It's practically a maxim of modern television that shows benefit from shorter seasons — tighter narratives, three-act structures, etc. — but that idea fails to anticipate how many TV shows still find ways to needlessly spin wheels. From inessential monsters, court cases, and killers-of-the-week to late- season stalling, sometimes even 12 episodes can be too many to sustain a taut narrative.
For much of season five, we've marveled at the ways Homeland has tried to keep our attention, even when it didn't have boffo plot twists to offer. It shifts between genres like Mombi trying on disembodied heads in Return to Oz. One week it's a spy drama, the next it's a workplace thriller, the next it descends into madness not unlike, say, Return to Oz. It makes sense, then, that for its final trick, the season finale shocks us by suddenly becoming no less than a romantic tragedy worthy of a Brönte novel. "A False Glimmer" is exactly as elegiac and heartbreaking as its title suggests.
This new model of 12-episode storytelling requires most of the season's action and climax to transpire in the penultimate episode, so the finale can address the aftermath. Last week's excellent stress-fiesta laid out the endgame in a tangled, flaming bonfire, and this week's episode extinguished it within a few minutes. Carrie follows Qasim into that dark tunnel, and after a brief confrontation convinces him to personally take out Bibi before the Sarin-diffusing bomb detonates. To convince his evil cousin to abort the effort, Qasim calls upon the best, most convincing arguments he can recall from Allah Himself — which ends up being, roughly, "Hey, Bibi, maybe don't?" — and Bibi shoots Qasim without hesitation. It's just the fracas that Carrie needs to sneak up, and she unloads her entire clip into the two men just before a train approaches. Long story short, crisis averted! In a moving moment, Carrie cradles the dying Qasim and thanks him for not only doing the right thing, but for also saving Quinn's life. (She's suddenly certain that Qasim had been Quinn's guardian angel as well.) It's not for nothing that in a season of Homeland where yet another Muslim extremist is the Big Bad, a conscientious Muslim extremist ends up saving the day.
From there, the episode segues directly into denouement mode. It becomes a collection of vignettes that tie up loose ends and, more important, punch our rib cages again and again. We'll start with the most interesting but, alas, disappointing of these loose ends: Allison's fate. Perhaps I flew too close to the sun by hoping that Homeland would cook up a way to keep her around, but the sight of her pathetic, bullet-strewn corpse in the trunk of a shot-up escape car was admittedly disappointing. Had her escape plan really been as simple as "hang out in a Russian sex-trafficking house, then hitch a ride to Russia in a trunk"? She deserved better. To be fair, she would have successfully defected to Mother Russia if KGB Ivan didn't sell her out after accepting Saul's promise of a new life in Wyoming. Still, did Saul and his CIA goons have to shoot up the escape vehicle so spectacularly? Couldn't we have been treated to one or two dying words of contrition before Allison died? Apparently not. (Unless ... was she fully dead? Like 100 percent dead? Who can say?!)
Poor Laura and her Snowden-inspired plotline also get a significant amount of closure. It's hard to fault Homeland for giving this e-whistle-blowing issue a spin — it certainly catalyzed much of this season's action — but man, what an un-fun subplot it was. With all due respect to Sarah Sokolovic, a charismatic actress headed for stardom, she had the unenviable duty of playing a character who was both annoying and unsympathetic even when she was morally correct. It's saying something that I felt almost jubilant when hard-ass Astrid bullied Laura into publicly recanting her threats to release the rest of the documents. At least this gave Laura the chance to keep Numan out of harm's way, even if she was forced to betray her own moral code. So, yeah. I'm not sure Laura needs to be carried forth into further seasons, but Sokolovic gets an A for effort.
