Last night, Homeland wrapped up its fantastic first season. The 90-minute finale was tense, touching, and, at times, extremely difficult to watch. Its characters will all be in interesting spots come Season 2 — Carrie trying to get her mental health and her memory back, Brody working to influence policy from the inside, and Saul newly aware of the vice-president and David's cover-up. But it wasn't perfect. Here are eleven things the Homeland finale did well, and four things that have us worried for next season.
The Twisted Brody-Carrie Dynamic
The only person in the whole world who knows that Carrie is not only right about Brody, but that she successfully stopped a suicide bombing of the vice-president and other high-level government officials, is Brody. But Carrie is also the person Brody treats most horribly (well, her and Tom Walker). Yes, he’s willing to detonate a suicide bomb in a small room, killing scores of people, but he has his ethical and moral justifications for that. His heartless manipulation of Carrie is the most malicious thing we’ve seen him do, even if he can pretend it was done just to keep her out of his way. And she still loves him. This is a meaty relationship upon which to hang a second season.
More Badass Saul
For much of the season, Saul was the person saying no to Carrie. But because he respects her brain, he’s been willing to listen to her even as she’s gone off the deep end. (Though even he has his limits: When he called the guards on her after the shooting, who could blame him?) His listening led him to the covered-up drone strike that killed Issa and, even better, to the awesome scenes where he blackmailed the vice-president and gave David Estes the what-for. A more empowered, less trusting Saul should be a force.
The Patriotic Suicide Bomber
In the middle of the season, when we found out that Brody had turned because of the death of a small child, we were a little alarmed: Were the Homeland creators so concerned with the audience finding Brody sympathetic that they couldn't find a more complicated, less clichéd reason for him to have become a terrorist? But in the finale it paid off. Issa's death didn't make Brody a simple terrorist, it made him a much more complicated, controversial thing: the suicide-bombing patriot. Brody isn't an America hater, he's a dedicated Marine who believes he's doing what he's doing for the country's greater good. That's as rich a character — and a critique of our democracy — as you could ask for.
The Thriller Elements Really Work
One of the criticisms of Homeland (recently leveled by the New York Times) is that it's just a drawn-out 24. So what! One of the major problems with 24 was that it wasn't a drawn-out 24, and that every crazy plot twist had to be jammed into such a short period of time, a limitation that became more absurd with each season. Homeland has thankfully jettisoned 24's strait-jacketing setup, but not its ability to stress out, frazzle, and thrill. Especially during the middle section of this finale, with Brody taking on and off his suicide vest in the men's room, Homeland was as tense and anxiety-producing as any episode of 24. And when Brody got the call from Dana, it was far more affecting than executive producer Howard Gordon's previous series. Even better, Brody didn't have to do the whole thing again, this time with a nuke and one hand tied behind his back, an hour later.
The Levels of Carrie’s Crazy
The finale really took Carrie's mental illness to the edge; by the time she was being arrested on Brody's lawn after haranguing his 16-year-old daughter, Dana, even Carrie knew the CIA should fire her. Later in the episode, Carrie explaining to Saul why she needed electroshock treatment was heartbreaking: Carrie knows better than anyone how out of control she is. And yet, she's still the crazy woman who has sense, even if she's run out of faith. Watching Carrie lose her ability to trust herself, brought home by the horrible image at the end of the episode of her convulsing, was genuinely tragic.
That guy is the best. And what a sweet ride.
The Suicide Plot
Props to the Homeland brain trust for thinking up the plan that got Brody into the bunker in the first place. That thing is really good! Walker shoots someone who isn't the vice-president, and in the panic Brody and everyone else are flung past the metal detectors. There are things to quibble with here — how did Carrie put it together so fast? Walker probably would have killed the woman he kidnapped, right? And, come to think of it, was the entire plan put together based on Brody being recruited to run for office, a long shot no matter how valiant a war hero you are? — but it was a good plan.
That the top-level conspiracy is not something crazy, involving drug lords, huge corporations, or nuclear weapons, is a great relief. Instead, it's exactly what you suspect goes on in our real government: people making bad decisions in the name of the greater good, and then covering their asses for it.
The fact that Walker was alive at all was a major reveal early in the season, but the character ran its course, and the show is better off without the loose end. (To be fair, the show never tried to make him anything other than a glaring automaton bent on killing. What did Nazir do to him to turn him? Especially since he clearly loved his family, too.) Brody's no-qualms execution showed just how deep his loyalty to Nazir still runs, too, and not just that he was willing to point-blank shoot his back-from-the-dead best friend. We've seen Brody explode to violence before when he shot the deer or when he punched out Mike, and in both those instances, we saw his personhood cloud over in a way; we saw him become someone slightly different. It's the same look he got when Nazir whispered "Nicholas" over the phone.
Ah, the danger of confessing to a crime you haven't committed yet. Brody's stoic explanation turned out to be more than a handy narrative shortcut, though: Someone has a copy of that memory card, and next season — we're just guessing here — that someone's going to Carrie. (Or maybe Saul.) The various possible chains of custody for that footage open up a lot of interesting channels.
We still don't know who he or she is. Should make for a good Season 2 finale!
But we're a little nervous about...
The Electric Shock Treatment
We're with Homeland creators Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon that Carrie's decision to have electric shock treatment is a good, drastic sign about how seriously she's taking her mental health, but we're not as convinced that starting next season with Carrie in a state of short-term memory loss is a good thing. Memory loss? Really? Is not being disgraced, jobless, untrusted, and kicked out of the CIA enough? The idea of having to watch Carrie piece together the things we already know she knows seems likely to be really frustrating, and make it seem as though the show is just dragging its feet.
Just how big of a boob is this guy? He stands around in the bunker with Elizabeth Gaines's blood and guts all over him and doesn't seem particularly bothered; he's a war criminal; and worst of all, he's on Saul's shit list. No one else on the show is quite so cartoonishly evil, but somehow Walden seems like he's one catchphrase away from being Rob Ritchie from The West Wing. Even Dana's stoner boyfriend has more depth and appeal than this guy — and, more to the point, so do the terrorists.
Brody As the Terror of ... Campaign-Finance Meetings
Brody convincing Nazir that he can effect more change in the House? A little tricky to imagine that in today's political climate, where nobody can get anything done. Will next season be about Brody spending 70 percent of his time fund-raising? And when he finally convinces Congress to, say, switch to Sharia law, John Boehner could torpedo it at the last minute!
How Many More Times Can Carrie Be Wrong, But Secretly Right?
How many more times can Carrie be finally convinced of Brody's innocence, only to make him a suspect again? This was a near-perfect season, but it can't go on indefinitely. We're more than happy to suit up for Season 2, and maybe even 3, but this will be a far better series if it locks its end point up, and soon.