December 17, 2012



What kind of show, in the end, is HOMELAND?  Focus groups are often asked simply to describe whatever it is they’ve just seen, and Homeland has tried to be a romance, a thriller, an action adventure, a story about politics and terrorism, a psychological drama, and more–all at once.  That it’s succeeded much of the time in pulling this off has been remarkable.  But the series, guided by showrunner/series creators Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon, insists, like its characters, on regularly hovering on the very brink of disaster before taking a single step back to bare safety.  In recent weeks, the strain of keeping all its genre balls in the air have started to show (it probably wasn’t an accident that we got a glimpse this week of Brody doing some juggling).  It may be a good thing that the Season 2 finale suggests a different slant for the series next year.

The season finale, written by Gansa and Executive Producer Meredith Stiehm (the latter has written several of the show’s most notable Carrie/Brody episodes, including last season’s “The Weekend”) and directed by Michael Cuesta, took that trait of leaning waaay over the edge to an extreme by somehow retroactively almost making some sense out of the controversial plot turns of the last two episodes.  It turned out that all of the seemingly crazy things Abu Nazir did–kidnapping Carrie (Claire Danes), compelling Brody (Damian Lewis) to murder Vice President Walden, not escaping when he had the chance and orchestrating his own death at the hands of the police–were in service of a larger plot, setting up Brody as the patsy for a CIA headquarters bombing that was essentially the attack the CIA thought it had foiled when arresting Roya.  This was a clever piece of storytelling, but it was also the kind of plan that required a dozen things out of Nazir’s control to go exactly his way, including the events after his own death, so it still stretched the reality of a show that’s meant to take place in a recognizable universe.

The payoff to the Quinn (Rupert Friend) story was also far-fetched, as this trained government assassin not only decided on his own initiative not to kill Brody, but threatened his superior Estes (David Harewood) if any harm should come to Brody.  And Estes, instead of calling assassination bureau head Dar Adal (F. Murray Abraham) to have someone else take over the assignment (and take care of insubordinate Quinn while he’s at it), simply accepted the judgment, spared Brody, and not only freed Saul (Mandy Patinkin) from his holding cell, but redacted the damaging polygraph report about him.

None of this turned out to matter in the big picture, though, because Nazir’s plan worked and Estes was among those blown up, with Brody convincingly framed for the bombing, thanks to his old suicide vest confession video.  Homeland, once again, saved itself from going over the narrative edge by having Carrie change her mind at the last minute about joining Brody on the run (although surely she’s going to have some questions to answer to Saul about where she’s been since the bomb went off and why Brody hasn’t been found among the living or the dead).

Although plot contrivances can make anything possible, it appears that the next season of Homeland won’t feature Brody as a major character, if at all.  When we and Carrie leave him, he’s going over the border and on the run, wanted for the murder of over 200 people, which presumably won’t allow for many romantic visits with Carrie in DC–and however much she says she’s going to work to clear his name, that seems like it’s going to be awfully hard to accomplish, what with all the evidence pointing to him and Nazir dead.  This probably also means we’ve seen more or less the last of Jessica (Morena Baccarin), Dana (Morgan Saylor) and poor not-eating-enough Chris (Jackson Pace).  (However, if the CIA has a high school mentoring program, Carrie might consider sponsoring Dana for a neurotic spy internship–the girl has some potential.)  This is probably a good thing, since despite their professions of love for one another, it felt from the start of the episode as though the Carrie/Brody romance was beginning to run its course.

What’s set Homeland apart from other shows with bombings, conspiracies and complicated plot machinations (like Scandal) is its regard for the nuanced interplay of its characters.  The opening section of the finale brought us back to the summer house of “The Weekend,” where this time the two lovers have nothing to hide and the illusion of a clear future–and yet there was a noticeable clumsiness between them, almost a sense that without constant danger and the risk of being unmasked, the thrill wasn’t quite there anymore.  Carrie chooses her job over Brody at the end, but it may be that both of them realize as well that if she went with him, it would be the fugitive equivalent of the morning after a quickie Vegas wedding, as they both wondered just what the hell they were thinking.  So perhaps Homeland isn’t a romance after all.  The only sad part about (probably) losing Brody is that it also means the show will lose Damian Lewis, who’s performed so well with Danes.  There’s little doubt, though, that she and Patinkin (wonderful as ever this week, especially in the quick scene where he was a little ashamed at being happy that the CIA disaster was going to bring his wife back) can manage without him.

With its second season complete, it’s fair to say that Homeland is a marvelously entertaining, spectacularly acted drama but not quite one of television’s best.  (It’s also worth noting that the best of television these days arguably exceeds the best of movies.)  It simply lacks the thematic cohesion of a Mad Men or Breaking Bad, and it’s prone to narrative messiness.  The series is like a marvelous gymnast who succeeds, over and over again, in pulling off routines with incredible degrees of difficulty–but doesn’t quite score the maximum in style points.  It will be a pleasure to see what feats of derring-do Homeland has in store for us next year.



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."