About halfway through the season finale of Showtime’s tent pole drama, Homeland, its pseudo/semi/anti-hero Nicholas Brody stands in front of a mirror, silently appraising what he’s become in the years since American troops dragged him out of a hole in Iraq. Half his face is clearly lit; the other half is shrouded in darkness. It’s a fitting way to think about the character, this season, and the show itself as we reach the end of its third year.
When Homeland’s impressive run began three seasons ago, Brody was grey matter in a world too easily divided into black-and-white halves. Good and evil. Right and wrong. America and its enemies. Soldier and terrorist. What made him the catalyst of a successful debut season was how well he could upset these binaries. He was a damaged father trying to relearn how to care for his wife and children, but also a deadbeat dad whose outbursts scared and hurt everyone around him. He was trying to reconcile with his wife while cavorting with his lover, Carrie. He was seeking justice for the murder of innocents by plotting to unjustly murder more. He was an American hero but also, ultimately, a terrorist, strapping on a suicide vest. It was an act from which he’d never recover.
Once Basel the tailor tightened the straps of the vest in the back room of his colonial Williamsburg shop, Brody went from a character who inhabited the grey areas to one who could and would only (and always) be defined by the words he’d record in his suicide tape. It took a few episodes into Season 2, but once that tape was discovered, that marked the beginning of the end for Brody. It was the start of his prolonged march toward his own death because, in the eyes of the world, he’d always be that guy. He’d never be able to have a normal life, watching fireworks on the Capitol Mall, taking his wife and kids to the Cherry Blossom Festival, and crafting a future for himself, Carrie, and their baby. The world at large would always see him in black and white. It’d never be able to see his layers. He’d always be a traitor to some and a hero to others.
So Brody’s assassination mission always had to be the end of him. He and everyone else involved (with two notable exceptions) seemed to realize that, too. Regardless of how many extraction plans Saul promised to put in place, Carrie and Brody were never going to have the fantasy that both of them at one time or another believed might happen. But they’re going to try anyway.
The first minutes of the episode are the kind of high-wire act that the show has always done well, with Brody slinking out of the building, being stopped and forced to return his visitor’s pass as the seconds tick away and Akbari’s blood pools around his corpse in his office. As he makes his way to the outskirts of the city, the CIA scrambles to confirm that he’s actually done what he says he did. As Saul tries to do his due diligence, Carrie’s chomping at the bit to divert as many agency resources as possible to get her boyfriend back. It’s another in a long line of times when a character we’re supposed to be rooting for gets angry when everyone around her tries to do their job well, an idea she gave up on weeks ago. Saul’s right to be suspicious that Brody might be tricking Carrie and leading Iranian forces to her.
Regardless, she’s willing to risk being abandoned by the agency because she believes Brody. Of course she’s right, but the fact that she’s unwilling to even consider the possibility (and rebukes Saul for suggesting it) shows how firmly strapped-on her Brody blinders remain. Eventually, the two meet, slipping out of a city scrambling to find them and getting to another safe house outside of the city while Saul puts a plan in place to get them out of there.
The question of whether or not to give up Brody to strengthen Javadi’s position in the government is definitely one of the show’s better ones. On one hand, the agency will be selling out an asset who carried out a high-risk assassination, sentencing him to certain death when it had acted all along like it would be bringing him home. But everyone in the room but Saul realizes that the most wanted man in the world can’t just go back to being a regular, warm-blooded American citizen. He’s beyond help now. It’s unfortunate that the call ultimately comes from above—the faceless President plays a Pilate of sorts, signing Brody’s death certificate and handing him over to the hungry Iranian mob.
It’s the kind of geopolitical power play—sacrificing a now-useless asset to make sure Javadi can control the Iranian government—that Saul and Carrie have become too squishy to make. As the sound of helicopters rouse Brody and Carrie from spooning in the safe house and they step out into the desert night, the guards waiting to take Brody away are enacting the only logical play. As he rides to his hangman’s noose in the square—his own personal cross (sorry, I know the Jesus metaphors are cheap, but the show itself laid them on so thick that I can’t help it)—he seems at peace, knowing his time has run out and his usefulness (to the government and show, itself) has come to an unfortunate end.
As the last breaths left his battered body, last night forced me to consider another black-and-white reality for Homeland. The show is great with him and—frankly—borderline unwatchable without him. Brody’s execution was one of the most chilling, impactful scenes of television I’ve seen in some time. The rest of the hour contained more of the same from this year—some of the stupidest, most ridiculous moments that I have ever seen on television.
