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Our Own Worst Enemy is Ourselves: Quick Thoughts on the Homeland Season Finale

I'm puzzled by how polarizing the season finale ("Marine One") of Showtime's Homeland ended up being, with viewers on one side or the other about just how effective--and believable--the climax of the espionage drama was last night.

Personally, I thought it was powerful, heartbreaking, and superlative, filled with emotional resonance and an aura of tragedy hovering uneasily over everyone, particularly the now-tragic figure of Cassandra-like Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes), whose portents of doom fell onto deaf ears. It's Carrie who saves the lives of the Vice President and his cabinet as well as that of Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis), but her instability is used as a weapon against her. In essence, she saves the world, but is denied the knowledge that she's done so.

Her breakdown in the final third of the episode isn't just a mental one, but that of communication as well as self-worth. Carrie's entire persona is based on a laser-like precision of the facts, collating information, and projecting possible scenarios. Her guilt over missing some valuable clue that led to the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on 9/11 have shaped the person she is today, one who is determined to dig at the truth regardless of the personal cost to herself. Which is why Carrie's decision at the end of the episode is all the more tragic.

In voluntarily opting to undergo electroshock therapy, Carrie is choosing to forget, to wipe clean the slate of her memory, and start fresh. Her tabula rasa is the result of weeks of being correct but not knowing so, of falling under the thrall of Brody and falling in love with him, of not being trusted by those in charge, and by being exposed in the eleventh hour by someone she trusted. Carrie began the season a disgraced CIA officer; she ends it a disgraced woman, full stop.

What makes her decision all the more tragic--and the implications all the more severe--is that in that moment of clarity before she slips under the anesthesia, Carrie finally slips together the final missing puzzle piece in her color spectrum of clues, remembering that Brody spoke of Issa in his sleep and that Abu Nazir's son was named Issa. The missing part of the spectrum is finally in full view, the rainbow complete, the puzzle solved, the meaning of Nazir's silence finally clear.

But Carrie has doomed herself to forget, to wipe away the events of the last few weeks, her painful time with Brody, her ouster from the CIA, her injuries in the blast and the subsequent psychological freefall that followed. Carrie won't remember that she made the connection, that she unmasked Brody's involvement, that she Solved It All. Instead, her words are once more misheard, misunderstood, disregarded. Her Cassandra cries are ignored, and cast off as meaningless gibberish, the white noise that arrives before the long sleep.

Brody, meanwhile, has his own life saved in the wake of Carrie's crusading. He--and his family--owe her a debt of gratitude, but it's one that he'll never repay. In reaching out to Dana (smartly, the only member of the Brody family who saw anything about their pater familias' behavior as irrational, bizarre, or troubling), Carrie follows through on Saul's advice vis-a-vis Aileen: she seeks out not what made Brody an extremist (Issa) but what makes him human (his family), hoping that Dana's voice on the line can, in essence, "talk him down" from detonating himself, the Veep, and a slew of government officials in that underground Cheney-esque bunker. It's a masterful payoff to a plant from several episodes ago. In trying to get to Dana, Carrie tries to stab at Brody's Achilles heel: his family.

And it's not until Brody hears Dana's voice on the phone that he begins to rethink this turn of events and weighs what the true collateral damage would be: his own loved ones. It's in that moment that Brody himself decides where his true allegiance lies. Can he rip open a psychic wound in his family through his sins? Can he fail to fulfill a promise to his daughter? On the roof later, it's as though Brody is seeing things clearly for the first time, acknowledging that they do in fact have "views," which he never noticed. Carrie may be forgetting, but for Brody, it's an acknowledgement that he chooses to remember, something that connects to the opening sequence as he videotapes his final confession.

It's a masterful turn of events, once more setting up Carrie and Brody as ideological opposites, defined by their choices and the way in which they process their damage. Which isn't to say that there weren't some missteps along the way here. I agree with the dissenting opinion that Brody's decision to not detonate the VP but instead assume a position of power within the government and do more damage there--while it made sense within the context of Brody's mind--should not have come as a surprising development to Nazir.

After all, surely a turned politico with a grudge against the administration and a fervent Islamist is more of an asset that killing the VP. Brody is right when he says that if he cuts off one head, like a Hydra, another will rise up to take its place. This is all very true, but the way it's handled within the context of the show makes it seem as though this brainstorm of Brody's is news to Nazir, that the leader wouldn't have anticipated this potential turn of events in advance and that it takes Brody failing to follow orders to get him to see a different path for his so-called "Marine One."

But that's a minor quibble in a season finale that brought tension, emotional depth, and gripping suspense to the mix, as well as some unexpected humor (Walker mussing the old woman's hair as he walked out of her apartment, the VP's disgusting use of Elizabeth's death to declare his presidential intentions, Brody's gut-punch of words to Carrie in the police station parking lot, and Carrie's insistence that she go to the hospital). While I suspected that Carrie would figure it out in the end--just in time to forget it all--that moment carried more than its fair share of intellectual and emotional weight (particularly the beautiful scenes between Danes and Mandy Patinkin), rendering Carrie a far more tragic figure than we previously believed her to be.

I'm curious just how far into the future Season Two of Homeland will be set, and just how Carrie will be drawn back into the mix when her security clearance has been revoked permanently. (The sadness with which Saul tells her that there's no way her termination will be reversed was palpable.) Having forgotten what she knew about Brody, Carrie will be forced to start back at square one again, but, considering her dogged determination thus far, I think it's safe to say that Carrie will once again be in pursuit of Brody--and the Truth--before too long.

As for me, I'm anxious to see what that means and how it unfolds. The America of Homeland--and the larger one of the real world--need Carrie Mathison and it needs shows like Homeland that ask uncomfortable questions about the greater good, morality, and governmental malfeasance. I just hope that Season Two lives up to the very large expectations created in the wake of this fantastic and thoughtful finale.

What did you think of the season finale? Are you dying to see Season Two of Homeland as soon as possible? Head to the comments section to discuss and debate.

Season Two of Homeland will air in 2012 on Showtime.


Anonymous said…
Agreed, the finale was an outstanding hour of television.

I'm surprised the show offered not one, but two of the most memorable and most tragic heroes in recent memory. Claire Danes playing the unwitting genius trapped in a series of maniacal episodes, and Damian Lewis, a man struggling to maintain his family's integrity, all the while plotting unspeakable acts of evil.

One of the best dramas of the year.
Anonymous said…
"Having forgotten what she knew about Brody, Carrie will be forced to start back at square one again..."

Perhaps it wasn't clear, however, memory loss from electro convulsive therapy is temporary. Carrie will regain her memories in a matter of a few weeks at worst.

Anonymous said…
I hope I forget about this show until reminded again next Fall by previews of the second season, or I will need shock therapy for the depression.
london buddy said…
I havent read this article as i'm only still on episode 7, but 1 thing that really bothered me... if he was held captive for 8 years, how come his shirts and uniform still fit him perfectly on his return?? Was that not a sign that he was well looked after there and not treated as a terrorist??
Diane said…
Brilliant and insightful write-up of a superb show. It was a bit of an ani-climax, with no vindication for Carrie, but I can't get over how great these performances were and how sucked into this show I became. (The moment we saw Brody choose his family over his cause was especially masterful.) I feel bereft now; not just because it is over but because of Carrie's gradual loss of control and the apparent hopelessness of her situation. I hope season 2 doesn't bring total memory loss (it isn't always temporary, as anyone who read Carrie Fisher's memoirs knows) and it was a little too convenient a plot device, but it worked for me in the context of the story.

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