December 22, 2014

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Finale Review: “Homeland”


In a way, tonight’s off-key Season 4 finale of HOMELAND was the hour its seriously odd season deserved.  As bipolar as its main character, Season 4 began with misguided attempts to recapture something of the early glory days of the series, mixing psychological insight with political and espionage-driven suspense.  Then it became a season that could have been subtitled How I Stopped Worrying And Learned To Love The Action-Adventure, dropping almost all of its characterization and ambition to be a sharper, somewhat more realistic version of 24 (a show that had employed many of its senior creative team).  That worked well enough on its own terms, but then tonight whipsawed back to a low-key character-based hour with no thrills whatsoever that felt like it came from a completely different series entirely.

Back in the day, Homeland had charted out a genuinely original territory in spy fiction, with broken characters Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) and Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis) carrying their unhealthy obsession with each other into a mashed-up world of terrorism and screwed-up romance.  The show burned up plot at an irresponsible rate, and everyone who said it couldn’t keep up its blistering pace and intensity was right–by the midpoint of its 2d season, Homeland had staggered into hackneyed plot contrivances that overwhelmed its intelligence and the amazing performances of its leads (along with Mandy Patinkin as Saul Berenson, Carrie’s mentor and conscience).  Season 3 was worse, starting with an extended trick on the audience and then contorting itself to keep Brody, and Lewis, in the show for as long as possible.

Brody was finally eliminated by the end of Season 3, but damage had been done.  The 4th season’s attempt to recapture that original blend of personal and narrative intensity was fatally inconsistent.  The controversial scene in the season premiere where Carrie seriously–if fleetingly–considered drowning her infant daughter by Brody was a failure not because it was horrifying, but because the show then seemed to develop amnesia about it ever having happened.  A plotline that had Carrie, now the station chief in Pakistan, seducing a young Pakistani into become a CIA asset was an ugly, more simple-minded echo of her relationship with Brody, not to mention falling into cliche about how female intelligence officers ply their trade.  The series could have profitably developed the character of Tasneem Qureshi (Nimrat Kaur), a Pakistani intelligence officer, as a parallel to and distinction from Carrie, but all we ever found out about her was that she was ruthlessly effective.  Carrie’s own psychological condition was a non-issue for most of the season (aside from the silly episode where her meds were switched and she started having hallucinations like someone on LSD in a cautionary 1960s movie).  Until tonight’s finale, Peter Quinn’s (Rupert Friend) feelings for Carrie were raised and then vanished.

And yet, when the show just assembled large-scale action sequences, like the capture of Saul by the evil Taliban leader Haqqani (Numan Acar), or the prisoner exchange that set Saul free, or Haqqani’s attack on the US embassy, it could be tremendously entertainng, in a genre movie way.  While this was far from the Homeland of old, at least it worked.

Tonight, all of that vanished.  The hour, written by Executive Producer Meredith Stiehm (who wrote some of the show’s most celebrated early episodes before leaving to co-create The Bridge) and directed by Lesli Linka Glatter, was strong in and of itself, but it had a totally different DNA from any previous episode.  With little attention to events in Pakistan, it gave us instead a journey for Carrie that navigated the death of her father (the late James Rebhorn), the sudden reappearance of her mother after having deserted them 15 years earlier (and because she was a serial adulteress who was pregnant, not due to Carrie’s father’s own bipolar condition), Peter’s avowal of his feelings for her, and Carrie’s climactic discovery that Saul, too, was willing to make a pragmatic deal with Haqqani and the always-treacherous Dar Adal (F. Murray Abraham)–although that last could end up being a long con by Saul; it wouldn’t be his first.  The season ended with Peter off in Syria and Iraq on what sounded like it could well be a fatal mission, and Carrie driving aimlessly–which also describes Homeland itself at this point.

Homeland is Showtime’s biggest original hit, and it’s already been renewed for a 5th season, creative issues be damned.  It still boasts wonderful acting by Danes (who had more dramatic meat in the finale than she’d had all season) and Patinkin, and first-rate production values.  What it now lacks is a tone and a voice that make sense.  If it’s going to be an action show, let it be one–but being one for 3 or 4 hours and then flipping back to serious character mode doesn’t work.  Homeland doesn’t have to be as great as it was when it started–it probably can’t be.  Still:  it needs to get better than it is right now.

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."