There is literally nothing I can say about Homeland's second season finale, which aired last night on TV3, without warning you about some major spoilers. So, before we get going ...
(Warning: this post contains MAJOR spoilers from the second season of Homeland, including last night's finale.)
I'm going to be honest with you: after the events of the last couple of weeks - Nazir implausibly kidnapping Carrie to force Brody's hand, the ridiculous pacemaker hack to kill Walden, the silly horror movie-esque sequence in the tunnels that led to Nazir's death - I was ready to give up on Homeland. It just seemed like Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon had run out of ideas and, rather than try anything really interesting and new, they had reverted back to their 24 writing days.*
For the first half an hour or so last night, it seemed like we were headed in a really unappealing direction that involved scene after awkward scene of faux-romantic (faux-mantic?) tension between Carrie & Brody. The episode opened with the two of them back at the cabin, talking about what the consequences of setting up house together would be. With Nazir out of the way, his political career over and his marriage to Jess finished, Brody had a relatively clean slate.
The problem was Carrie, who had to choose between a life of love with Brody or a rejuvenated career with the CIA, sweetened by Saul's admission that he was going to recommend her for a considerable promotion, a revelation which led to an argument after Carrie looked less than enthused, revealed that love was waiting in the wings, and Saul voiced the audience reaction, telling her she was "the smartest and dumbest person [he'd] ever f**king known."
When the pair of star-crossed lovers walked out of Walden's memorial service and snuck into Saul's office for some sexy times, and as Carrie announced that she had decided to ditch the CIA and leave with Brody, I was legitimately concerned for the future of Homeland.
And then the writers exploded their show. Literally.
After the bombing at Walden's memorial service, the last third of the episode dealt with the aftermath, rushing through Carrie revealing she had a getaway kit stored away, Brody picking up a fake passport, Al Qaeda releasing the Brody confession tape and framing him for the bombing, and Brody going on the run like the one-armed man in The Fugitive.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but here's where we sit right now as I understand it: Brody is on the run for a crime he didn't commit, Estes is dead and Quinn is off the case (though Quinn could conceivably return as a field agent in the hunt for Brody), Saul takes over leadership of the CIA, and Carrie is planning to try and clear Brody's name from inside the agency. In one fell swoop, Gansa and Gordon have effectively reset almost all of Homeland's major storylines.
The question is whether or not that's a good thing going forward.
I'll admit that the bombing ties together some of the annoying plot points from the last few weeks. As Brody explains, the capture of Roya and the rest of Nazir's crew, and the death of Nazir last week, were elaborate parts of a long con that ended with the events of the finale. "Nazir would die a thousand deaths to make this day happen," he explained in that tense post-explosion scene. The last couple of episodes still happened, sure. But they seem a little less nonsensical in hindsight, thanks to the culmination of Nazir's terror plot.
However, my suspicion is that how you felt about last night's finale probably hinges on how you feel about the romance between our two leads. My fear is that the third season is going to explore it even further, with Carrie's feelings for Brody clouding her judgment as she is tasked with trying to find the man suspected of killing over 200 people in a bombing at the CIA headquarters. To be honest, I thought their romance was a bit soapy, a bit predictable. I didn't enjoy it at all. And if the third season requires substantially more investment in that part of their characters, then I might have a hard time buying in.
Will I watch a third season with these characters, in this particular configuration? Yes, absolutely. But I'm skeptical, more than ever, about whether or not it will be as engaging these first two seasons were until the last few weeks.
A couple of other quick notes about the finale, then it's over to you:
- I've talked before about my love of Claire Danes and Damien Lewis, but they sure didn't get too much to do last night: since most of their screen time was devoted to romance, Danes' only really good scene came with Saul in the hallway, while Brody's only decent scene took place in his bedroom with his daughter - both of which really highlighted the fact that both Danes and Lewis click better with the other characters on the show than with each other.
- Instead, I thought Saul was the star tonight, with Mandy Patinkin turning in a brilliant performance, both before and after the bombing. Both the message he left on Carrie's phone ("Carrie, it's me. I'm looking for you. Please call me back.") and that phone call with his (I believed) estranged wife ("I'm gonna come back." "Yes. Please.") were absolutely heartbreaking. This was easily Patinkin's best work.
- Like many other reviewers, I'm wondering if that's it for the rest of the Brody family (and Mike Faber). If the show goes in a direction more like The Fugitive, with Carrie and Saul chasing down Brody, then you'd have to guess that Jess, Dana and Chris (and Mike Faber) don't really fit into that story. Also leaving the show: Estes, played by David Harewood. RIP.
- Lastly, while the final few episodes went off the rails a little, let's not forget how brilliant those first half-dozen episodes were: the fifth episode, in which the CIA holds Brody and Carrie interrogates him across that table, is still one of the greatest hours of television I've watched all year, and the show was at its absolute peak for a while there. The second season was really quite magnificent, but we've lost sight of that fact thanks to those final few episodes.
What did you think of last night's Homeland second season finale? Are you looking forward to Season 3?
(*) It's worth pointing out that Gansa & Gordon were in charge of 24 during Seasons 5 to 8, aka 24's accelerated creative downward spiral into irrelevance.