the repeated complaints about the security-bunker men’s room not having paper towels. (In these aspects, this section of Homeland reminded me of Coppola’s The Conversation.)

The contrast with Carrie was that while Brody was trying to worm his way in, she was trying to claw her way out — out of her clinical depression, out of the mess she’d created for herself in going off her medicine and failing to hide her brilliant, classified-document work, out of the house to get to where the action was still playing out. Last week, Danes gave a superbly controlled performance as someone out of control; her wild eyes expressed not only the fear of paranoia but the fear of knowing a future reality that everyone should be fearful of, and being unable to convince everyone around her. This week, her matted hair stuffed under a cap, getting poor Virgil (again, what a marvelous supporting performance, as David Marciano communicated intelligence, sympathy for Carrie and bafflement at her intensity) to drive her to the site of what Carrie suspects is the location for… what? The assassination of the Vice President? Carrie had decided that was too small-potatoes for Abu Nazir (Navid Negahban), but she couldn’t quite figure out his endgame, until she tumbled to the idea that Brody, as well as Walker, would be used to harm more than just the Veep.

And this was where Homeland really took off into season-ending inspiration. What locked into place is that Brody really is a patriot — a patriot who feels his country has committed war-crime atrocities and must be brought to justice, or at least exposed. His conversion to Islam and the sentimental attachment to Nazir’s son resulted in a deep radicalization: Brody is able to justify his actions not as terrorist acts, but as acts of moral and political protest. I can’t think of a TV character in a weekly series to whom we’ve ever been asked to relate to as a sympathetic protagonist whose politics are so extreme, which only deepens my admiration for the producers behind Homeland.

You could say that ascribing Nazir and Brody’s motivations to avenging the deaths of the son and other children mars the tough realism of these men, and that the failure of Brody’s bomb to detonate was a flimsy way to keep one of the stars of the show in the picture. But if you buy Brody’s scene as having been a reasonable possibility — and obviously I am taking that leap of creative faith — then the reaction to Sunday night’s finale is that Brody remains a man who’s already blown himself up inside, and must rearrange his thinking to fit, and now shape his new reality. Going forward for the series, the setup for Brody to become an insider, running for Congress, a player in the political process he loathes, sets him on a new path. I can’t imagine how it’s going to play out with daughter Dana (Morgan Saylor), who knows a helluva a lot that she really need not keep a secret from her mother, or with his wife (Morena Baccarin), but that only makes me glad I’m not on the Homeland writing staff, and am a happy audience member. 

As for Carrie, since pop culture’s most enduring portrait of electroshock treatments still probably derives from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, it was a brave decision — by the producers behind the scenes and Danes in front of them — to have the character opt not only for such a drastic procedure but for those visual images. The treatment was entirely in keeping with Carrie’s extreme, all or nothing approach to life, and allowed for the poignant moment in which she struggled against the anesthesia to grab at the realization that Brody knew Nazir’s killed son. While this was presented cunningly — Carrie’s comment dismissed as “nothing” by the blase nurse — I initially thought it didn’t add much to the puzzle the CIA is trying to piece together. I suppose Carrie’s conclusion makes a decisive link between Brody and Nazir, but don’t Carrie and Saul already think that? If the idea is that the dead son is crucial emotional motive for Brody’s actions, I think the series is placing too much pressure on that one death as being so crucial to the thinking of both Brody and Nazir. These are, after all, men who live in the real, dirty world, who know that innocents are killed indiscriminately.

In any case, the close-up of Carrie enduring the jolts of electricity was a forceful image for the agony she has and will continue to endure. Beyond appreciating the quality of Homeland‘s season now that it’s complete, an element of fun also obtains: Speculating on where the show goes from here next season. My wary, not really thought-through but immediate reaction after the episode ended was to speculate that Carrie will operate as an independent agent, or perhaps (in a small time-jump) take a teaching position that in either case will keep her in contact with Saul and continuing to dog Brody. And Brody — well, that guy has a whole mess of challenges to sort out; it’s just a matter of calming himself, doing a lot of praying and terrorist networking, to decide on his plan of devious action as a political candidate. And remember another wrinkle: In Saul’s words this night, to Carrie re Brody, “You’re in love with him.”

Next season, I’d like the producers to consider having Carrie reveal another of her jazz passions: Thelonious Monk. That way, they could play such appropriate Monk music as “Criss Cross,” “Misterioso,” and “Just You, Just Me.”

All in all, a terrific end to a terrific first season of Homeland. Agree?

Twitter: @kentucker

Read more:
‘Homeland’: Behind that tense closer
‘Homeland’ star Damian Lewis: Brody is up to something
Showtime’s ‘Homeland’ builds in the ratings

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