'Homeland': Farewell to Greatness
THR TV critic Tim Goodman on why the season finale shows the series has completed its decline.
To remain a brilliant, top-tier show, Homeland needed a miracle in the season two finale.
It didn’t get it.
What Homeland did accomplish in 70 minutes is hammer home the kind of show it will be going forward, which wasn’t what attracted most people to it in the first place. Homeland is now a full-blown love story between Brody (Damian Lewis) and Carrie (Claire Danes), a kind of "spy who loves me even if I’m crazy and maybe he’s reformed" kind of thing.
[Spoilers ahead for those who haven't watched the season finale.]
That’s not the show I’m really interested in watching. Primarily because, in the second season, I just never bought the Carrie-Brody connection. I never felt it. Probably because it made such little sense. Listen, Brody and Carrie playing a game of cat-and-mouse between spy and agent? Sure, that’s good. And this, apparently, is where Homeland has been heading all along. Now, I had always believed – and most of the people I’ve heard from believed – that Homeland worked best as a spy thriller. Had anyone said, “Oh, by the way, it’ll turn into a love story between these two,” then I wouldn’t have invested the time.
My worry for Homeland is that it’s now precisely where the creators and Showtime want it to be – the spy who loved me thing, with the intricacies of making Carrie and Brody's doomed love ever find peace and happiness. Ugh. I’m utterly convinced, from talks with people near the show, that this was the long-term plan.
Unfortunately, what mucks the whole thing up is that setting the stage to get there was what made Homeland a great show. Having those two at odds – the cat and the mouse – was what moved Homeland. First it was “is he or isn’t he” a spy? Then it was, “will he or won’t he” perpetrate an act of terrorism on the United States? A quarter of that was Carrie having screwed-up feelings about Brody because, well, Carrie is screwed up.
To have the finale be this elaborate, incredibly complicated plan by Abu Nazir – that needed an untold number of coincidences to be successful – wherein he exacts maximum revenge from the grave and still pins it on Brody is a step too far. That might have elicited some high-fives in the writers' room (we pulled it all together!), but I fear it will be met with disappointment and cynicism from a large contingent of fans. Because to have that plan work out perfectly -- flaws and all -- just to set up a scenario where Carrie works to free an innocent Brody from a worldwide manhunt in the name of love is, let’s be really straight about this, an incredible letdown.
Now, just to clear up a couple of important factors. No, I don’t think Brody was playing Carrie so he can complete his ultimate mission. Create as many theories as you’d like, but the primary emphasis of this finale was to put the Abu Nazir storyline in the past while having the aftereffect be that Brody is a fugitive and Carrie will be tracking him (because, in the logic of Homeland, she knows him best, so you can't take her off the case). But in the course of trying to bring him in, she will be working to clear his name. Maybe somewhere in season five the doomed lovers can go back to that cottage in the woods, get a good night’s sleep and put their feet in the lake and exhale, growing old together.
That’s not the show I’m particularly keen to watch. However, I’d be foolish to say at this point that I won't watch season three. By then, I may have put aside my disappointment for what Homeland could have been and for what I wanted it to be and proceed only slightly begrudgingly with this new idea of fugitive and savior, with love at the core.
In the latter half of season two, Homeland got incredibly preposterous and lost its way. It was implausible. That implausibility undercut all the hard-earned praise from season one. And the show crept ever closer to 24, the comparison nobody wants (if you’re trying to make a great series).
In season three, it looks as if Saul will be in command. Against all logic, Carrie will be retained. As a team, they will try to track down Brody (but for different reasons). I would watch that show for one reason – an increased role for Mandy Patinkin, who completely and utterly anchors the show. Maybe Brody will go all Jason Bourne on us – those movies are pretty great, you know. He will elude capture even though pretty much everyone in the world knows what he looks like. It could be a fun and entertaining show.
But here’s what it won’t be – Homeland, Season One. That was a truly superb series. That’s the show I loved. Hey, it was great while it lasted. Most of season two fell far short of the bar set the prior season. And now maybe season three will have different expectations. Because it will be a different show.