December 19, 2011

THE SKED SEASON FINALE WATCH: The Girl With the “Homeland” Tattoo

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Written by: Mitch Salem
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WARNING:  Spoilers Abound
That expelled breath heard around the country this evening was a collective sigh of relief:  HOMELAND‘s season finale didn’t collapse.  On the contrary, it delivered a satisfying conclusion that resolved Season 1 storylines while setting the stage for an intriguing, and somewhat different, Season 2.
No recent show has walked a genre tightrope in the way that Homeland has this year.  You’d have to go back to the last season of Lost to find a series that held so many cards so close to its (explosive) vest for so long… and let’s try to forget how that one worked out.  Was Homeland, ultimately, an action-adventure?  A political statement?  A family drama?  A psychological study?  The answer, gratifyingly, is that it’s all of those at once.

The season finale, written by Executive Producer/Co-Creator Alex Gansa and Co-EP Chip Johannessen from a story by Gansa and fellow Co-Creator Howard Gordon, and directed by Michael Cuesta, announced that it was going to be abandoning convention from the very start:  there was no (over-elaborate) opening credits sequence, just the show title, white on black background, before we launched into Brody’s pretaped message to the world, to be played after he exploded his suicide bomb.  Gradually, we finally learned the details of the plot:  Tom Walker’s sniper attack would be a violent diversion just before the Vice President announced his presidential bid–Walker’s shooting of adviser Elizabeth Gaines and other collateral victims would lead, via standard protocol, to all the VIPs (including Brody) being rushed past security to a small underground bunker, where Brody would be able to blow them all up at once.  (It was a nice touch that Walker didn’t unnecessarily kill the woman whose apartment he used for the attack, and a sign once again that Homeland takes its violence seriously.)
We then headed into the real “thriller” part of the finale, as Brody proved himself willing to kill himself and everyone else… except that the bomb didn’t go off.  But it was after the harrowing suspense of Brody’s attempt to fix the loose wires in a men’s room–while keeping up banal conversation–that the brilliance of Homeland’s psychological intricacy came into play.  Because Carrie, recovered enough to realize that Brody was a terrorist after all, and unable to convince Saul to trust her damaged brain, made exactly the right move in her tortured chess match with Brody:  she went straight to his teenage daughter Dana.  
And while the spectacular performances of Claire Danes, Damian Lewis and Mandy Patinkin throughout this season can’t be overstated, let’s take a moment to sing the praises of Morgan Saylor, who plays Dana.  Dana started in the series as a typical cable-series teenager, smoking dope and F-bombing her folks, but in the last few episodes, she’s started to realize there’s something very wrong about her father.  And when Carrie told Dana her dad was a terrorist, Saylor did a superb job of absolutely denying it while making it clear that she was dreadfully aware it was very possibly true.  (The timing of Dana’s call to Brody felt a second or two too gimmicky–the tap on Brody’s shoulder at the very instant he was about to flick the switch, just minutes after his failed attempt to set off the bomb, came off as a bit too convenient.)
The pop culture touchstone that’s usually invoked in connection with Homeland is 24, and for obvious reasons.  Not only do the series overlap in subject matter, but Gordon, Gansa and Johannessen all worked on the Jack Bauer express.  In the characters of Carrie, Brody, and increasingly Dana, though, the show also recalls the damaged, brilliant Lisbeth Salander in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo series, especially as that character appears in the first book.  Like Salander, Carrie is fantastically skilled, able to make amazing intuitive leaps, but also genuinely impaired and incapable of “normalcy.”  The tension between her abilities and her profound problems is richly dramatic, and using her conflicts and those of the other characters to fuel a thriller gives Homeland a depth and satisfying complexity that 24 never even attempted.
Brody’s decision to come home and leave the bomb unblown resolved the season’s main storyline, but came only halfway through the episode.  The rest of the 90 minutes set things up for next season:  Brody may be shifting into becoming a Manchurian Candidate-style political spy for Abu Nazir, at the very top of the US political ladder–or he may be playing a double game against Nazir, since his very personal motive for attacking the Vice President is so differeent from Nazir’s political aims.  (But Nazir presumably has Brody’s fatally incriminating confession video, sure to reappear in Season 2.)  And poor Carrie, according to Saul permanently out of the CIA, is almost certainly going to have her pre-shock treatment memory of Brody’s nightmare about Nazir’s dead son Issa wiped out by the electrodes.
All of which bodes well for an absorbing Season 2.  We’re probably past the point of Brody launching a violent terrorist attack (although there could easily be a Walker-type story arc to provide some action sequences), but the psychological battle will resume, despite Carrie’s vow to stay away from Brody and his family.  And thankfully, the show didn’t kill off Carrie, Brody or Saul for the sake of a “big finish,” so Danes, Lewis and Patinkin will all be back next season.  (Assuming Patinkin doesn’t do one of his patented early exits from a successful show, a la Chicago Hope and Criminal Minds.)  Showtime may not have a giant ratings hit on its hands, but as the Golden Globe nominations this week showed, it finally has a drama fully worthy of comparison with anytihng on HBO.
Oh, and Dexter had its season finale as well.  This was a much more by-the-numbers conclusion to the season’s lackluster arc, with Colin Hanks as a killer whose lavish murders were much more interesting than he ever was.  The only arresting moment came in the last 30 seconds, when the show finally pulled the trigger on the plot twist that’s been in its pocket from the very start:  Dexter’s sister (girlfriend?) discovering what Dex does in his spare time.  That’s certainly a promising starting point for next season, but please… a more exciting Big Bad next time, too.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."