It’s hard to choose which of last night’s inanities we should start with. I guess, of course, we should begin with Carrie, the show’s ruined protagonist. Though it seems more evident now than ever that Brody was who really made the show, Carrie’s own precipitous descent reaches its nadir here. Carrie once believed her purpose in life was to do good in the world, seeking out “bad guys” and saving lives. Now, four months pregnant, she knows her real purpose in life was … to have met Nicholas Brody. The absurdity of her safe house confession—a psychotic lover who exists only to love her traitorous murderer partner—is an insult to the character we knew from Seasons 1 and 2. Choosing this moment to tell Brody that she’s pregnant is embarrassing enough for the show, but the two of them sound like teenagers making some kind of pact as they step into the Iranian night.
In her last-ditch effort to save Brody, Carrie confronts Javadi, someone we’ve been led to believe is a ruthless murderer for whom any ends can justify his “magician’s” means. Instead, he turns into the show’s “deus ex monologue,” explaining to Carrie that she’d cleared Brody’s name and made everyone realize he was a good guy after all. I’ve given this character way too much slack all year because he got things moving, but this is hardly the man we were promised when we first heard his name whispered in a board room twelve weeks ago. Carrie’s tears turn him to mush, and he RISKS THE ENTIRE OPERATION to get Brody a phone so the two can have a last goodbye.
Later, Carrie somehow makes it to the front of the crowd to watch Brody’s hanging. This, I remind you, is a woman whose identity was discussed on the Senate floor when Lockhart was investigating the CIA. At that point, she would have been identified by any half-capable government and plastered across security screens anywhere within a continent of Brody. But thanks to a magical hair-dye job, she was able to slip back into Tehran and through the ravenous mob, only to CLIMB A FENCE and yell out to Brody in English. The utter insanity of that left me dumbfounded. I don’t know how else to say it—the character is a joke.
Four months later, though, everyone seems to be laughing off what went down in Tehran. Saul and Mira are catching some rays in the south of France, basking in the sunlight and Saul’s success, which he needs his wife to remind him is a “crowning achievement.” After it all, he’s managed to slow Iran’s progress toward nuclear energy. Might as well set aside some space on the mantel for that Nobel Prize, right? It’s a story that’d run on page A7 of any normal newspaper, but in Homeland’s world, it’s front-page news. Saul hasn’t been in touch with his erstwhile protégé because, in his words, she’s “probably just busy.”
With characters this infuriatingly dim, who needs bad guys? Carrie—again, perhaps the worst CIA agent ever—is now rubbing elbows with Lockhart even though he’s one of the men who effectively sentenced her boyfriend to death. For her work—a year of defying orders, jumping out of parked surveillance cars, and acting more irrationally than any reasonable human being (let alone a CIA agent)—she’s being rewarded with a station chief position in Istanbul. So next year, it looks like Carrie’s going to have a new office with new employees and new ways to make a mockery of the “I” in CIA. Only this time, she’ll be the one giving the orders she’ll then defy.
She accepts the job, but of course before leaving, she has one last request. The agency’s going to be honoring all of the fallen assets over the last year. Of course, she believes her boyfriend—who, again, was responsible for the murders of more than a dozen innocents across the world—deserves recognition. Recognizing Brody would destroy his cover and reveal a secret that only a handful of people on the planet know. Not only would it expose Javadi—it would probably start a world war.
Carrie returns to her apartment only to get a visit from the family she’s been ignoring since she got out of the mental institution. Though they’ve had four months, they choose this moment to argue over the fate of her Brody baby. Her realization that she’ll be a bad mother might be the first smart thing she’s said all season.
Before we’re done with this awful season, though, Carrie has to right one more wrong by defacing the wall at Langley with a sharpie, adding a star for her fallen flame in clear, black ink. For everyone else on this show (and with half a brain), Brody was a complicated character—a hero and a villain, a grey area. But Carrie and Carrie alone gets to be the final arbiter of his story. She gets the final say. He deserved better.
Before Brody is captured, he asks Carrie a simple question. What happens next? After this mess of a season, I, too, wonder where the show can possibly go from here. I guess we’re going to have a full reset now, but the show has shown zero ability to construct any plot worth watching in a full year. The good news is that things probably can’t get any worse.
With news that the real-life CIA was employing Robert Levinson, an off-the-books double agent this week, one would’ve thought that it might validate some of the work of the Homeland team. Levinson’s story is at times strikingly similar to the web we’ve been caught in over the last twelve weeks. But, with the revelation of the plot, the real-world agency is standing in embarrassment as the scandal unfolds. If only the show was held to anywhere near that standard.
And finally, as far as my rating goes, the arithmetic of calculating a number grade is usually holistic. Most episodes “feel like” a number. In this case, I’m going to go a little more scientific. Brody gets a 10 (mostly for career achievement and his moving execution). Everyone else gets a 0, for some of the worst scenes, contextually, that I have ever watched on television. So we’re halfway, right in the middle between good and bad. This black-and-white thing isn’t so hard after all, I guess.