TV

Homeland’s Brutal Season Three Finale Should’ve Been The Show’s Last Episode Ever

Last night's episode fittingly closed the book on the tale of Nicholas Brody. What's Homeland gonna do now? [spoilers]

Welcome to our last Homeland Season Three recap! This week’s episode was the season finale, ‘The Star’. Obviously, there are spoilers. It was the season finale, for chrissakes.

Redemption, resignation, and rebirth. For all the shocks and twists that Homeland‘s delivered over three seasons and all of its posturing as a spy-thriller (for good or ill), at its heart it’s always been an improbable love story, and last night’s Season Three finale, ’The Star’, resolved CIA agent Carrie Mathison and ex-Marine Sergeant-turned-terrorist Nicholas Brody’s romantic entanglement for good.

How? Well, that’s the best part.

Amid all the sleuthing and security work, Carrie and Brody’s love story always felt strangely rushed, forced upon us whether we liked it or not (or even believed it or not). But the way ‘The Star’ handled their slow farewell shuffle was excellent. It traversed Brody’s redemption, his resignation to his fate, and the question of the show’s rebirth (without one of its main characters) with excessive care, and the result was the strongest episode of the series since its midway point.

We met back up with Brody after he’s just killed the Iranian Head of Intelligence, and found him making an improbable escape from Akbari’s office to hook up with Carrie and head east. From here, the emotional hit points were legion: Brody wistfully looking out at the Iranian desert landscape, casually mentioning “I was born in the desert”. Carrie’s surprise at not knowing was one last glimpse into what could’ve been for the two of them, even as they talked about the far-fetched idea that they’d get out of Iran and build a life together. It was also there when Carrie revealed to Brody that she’s carrying their child, arguing that she thinks they were put on this earth to cross paths. Or while Carrie watched a sleeping Brody in their Iranian safe house, just as she’d once done via hidden cameras back in Washington.

Brody was never going to make it, though. As he was soliloquising about the morals at the very heart of Homeland, asking “In what universe can you redeem one murder by committing another?”, it was obvious he would be the one to pay the price.

Screen Shot 2 - wistful

Wistful Brody.

Cue the impressively sneaky Iranian military showing up (Carrie could hear the faint buzz of helicopter wings… but not trucks full of troops pulling up outside, huh?), and, well, that was that.

The selling out of Brody was the one thing Homeland got completely right this season. Finally, we saw the CIA acting like the CIA: given the chance to avoid World War III by giving Brody to Javadi and ensuring the Iranian’s ascension to Head of Intelligence made far more sense than sending a couple of Black Hawks laden with Navy Seals into Iran to recover a presumed terrorist (of course that’s what the CIA, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the freakin’ President are going to do).

With that, Brody’s death was one of the single greatest moments of Homeland. The way Damian Lewis played a man resigned to his fate is untouched brilliance. All of his usual Brody-isms, endlessly stoic and impenetrable, work in his favour in the washed-out darkness of pre-dawn, as a crowd of people look on, cheering.

There’s a sort of animal horror to be felt when they place the red-rope noose around his neck and slowly lift him into the air, all enhanced by Carrie’s terror as she looks on. The casual savagery in the scene might’ve been tough to watch, but it’s exactly what made it so arresting. You can’t look away as the air is choked out of Brody with a minimum of fuss, and he and Carrie almost lock eyes for one final time as she’s knocked to the ground by a guard. It’s as powerful and brutal an end to a character as TV has given us. The sense of foreboding and dread was palpable from the moment Carrie (and, hence, us) realised there was no saving our red-headed hero. When it was done, there was little else to do but exhale.

Sure, as ever with Homeland, there are questions: That the Iranians would kill Brody so quickly, though? Even without Javadi pulling the strings, one imagines that rather than hanging him in public straight away, they might just want to interrogate him to figure out the extent of the CIA’s operations in Iran. Or perhaps they’d cover up his involvement in the assassination completely to avoid embarrassment after they’d been parading him around Tehran like he was the winner of Anti-American Idol.

Still, the Carrie/Brody love story finished at the end of a rope in a public square in Tehran. This is what their ‘war on terror’ came down to. At the end of his life, Carrie was the only one who really saw Brody for what he was, who still believed in him, and, as his breath expired, she was the only one there for him. It was a forceful, hold-your-breath moment that will infuse our thinking of Homeland with a sense of gravitas and sadness.

What was strange, though, was the tone in the episode’s final ‘4 Months Later’, 20-minute stanza. After we visit Saul and Mira munching on croissants and toasting how Saul single-handedly saved the world from Iran with his hare-brained scheming (neatly tying in the fact that Iran recently softened its stance on UN inspectors), the episode’s mood shifted dramatically.

