Season finale review: 'Homeland' - 'The Star': Don't leave me hanging
A review of tonight's "Homeland" season finale coming up just as soon as you explain a Baby Bjorn to me...
"I want it to be over." -Brody
"The Star" begins with another of those "Homeland" sequences where you have to nod and smile and mutter, "Just go with it" for it to make any damn sense at all, as Brody somehow walks out of Akbari's office while his secretary and bodyguards are all on a simultaneous coffee break and makes it practically to the outer gate of the most secure complex in all of Iran before somebody notices that he murdered the head honcho. Previously, "Homeland" has presented a version of Iran so dangerous, intractable and impenetrable that Saul would have to resort to this crazy plan to make any headway. In these last two episodes, they've presented a version of Iran where Lt. Dangle and company from "Reno 911" apparently designed all the security measures.
In addition, it's the second episode in a row that skips over some of the most potentially meaty material: in this case, how the people of Iran, America, and the world react to the latest abrupt, insane turn in the story of Nicholas Brody, who has gone (in the public eye) from presumed killed in action, to rescued war hero, to rookie congressman with an inside track at the vice-presidency, to the heinous terrorist who bombed the CIA, to an international fugitive, to a revered hero in Iran for the aforementioned bombing, to a despised, swiftly-executed assassin whom all Iranians despise. I suppose this is one of many "Homeland" threads it's best not to pull on too much, but it was only last week that he was being cheered in the streets of Tehran while Americans were appalled. Javadi(*) tells Carrie that now everyone sees Brody through her eyes, but I imagine it's more that most people are confused as all get out by this guy. Was there any public statement as to why he killed Akbari? Has he just been written off as a mercurial, equal-opportunity murderer?
(*) During the stretch of the episode where Brody and Carrie are trying to get out of the country together, why does no one mention the very real and very dangerous possibility that Brody would be tortured while in custody, and reveal who it was who assigned him to commit this crime, and what role Javadi has in all of this? For that matter, what on earth is Carrie doing telling the soldiers to call her pal Javadi to fix things?
But as Javadi says to Carrie in that same scene, "It was always about him." Carrie long ago went all-in on her love for Brody, and "Homeland" has done the same with that relationship. Everything, especially in this season's second half, has been secondary to Carrie's feelings for Brody, and her desire to clear his name (give or take the pesky issue of VP Walden's murder) and live happily ever after with him and their unexpectedly healthy baby. Nothing else — not Carrie spending several episodes in a mental hospital, not Saul's Rube Goldberg plan to establish peace in the Middle East, not Quinn's feelings of burn-out (which were gone and forgotten long ago), not anything involving Dana, Jessica and Chris Brody — ultimately matters. All of it was building to the moment in the safe house where Carrie suggests that "one of the reasons I was put on this Earth was for our paths to cross," and Brody agrees with her.
Now, I believe Carrie Mathison would think this. And I believe Nicholas Brody, after all the horrible things that have been done to him, and that he in turn has done, might actually agree with her — or, at least, that he would want to, because it could be one happy thing to hang onto in a life that's otherwise been a nightmare since he and Tom Walker were captured. And there has always been an undeniable chemistry between Claire Danes and Damian Lewis, and an added charge to the show whenever these two hopelessly damaged individuals have been put together. So considering all of that, I can understand why the season — and why this finale, scripted by Alex Gansa and the returning Meredith Stiehm(**) — would build to that scene, and then to Carrie disobeying Brody's last request(***) and coming to watch him be hung from a crane in a public square.
(**) Stiehm was busy running "The Bridge" for most of this season, but will be back with "Homeland" full-time for season 4.
(***) Carrie declining his request during their final phone call was done no favors by the many times this season where she was grossly insubordinate (and at times treasonous) with Saul, Lockhart and others. Under normal circumstances, one lover ignoring another's dying wish because they have to be with them in their final moments might seem noble, or at least understandable. When it's Carrie Mathison, congenital order-ignorer, it's just one more reason to get annoyed with her.
But if you don't believe that the thing between Carrie and Brody is True Love, then it's an exchange to generate the eye-roll to end all eye-rolls. And even if you have bought into their soulmate-ness, the question is whether those moments between Carrie and Brody, and the power of Brody's unglamorous death (whether or not he was ready to die, nobody wants to go that way, as you could see in Lewis' eyes), were worth all the contortions required to get there. And while I liked a number of moments in "The Star" — during both the scenes in Tehran and the extended Four Months Later epilogue — they weren't enough to redeem all the goofiness elsewhere.
Even in the epilogue, there were strange choices, like Lockhart — who, remember, hated and mistrusted Carrie even more than he felt that way about Saul, and who was witness to so many of her refusals to follow orders — not only keeping her on, but promoting her to one of the choicest positions in the Agency. You can't hand wave it away by saying, "Well, Carrie was right, so he let the other stuff go," because Saul was even more right, and he was less insubordinate than Carrie (when the initial border crossing went awry, for instance, Saul knew when it was time to admit defeat and put the military in charge), and he's out. Season 3 of "Homeland" did such an impressive, if unintentional, job of establishing why Carrie should never, ever be allowed to work for the CIA again that even the buttoned-down, melancholy tone of the epilogue, and the success of Saul's operation, couldn't sell me on this major plot point.
On the other hand, Four Months Later Carrie has at least learned to stop talking when it's clear she's lost an argument — I would worry about her getting caught on camera putting graffiti on the memorial wall, but I'm going to assume that the "Homeland" version of Langley has security of roughly the quality of Akbari's office — and the epilogue effectively cleans the slate for season 4, whatever is going to happen in it. Great as Damian Lewis was for almost all of his tenure, "Homeland" needed to bring Brody's story to an end, and "The Star" did that in a way that was emotionally effective if logistically stupid. Brody got his redemption (again, only kind of, depending on what exactly the rest of the world knows/believes about him at this stage), and if Carrie has any chance of redemption as a character, it has to be without him around to drive her every bad impulse.
In an ideal world, "Homeland" would have been a riveting 12-episode miniseries that ends with Nicholas Brody killing himself and half of U.S. intelligence high command, with Carrie taking cold comfort in the knowledge that she was right about him. In a more creatively compromised but still viable world, Brody would have blown himself up and the series would have moved onto Carrie and Saul looking into a new case. Instead, the powers that be tried to milk three seasons out of Carrie and Brody's story, and while there were certainly moments along the way I'm glad I got to see ("Q and A" chief among them), the series got ever-more contrived to keep that story going.
I don't know that the a clean slate will fix things, not after a season where Carrie has so often been irritating, and Saul has so often seemed stupid (even when his insane plan to save the world was working), but a clean slate is the only shot at this point. And we have it now. And Lewis got a few more strong moments before we said goodbye. So that's something, I suppose.
But there was so much silliness needed to get to this point.
What did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org