A review of the "Homeland" season finale coming up just as soon as I apply to become your cabin boy...

"We came so close." -Brody

A year ago, the finale of "Homeland" season 1 came burdened with a perhaps unfair expectation from most of us. We had been so pleased with the season to that point, and yet so concerned that it could go astray at any moment, that all we wanted was for Gordon, Gansa and company to not screw it up.

Tonight, the finale of "Homeland" season 2 came burdened with a different kind of expectation. The last few episodes had been such a mess that the finale arrived with the show already screwed up, and now the hope was something much harder to achieve: we wanted "The Choice" to retroactively make the stupid parts of recent weeks somehow much less stupid.

And amazingly, it did accomplish that. The scene in Saul's office where Brody figures out what Nazir was really up to really did, in hindsight, make his plan make more sense. He needed Walden's death to be so stealthy, for instance, to set up the very public act of terror that's more his stock in trade. And he needed to make sure he died to ensure that the CIA dropped its guard entirely, which is why he suddenly turned into a slasher movie villain in the tunnels last week.

It was, all told, a much more clever plan than what we thought a week ago, though it still required a few major leaps in logic, like the combined security forces of the CIA and Secret Service not noticing that a car had randomly been parked right next to the room where Walden's memorial was being held. In the moment, though, as Brody started to recognize what had really happened, I smiled and said, "Of course!"

So on that level, "The Choice" did redeem a lot of recent silliness.

But I'm still not sure how satisfying a finale it was, because so much of it hung on a relationship I haven't felt emotionally connected to in quite some time.

Gansa and Gordon have talked a lot about how they wanted Brody to survive season 1 because his "doomed romance" with Carrie was something they wanted to explore more. The chemistry between Claire Danes and Damian Lewis is so often undeniable, but season 2 has been so all over the map in story and tone that by the time Brody was making bug eyes and preparing to murder the Vice-President to save his one true love, I had largely lost interest in the pairing.

Or maybe it's that Carrie and Brody are vastly more interesting when they're lying to each other and letting their respective agendas intermingle with their genuine feelings for one another than they are as a happy, open couple. The two of them being normal with each other feels so abnormal that I couldn't shake the feeling that the opening scenes back at the cabin from "The Weekend" were some kind of extended fantasy sequence, because there's just no way these two could be this at peace with one another. I'm usually the guy making the "Happy couples can be just as interesting as they were in the flirtation stage, dammit!" arguments, but this feels like an unusual case, because this isn't any kind of traditional romance show. It's a spy thriller with some romance grafted on involving two incredibly damaged human beings, and the damage is what makes it fit in with all the rest. The scenes at the cabin aren't exactly Happily Ever After — in fact, they're about these two trying to figure out if they're even capable of Happily Ever After — yet they're still relaxed enough together that I recognized almost at once that I had no interest in seeing them go off into the sunset together. The chemistry wasn't there anymore.

Nor is Brody that compelling a character if he's completely pure of heart, unconflicted, and divorced from any guilt over the things he had to do to get to this place.

In fact, pretty much every emotional response I had to the finale came not from Carrie struggling with her choice, or Brody preparing to say goodbye to his life, but to Saul "The Bear" Berenson. This was, in many ways, Mandy Patinkin's finest hour (plus) on the show, as he proved over and over that the quieter he gets, the stronger he gets. (He's like a bearded, Jewish inverse Hulk.) Over and over through the final stretch of "The Choice," it was the things Saul was doing, saying and reacting to that slayed me, from his paternal disgust with Carrie contemplating a life with Brody to the quiet hope in his voice as he leaves a message for a woman he very much doesn't want to be dead, to the mixture of joy and grief at hearing that this is what will bring his wife back to him, to the beautiful smile on his face when he sees Carrie Mathison standing in front of him. This is the "Homeland" relationship I am most invested in at this point, and also one that's built to last, story-wise, in a way that Carrie and Brody never could be. And if the season's more outlandish plot twists had ultimately hung on what would happen between the two of them rather than the doomed romance, I think I would feel more satisfied with it as a whole.

And speaking of the long haul, I couldn't help but notice that Brody is last seen alive and well, and somehow expecting to make a go of it as a fugitive, despite being the most infamous man in the world at the moment — not to mention someone who already had an enormous amount of celebrity due to his rescue and then ascension to VP-in-waiting. The writers could have killed Brody, but they didn't, presumably because they want to let this story play out some more, with Carrie working to clear her man's name and waiting for the day when they really can walk into the sunset together, rather than share a tearful goodbye on a fire road at the Canadian border in the dark of night. And maybe there can be some interesting material there along the way, depending on how prominent it is. As something Carrie's working on in the background while she and Saul move on to other business next season — with Lewis either not appearing at all or very sporadically — then it can work. But if the plan is to dive straight into Carrie's mission to save her man, and into what Brody is up to while he tries to stay hidden (I would suggest growing a beard, but the world has seen him that way, too), then that's just a show not being willing to let go of a character even if the story has moved beyond him.

When "Homeland" was good this season — the smiles that began and ended the year (one by Carrie, one by Saul), the interrogation, Carrie and Brody at the bar — it's remained one of the best shows on all of television. But ultimately, there were too many other moments that reminded me of all the things I had feared when I first watched that pilot. Some shows are built to run and run, and some aren't. Season 2 suggests that, at a minimum, "Homeland" isn't built that way if it's going to be perpetually about the life of Nicholas Brody.

Some other thoughts:

* Earlier this evening, I watched most of the interfaith prayer service in Newtown. This is not the place to discuss the terrible events of Friday morning, but the final third of "The Choice" couldn't help but echo what I'd seen at the service, as we got several different kinds of memorializing and praying, up through Saul reciting the traditional Jewish prayer of Kaddish while surveying all the body bags. And, in general, it's a lot harder to engage in the drama of fictional mass casualties three days after what happened in Connecticut. Not the show's fault, but very unfortunate timing.

* Given that the world understandably believes Brody was responsible for the bombing, how much guilt do you think Peter Quinn's going to be living if/when we see him next season? Felt almost odd that we didn't revisit Quinn post-bombing, given how his certitude that Brody wasn't a bad guy led to everything that followed. (Even though Brody didn't plant the bomb himself — Nazir's successor leaking the video to the news media makes it clear he was a patsy — if Quinn had killed him by the lake, his car wouldn't have had an excuse to be in the Langley parking lot in the first place.)

* Regardless of what the future holds for Nick Brody, are we more or less done with Dana and the others? Even with the hit-and-run, the milk temper tantrum and other goofiness, I really will miss Dana — her scenes with Brody and then the FBI agents were a reminder of how good Morgan Saylor can be when the character is being written well — but it feels like she and the others have no place on the show anymore. 

* Speaking of the future, Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon will be doing a press conference call late tomorrow morning, Eastern time, and I'll be writing that up shortly after it's done. I'll be curious to hear what, if anything, they're willing to say about where they want the show to go now.

What did everybody else think?

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at sepinwall@hitfix.com