Screen Shot 3 - saul and mira

Mira: “It says here you saved the world!” Saul: “Pass the croissants.”

It felt infused with a melancholy heaviness, like a slow exhale, as Carrie battled Senator Lockhart to preserve Brody’s legacy (even though he KILLED THE VICE PRESIDENT) and pondered what to do about Brody’s other legacy: his baby.

For the former, she’s succeeded whether or not Lockhart gives the guy a star on the CIA wall. As Javadi told her, everything that she has fought for throughout the season — to prove that Brody was innocent, or at least provide him with ‘redemption’ — has come about. As Javadi explains, everyone sees Brody through her eyes. It’s Carrie’s ultimate validation after her Season One regrets about not preventing September 11: she didn’t miss anything about Brody, she was right all along.

As for the latter, even if she did realise (somewhat lately) that having Brody’s baby isn’t the greatest idea, it did deliver one of the most touching, humanising scenes involving Carrie for the entire series. When she admitted to her father and sister — with a hefty dose of the prototypical Carrie Mathison darting eyes — that she didn’t want the baby, and desperately said “I don’t feel love… All I feel is scared…”, it’s easily the most pathos we’ve felt for Carrie. It’s a point that hits home even harder when her father exhorts that she won’t leave this baby “like your mother did to you.”

Better still was that it was trumped moments later when she slumps, crying, softly uttering, “I’m so fucking sad.” The pain and sadness in that one scene gives us a clearer view into Carrie Mathison than a hundred forced tequila-fuelled hook-ups could ever hope to achieve. And the way Carrie dissects her suitability as a mother to Quinn, saying, “I can’t be a mother, because of me… Because of my job… Because of my problems…” (echoing what audiences have been yelling at their TVs all season) is a nice (meta) touch. Suddenly, Carrie seems plausible, she seems human, and she’s really the only character we come out of this season giving any amount of a crap about.

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Finally, a Carrie cry-face we can actually feel for.

Unfortunately, for all the good Homeland did across the last third of this season, it also casts some of its misses in a not-particularly flattering light. Why spend so much time with The Brody Bunch when it bore zero relevance to the rest of the story (beyond Brody realising just how damaging his legacy was to Dana the motel cleaner)? The entire Dana-Leo runaway star-crossed lovers storyline remains infuriatingly terrible, even if it did juxtapose the Brody/Carrie relationship.

Oh, and let’s not forget Quinn, the fiery black ops assassin. Oh, Quinn. There was a character that, after the mid-point of the season, made Homeland just throw up its hands and go, “Nah, too fuckin’ hard!”. From providing a moral conscience in doubting and debating the moralistic justifications behind CIA extra-judicial killings to becoming a sideshow figure left to utter tacky lines like “I think they call that love…” while philosophising about Carrie’s thoughts that her child might symbolise her trying to keep a part of Brody, the writers just lost it with this guy.

Screen Shot 4 - quinn you used to be cool

Gee, what happened to you, man? You used to be so cool.

That Homeland could leave such big, built-up parts of its story papered over is testament to why it will be forever considered a good, not great show. If those stories (Quinn, Fara, the Brodys, etc) had been executed better, Homeland could’ve feasibly hit the heights of its first season once more. As it stands, with Season Four’s prospective plot points left up in the air — Quinn, Carrie and Baby Brody in Istanbul? Will Max and Virgil be there? Will Saul pull strings from New York? And what of Chris Brody? — it now seems beside the point.

Brody is gone, Homeland’s creators will focus all their efforts on Carrie (it should’ve happened much sooner), and all we’re really left with is the feeling that ‘The Star’’s neat and emotional sign-off would’ve been a great way to finish the series, let alone the season. Because Carrie, sharpie in hand, scrawling a star for Brody on the Langley Memorial Wall and looking all the world like a delinquent teen or Justin Bieber outside a Gold Coast hotel, was both surprisingly touching and more than a bit ridiculous… In other words, an entirely fitting way to close the book on the tale of Nicholas Brody and Homeland itself.

Instead, we can spend much of 2014 looking forward to Homeland: Spy Mom.

Catch-up on the latest episode of Homeland on Ten Play.

Jaymz is a New York-based writer (originally from Melbourne, and the former Editor of triple j magazine), super-yacht enthusiast, hi-tech jewel thief and Bengal tiger trainer. He enjoys wearing monocles, finely spiced rum, constructing pillow forts, and zip-lining from Hong Kong skyscrapers. You can find him on twitter via @jaymzclements

Read the rest of his Homeland recaps here.