“I ask myself, over and over, from the moment I knew what you’ve gone through, the hardship, the self-abnegation to lure me in, why? Why would anyone do that to themselves? Why would you?” Majid Javadi tells Carrie Mathison when they meet perhaps a third of the way through the final episode of Homeland’s third season. Javadi had Carrie brought to him after Nicholas Brody was snatched from a safe house by members of the Quds Force, turning what Carrie thought had been a successful escape into a stunning failure. And while Carrie is wild with panic, eager to save the father of the child she’s carrying, Javadi is as calm and cool as the white walls of the courtyard where the two meet. And the message he’s delivering is as much to those of us watching at home as to the desperate woman before him.
“I think I know now,” Javadi muses. “It was always about him. That’s what you care about. Maybe the only thing. Who Brody is, that’s for Allah to know. But what he did, there can be no debate. It was astonishing and undeniable, and what you wanted. Which was for everyone to see in him what you see. That has happened. Everyone sees him through your eyes now. Saul, Lockhart, the president of the United States. Even me.”
I don’t think that “everyone” part is entirely true. Homeland’s kept Brody alive two seasons longer than it should have, and kept insisting he was a grand romantic hero, even as he vacillated wildly between his loyalties, ruined his daughter’s life, and murdered the Vice President of the United States, an event the show seems to have forgotten. Telling us that he’s the best isn’t the same way as making us feeling the same way that Carrie does. But in “The Star,” Homeland proved why it still has the ability to be powerful, and lovely, and very sad, no matter how many missteps it’s taken over the past two seasons, and no matter how often I feel like it’s wasted my time.
There are a lot of things that Homeland could have done with the time this season that it spent staging a Nicholas Brody episode of Intervention. Fara’s relationship with Saul might have developed in a way that made her a genuine challenge to Saul’s long-term partnership with Carrie. Quinn might have gotten to do something after shooting a child other than standing around dispensing aphorisms and cigarettes. Homeland might have widened its aperture to show us more of the maneuvering on the Senate Intelligence Committee, and to explain why poor, beleaguered Scott (Tim Guinee) might switch sides on Saul. And most of all, we could have spent more time with Javadi, who is without question the best new character Homeland has introduced since its first season, and learned more about his operation in Iran in a way that would have balanced out the political maneuvering between Saul and Lockhart in the United States. Mandy Patinkin even could have shaved his beard off sooner so we could have some flashbacks to his time with Javadi back in the day.
But I do think there’s something powerful about Brody dying at this point in his story. There’s no more ambiguity about who Nicholas Brody is a man who, in his various quests to do good things, has only brought “misery wherever I go.” There are really no other options for him: Even if he gets back to the United States, the CIA can hardly reveal that Brody’s ledger has been zeroed out, and send him back to settle into a cozy domesticity with Carrie and their baby. And even if these things were true, Brody’s reached a place where he can’t accept the idea that “you redeem one murder by committing another,” or understand himself as a Marine in a way that allows him to buy into Carrie’s vision of him as an instrument of justice. We share with Brody the knowledge that he killed Vice-President Walden.
Ultimately, Saul, Lockhart, the president, Javadi, and even Carrie herself don’t really matter. Brody can’t see himself the way that Carrie sees him. Brody’s passed through every possible alternate version of his life, from the House of Representatives to heroin addiction and still arrived at the same place he was when we met him. He wants to die. And at long last, he gets his wish, and dies in a way that at least doesn’t take any other lives with him. Javadi is right to describe that as “a kind of peace.” And if that’s the most meaning Homeland’s been able to wring out of Brody’s continued existence for a season and a half, it’s not a bad conclusion. In the end, Brody was a kind of crooked black star, a scar on the lives of the people he touched, but not without beauty for all the pain he caused.
We know where his collapse into a black hole leaves Carrie, but I’m not sure where it leaves Homeland. Certainly, the show has a chance to dramatically reinvent itself now. Sending Carrie to Istanbul, Saul into the private sector, and preserving Lockhart and Dar Adal at Langley gives Homeland the opportunity to shift from a kind of small, claustrophobic program to a bigger, more sprawling one.
But Dar Adal’s sly assessment of Saul, that “You’d come back, wouldn’t you, if Lockhart came begging,” seems to suggest that Saul, like Carrie, will be drawn inexorably back to Washington. I hope the show stays true to Carrie’s assessment of her own character and her own feelings about having a child, that ““There’s no sign of that…No, really. I don’t feel love. All I feel is scared,” and goes through with her adoption. But I worry that Homeland’s showrunners will feel the need to give Carrie another sentimental anchor in her life, though it would be grotesque for the stakes of her next psychological collapse to be an infant’s life.
The announcement that Javadi’s done everything he promised is certainly timely, given the recent nuclear deal between the U.S. and Iran. But unless Homeland is going to tell an actual regime-change storyline in its fourth season — a choice that would be fascinating but require a rapid and enormous expansion of Homeland’s world — I’m not sure what propulsive conflict would drive Carrie’s running of Javadi for a whole twelve episodes. Maybe there’s something to be done with any number of the show’s smaller characters, from Quinn and Tim, to Fara and her uncle, to the return of Virgil. But the truth is I have absolutely no idea where Homeland could go from here. And after a year and a half of bad decisions, that’s the absolute best place the show could leave me.