'Homeland' season finale review: The revenge of Mandy Patinkin

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Image Credit: Kent Smith/Showtime

Homeland concluded its season with an episode that gave the best lines to Mandy Patinkin’s Saul, and set the series spinning forward for another season. The question is: Are you going to go with it, given what’s now happened?

SPOILER ALERT: DO NOT READ UNLESS YOU’VE SEEN THE SEASON FINALE OF HOMELAND.

Homeland persisted in what it has been its consistent theme: This really is a love story, about Brody and Carrie’s pretty crazy, and therefore all the more convincing, adoration of each other. In the finale, they became each other’s saviors: “Your past and my illness,” as Carrie put it, is what links them. “Maybe this will all end in tears,” said Brody a bit later, and it almost did, when the episode concluded with Brody on the run (“Goodbye, love”), a fugitive well-accused of killing more than 200 people at a Langley bombing, both of them tremulously emotional at being separated when they’d come so close to sealing a deal to live a life together. But instead of ending in tears, Homeland closed out with a smile — Saul’s, upon seeing that Carrie had survived the explosion.

The finale offered up a whole host of crackling scenes. Carrie and Brody’s idyll in the cabin, witnessed by Quinn as well as us. Saul being held captive at the CIA only to be freed by an Estes who’d been well and truly threatened by a Quinn who’d become a true believer in love and common sense laced with malice: “I’m a guy who kills bad guys.” Good line.

Even better? The ones Mandy Patinkin got to deliver. “Well, if it isn’t Javert,” he said to Estes, as we were given a chance to chuckle through the tension at the sly musical-theater performer being given anĀ apposite Les Miserables reference to fold into the proceedings. And later, trying to talk Carrie out of her devotion to Brody, he summed her up with the sort of abruptness that makes viewers love Saul: “You’re the smartest and the dumbest f—in’ person I’ve ever known.”

Of course, making Saul a crowd-pleaser is anathema to a certain sub-set of people, both viewers and critics who believe Homeland went soft this season. The degree to which the critical tide has turned against Homeland has been striking. Many have pointed to the third episode of this season, “State of Independence” — the one in which Brody takes custody of the Gettysburg tailor and eventually kills him while fielding where-the-hell-are-you? calls from Jessica — as the beginning of the end of plausibility. I loved “State of Independence.” I thought the way Brody behaved was exactly the way a certain kind of man would react in this situation; Brody was an unstable control-freak — of course he was going to try and placate his wife and do anything he could to keep the tailor under his control, even if that meant snapping his neck.

Much Homeland criticism depends on your definition of what implausibility is, where the point of disengagement occurs. That can be a highly subjective, personal thing; it has to do with, to an extent, identifying with a character and believing (or not) that you might do the same thing. Or it’s an objective thing, if you’re the sort of viewer who holds certain rules of drama inviolate. I’m not saying either of these positions is wrong, but rather, that those of us who were willing to let Homeland carry us along on its bumpy ride are certainly not unaware or foolish about the series’ formal riskiness.

That formal rigor allowed for the neat double-cross at the climax of the episode: Brody’s old confession tape used by Abu Nazirian terrorists to be broadcast throughout America as fake proof that the bomb in Brody’s car had been planted by a grave, vengeful Brody. That Brody and Carrie escaped death themselves was due to Carrie’s ardor — a mixture of true love and cat-scratch fever — that led them both away from the worst of the blast so that she could tell him, “I’ve decided I want to be with you.”

What the producers have done is, to be reductively simple, is to place Saul in the Estes spot — but he’s an Estes with clean hands and a clean conscience. Or… is he? An alternative domino theory of Homeland would go like this: Why was Saul the only central player conveniently at Abu Nazir’s burial at sea, which was timed to coincide with Vice President Walden’s memorial and therefore left Saul safe and therefore placed him neatly in line to get instantly promoted, and therefore the person who benefits most from this entire scenario? You’d be smiling at Carrie, too… Naw. I think Homeland wanted to go out this season as it came in: With a smile on a face.

The tension of this finale was deftly achieved; it really worked: every time Carrie and Brody went into a clinch, I expected one of them to shoot the other in the back. (I really thought Brody’s “Goodbye, love” was the prelude to bang-bang after kiss-kiss.) As it stands, I’m still all-in for next season. Jessica and her children are left in the burly care of Mike, with the blessing of Brody, freeing them up to play an ever-smaller role in the series, do you think? In any case, when Homeland returns, the series becomes: The hunt for Nick Brody, with his undercover moll Carrie Mathison, starring Saul Berenson as the smartest f—in’ person on Showtime.

Twitter: @kentucker

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