December 16, 2013

THE SKED Season Finale Review: “Homeland”


After three seasons on the air, it seems fair to say that–paraphrasing Star WarsHomeland isn’t the show we were looking for.  That doesn’t make it a bad series, or an unentertaining one.  But it’s not the successor to Mad Men and Breaking Bad in the pantheon of truly great television dramas that it at first seemed to be.  After a spectacular initial season and half a great second one, it’s gradually broken down into a suspenseful but not particularly convincing spy thriller.

Having said that, last night’s season finale was the show’s most effective hour of the season.  It’s probably no coincidence that the episode was co-written (with series co-creator Alex Gansa) by returning Executive Producer Meredith Stiehm.  Stiehm was responsible for several of the most distinctive early Homeland episodes, then left during Season 2 to co-create The Bridge for FX; now there’s been some creative upheaval on that show, and she’ll be on Homeland full time for Season 4.  This episode finally featured the nuanced, incisive interplay between Carrie and Brody (Claire Danes and Damian Lewis, both smashing as always) that the series had been missing all season, and it was particularly wrenching because this, finally, was the end of the Brody story–after having been forced by Showtime brass to keep the character around for Season 3, the producers were finally permitted to let him die, his death helping to put CIA asset Javadi (Shaun Toub) higher up in the Iranian government.  (When Lewis delivered the line “I’m ready for it to be over,” he might have been speaking for the writing staff.)  That brought out the best, most powerfully doomed and broken reactions from both characters and actors, as Carrie desperately scrambled for a way to undo the inevitable, and Brody stoically accepted his fate.

It was a very effective hour, tautly directed by Lesli Linka Glatter on Moroccan locations, but it didn’t make up for the wreck that most of the previous 11 hours had been–the long con opening stretch when the show misled viewers into thinking Carrie and Saul (Mandy Patinkin) were on the outs when they were actually scheming together (for reasons that made little sense, as it turned out), the time spent on Brody’s daughter Dana’s (Morgan Saylor) ill-fated teen romance and her general angst, Saul’s far-fetched plan to change the internal politics of Iran (hey, it worked!), Carrie’s pregnancy, the plot threads and character motivations that went nowhere, and innumerable, sometimes ridiculous breaches of logic that reminded one that Gansa and his co-creator Howard Gordon had been best known before this for their work on 24.  Even the finale had its share of illogic, as Brody murdered the head of Iranian security, then managed to make his way almost all the way out of the security compound before anyone noticed (and then no one chased his car when he exited); Carrie heard the murmur of what she thought were helicopters coming from far off to rescue them but failed to notice the giant trucks that had surrounded their safe house; and Carrie disobeyed any and all orders directed her way–by her mentor Saul, let alone the officious new head of the Agency, former Senator Lockhart (Tracy Letts)– yet got promoted by Lockhart to be the youngest station chief in the history of the CIA.

Homeland is still enjoyable, but on a much lower level than where it originally aimed.  A series that started with the daring idea that a US drama could center on the ambiguous relationship between a soldier who’d become a traitor willing to kill his own people and a bipolar intelligence agent trafficked instead in unlikely plot twists and soap opera.  Perhaps most disappointingly, Carrie, once an agent so brilliant that her irresponsibility had to be forgiven, spent the bulk of the season doing one stupid thing after another in the name of love.  Danes and Patinkin (and to a lesser extent this season Lewis, who was only featured in the latter half) brought such depth and conviction to their performances that much more of it worked than probably should have.

Despite the flaws of Homeland‘s Season 3, the ratings have stayed high.  Based on the “4 Months Later” epilogue, it’s hard to tell where the series plans to go.  Brody is done; Saul is apparently doing private security of some sort in New York; Carrie is posted to Istanbul, her as-yet unborn daughter with Brody perhaps to be raised by her father.  Whatever Season 4 is going to look like, it won’t be the same as the previous 3, and all in all, that may be a good thing.  If Homeland wants to touch greatness again, it’s going to have to put in some work.


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."