Now, let's discuss no fewer than THREE romantic subplots that Homeland uses to ruin us completely. We'll start with Carrie's failed attempt to rekindle things with Jonas. After she helps avert a terrorist attack on Berlin, she returns to Jonas's apartment for a quick nap only to awake to his puzzled face. Despite her wishful thinking that they could resume the domestic bliss they'd once shared, he firmly informs her that things had changed and he won't take her back. Though it hurt to see her plead with him for another chance, I was glad she doesn't actually apologize for going off her meds and putting herself in danger — she saved hundreds of lives, after all. When he attempts to calm her frazzled, brokenhearted nerves with a condescending hug, she rebuffs him with a stern "I won't allow it." Even in heartache, Carrie remains strong. There's something admirable about that. But still: Ouch.
Then, Carrie takes shelter at one of Otto Düring's country homes where, over a glass of wine, he reveals himself to be a St. John to Quinn's Rochester. In other words, Düring essentially proposes marriage to Carrie, to be his co-pilot at the foundation and in his personal life. We had ZERO inkling that he had romantic designs on her, but he did briefly explain that he fell in love with her by reading her job application. Carrie is understandably gobsmacked, but again, there's something positively Brontëan about a man of means soberly offering a passionless marriage to a woman in distress. And though this revelation seems to come out of nowhere, it DOES explain a lot of Düring's behavior throughout the season, from his extreme generosity to his occasionally callous dismissals. Also, if Carrie does take him up on this offer, it would put her in a fascinating position of power next season. Dare we write off this possibility so quickly?
We dare, because QUINN. Oh, guys, it's hard to even type that name without succumbing to paralyzing sadness. As it turns out, prematurely rousing Quinn from his coma last week did have dire consequences — he succumbed to a major stroke, and suffered grave brain damage. For several days Carrie (and Dar Adal) wait by his bedside for any sign of cognition, only to hear the depressing monotony of his heart monitor. This gives Dar Adal the opportunity to fill us in on how he'd come to recruit Quinn: He'd been a 16-year-old orphan both street-smart and handsome enough to infiltrate underground crime rings suitable to ruthless pretty boys, and from there, Dar Adal personally guided Quinn through the secret-agent ranks. I think we all assumed Quinn's backstory would be fascinating, but that's cold comfort to Carrie as he lays as good as dead before her.
The true devastation of these scenes involves the letter Quinn had written to Carrie to be delivered in case of his death. I laughed out loud when this episode outright TROLLED US by having Carrie read it — with Quinn providing voice-over — then interrupts everything when Saul enters and offers Carrie a job at the CIA for the hundredth time. No, Saul. Carrie doesn't want a job at the CIA. Let us hear this damn letter! When we finally get to hear the entire thing, it's a real doozy. If you aren't sobbing by the second line ("I'm not one for words, but they're coming now") then you are stronger than I am. Comparing his hope for a normal life with Carrie to "a false glimmer," Quinn's note ends by confirming what we already know: "I loved you." By this point, Carrie has entered his hospital room and blocked the door, affixing his heart monitor onto her own thumb to not arouse any suspicion.
Before anything else happens, a heavenly glow entered the room. What would Carrie decide to do? It's easy to chalk this up to a cliffhanger. Is Quinn about to get Million Dollar Baby'd? After watching the scene several times, though, it's hard not to consider it one of show's loveliest, best-written, and meaningful farewells to a character. I don't want Homeland to lose Quinn, but if this is it? Well done, everyone. Transcendent television.
"A False Glimmer" is the necessary ending to an ambitious, unruly season. If nothing else, season five reaffirms that Homeland remains legitimate, compelling, thoughtful entertainment. (When it's not a ridiculous clown car of pulp elements, at least.) There's always plenty to love when Homeland traffics in spy games, but those of us who've sung this show's praises well into the post-Brody era know that its secret weapons are the characters. From Carrie's nuanced, gripping mood swings and Allison's many-shaded spectrum of villainy to Quinn's steely-eyed superheroics, we always care about these people more than we care about their missions. As long as Homeland remembers to bring the humanity, it should have no problem feeling fresh. My heart is broken after this season's final scene, but that means my heart was beating in the first place. I'm truly grateful for this show.
Thank you, sincerely, for reading and following along with me this season. It'll all be okay! (Eventually.)